Recycle Your Underwear (Really!)

We all know that it’s better to reduce what we consume, and avoid the question of how to recycle things altogether; however, we also know that sometimes it’s not practical to do without. In the case of underwear, if “going commando” isn’t for you, then the easiest way to keep your old underwear from under there (meaning out of a landfill) is to choose undergarments made of natural fibers. Underwear made from materials such as cotton, bamboo, hemp and silk, can be cut up and reused as rags after it’s done its duty. 

Crafty folks with particularly colorful underwear can use it as scrap material for making quilts, pillows and other projects. And when those natural fibers come completely unwound and are no longer usable even as rags, they can be composted. Just be sure to tear textiles into small scraps before feeding to your worms.

Nylon, another popular, though manmade material from which unmentionables are often made can—and should—be recycled. However, organizations that accept nylon for recycling are hard to come by. Some nonprofit organizations that accept used textiles will accept and bundle unusable materials, including nylon, for resale on the “rag market.” But, before dropping off your nylon knickers at any organization collecting used textiles, call to make sure they accept unwearables. Otherwise, you may end up needlessly expanding your carbon footprint to drop off materials that the organization will only throw into the landfill. 

There are also not-for-profit organizations, such as Goodwill, that accept all textiles, no matter their condition, for resale to textile processors. Textile processors reclaim fibers to be recycled into new clothing or other textiles or down-cycled into other materials such as paper or asphalt. No matter how you decide to keep your underwear out of the landfill, remember to follow your mom’s advice and keep it clean. Just like underwear to be worn, underwear to be recycled must be clean. Otherwise, the collecting organization will often throw it in the garbage.

Textile recycling isn’t as easy as it was half a century ago when every community had its ragpickers–but that was about the time that we became a “throw away” society. Unfortunately, as we have learned, there is no such thing as “away” anymore.

As a general resource for recycling Earth 911 is excellent. 

Here are links to several organizations that are willing to handle textile recycling. If you have more to add, please find us on Facebook .

Chicago Textile Recycling

*Salvation Army


**The Gaia-Movement

*After contacting the Salvation Army repeatedly, CRC remains unsure of whether textiles that are not wearable will be accepted. Use your discretion, or contact your local Salvation Army center. 

**There are issues with both USAgain and The Gaia Movement that are not within the scope of this article to address. Please do your own research before deciding to contribute to either of those organizations.