Wondering what to do with your old pants, bras and tights? Here’s the full lowdown on how to recycle your old underwear in the UK.
We all (I hope!) wear underwear every day, yet all that wearing and washing soon takes its toll. Whether your once tighty-whities have turned an ugly shade of grey, your knicker elastic has taken its final stretch, or the underwire of your much-loved bra is poking out, many of us dump our old underwear straight into the bin. After all, charities don’t want your old undies, so what else is there to do with them?
The odd bit of underwear in the bin doesn’t seem like that big of a deal. Yet, in the UK alone, we collectively buy 30 million items of underwear a year. That’s a lot of underwear.
When you consider that around 87% of discarded textiles end up in landfill, of which more than 90% are reusable and recyclable, it makes you stop and think that there must be ways to recycle your underwear.
How To Recycle Your Old Underwear
The good news is that there are heaps of ways to recycle your undies – no matter how holey they might be – and help keep them out of landfill. Here are some of the best ways I’ve found to help you avoid landfill:
If your old underwear is ripped or torn, then before you even try to recycle it, first of all, consider whether it can be repaired.
Not even the most sustainable knickers and bras or ethical boxer shorts are truly safe from normal wear and tear. Many of us bin our underwear when it develops a rip or a tear. However, fixing your favourite bra, pair of knickers or boxer shorts doesn’t have to be tricky.
Most tears can quickly and easily be patched up with a tiny bit of sewing know-how. A stitch here and a stitch there can bring your favourite undies back from the brink.
If the idea of threading a needle brings you out in a cold sweat, worry not. A little iron-on mending tape can help fix a tear without so much as having to look at a sewing kit. Okay, maybe you have to take the tape and scissors out of the kit, but that’s all there is to it. Alternatively, a well-placed blob of fabric glue can help mend a tear the no-sew way.
If your underwear has developed a hole that can’t easily be fused together, you can use another old item of underwear. Simply cut out a little bit of lace or fabric from your old underwear, and use fabric glue to affix the two ripped sides together. Another easy no-sew remedy to the rescue!
Upcycling old undies might not be top of your priority list. Yet as long as your underwear is clean and you avoid any ripped or stained parts (and perhaps the crotch or gusset) then there are lots of clever and creative ways to reuse the old fabric. Here are a few to get you started:
- Lace or fabric from old pants could be cut up into small squares to keep to repair other underwear. Alternatively, keep these scraps to use in visible mending projects.
- You could use the fabric to make a pin cushion, like the one pictured above from Make and Takes.
- Another idea is to cut up clean boxer shorts, cotton knickers, etc. and use them as stuffing for homemade draught excluders. It’s a great way to recycle your underwear, whilst giving it a new lease of life.
- Cut up old tights to make hair ties.
- Bra pads can be stitched onto hangers to help keep clothes from sliding off.
- Another idea for bra pads is to stitch them into the knee of a pair of gardening trousers or add a pocket that you can slip the pads into. This will give you some padding for your knees as you kneel to do gardening jobs, such as weeding.
The possibilities are almost endless – you’ll never look at an old pair of pants in the same light!
In the hierarchy of waste, reselling is always better than recycling. Let’s face it though, no one is going to want to buy a pair of used knickers or pants. However, gently used bras are a whole other different picture.
Whether it’s a designer bra, a nursing bra, or a specialist bra, bras certainly don’t come cheap. Yet if you’ve recently changed size, changed your mind about the style, or are no longer nursing, you can be left with a pricey bra that you’ve worn a handful of times.
If this applies to you, and you’re looking to recoup some of the cost, then you can sell your unwanted bras online.
For some sites, selling used undies goes against their terms and conditions. Meanwhile, some sites do allow you to sell underwear, with some strict reselling rules. The following sites do allow for resale:
eBay’s terms of service say that used knickers and men’s underwear cannot be sold on the site, but bras can be as they are not considered underwear. Your bra must be properly cleaned and the listing must include a statement that it has been properly cleaned.
Provided that you apply common sense, you can sell any type of underwear on Depop. This is on the proviso that it is clean and washed and that you don’t upload a photo of yourself in your underwear.
Vinted doesn’t allow you to sell used knickers, but bras can be sold. Again, make sure they are clean and just take a photo of the bra itself.
Check out my guide to selling secondhand clothes online for more recommendations.
If your underwear is beyond the point of reselling, or if you can’t be bothered trying to resell, then you can donate your old underwear. While it’s true that charity shops don’t sell used underwear, there are various ways to donate your underwear to help benefit charities and schools:
While charity shop staff really don’t want to sort through your old knickers, there are ways to donate your holey pants to help benefit charities. How does that work? Charity shops can sell these rags to rag merchants, earning money by the weight that they sell. It’s one way for them to make money from donations that aren’t good enough to sell.
The rag merchants then sort and group these textiles into bales, which are then shipped abroad for resale or recycling. It’s one way to recycle your old underwear, whilst putting money into your favourite charity.
Do check with your local charity shop first that they do accept rags for donations, as not all do. If they do, simply pop your pre-loved underwear into a bag and clearly mark it as rags. This means staff and volunteers don’t have to waste time sorting through your things and can pop them directly into the rag area.
It’s important to bear in mind that due to the scale of our fast fashion problem, there are no guarantees that clothing sent for recycling abroad won’t end up as waste – either clogging up rivers or dumped in overflowing landfills. It’s certainly a tricky one.
Smalls For All
Smalls For All is a Scottish bra recycling charity. It collects men’s and women’s unworn pants and knickers, and gently worn bras, for redistribution to people in Africa and the UK who can’t afford or get any new underwear. It’s a great way to pass on new pants or knickers that you’ve bought but aren’t going to wear, and for any bras that you’ve barely worn but no longer fit or suit you.
Simply wrap or box up your donation and send it to Smalls for All, Five Sisters Business Park, Westwood, West Calder EH55 8PN. If you’re able to, do include a small donation of £3 to help support Smalls For All with its work.
Against Breast Cancer
Against Breast Cancer also runs a bra collection scheme. This cancer charity collects unwanted and unloved bras whilst raising vital funds for pioneering breast cancer research.
Together with its recycling partners, Against Breast Cancer’s textile recovery project prevents bras from going into landfill. Any bras that are beyond saving are dismantled and recycled. And for bras that are still good enough to wear, these are sent to Togo, Ghana and Kenya, where bras remain expensive to produce locally.
Nursery Schools / Primary Schools
If your kids have grown out of their underwear, then you may be able to pass it on to your local nursery or primary school. Nursery and primary schools like to keep a supply of underwear, socks and tights in case of accidents. As such, they are often grateful for your donation.
I’ve passed on lots of pairs of kids pants, socks and tights – all in good, clean and freshly laundered condition – this way. Do check with the office staff first, before heading over with your donation.
Another option to pass on your old underwear is to recycle it – either through textile banks or through retailer recycling schemes. Here are some of the best options available:
Textile Recycling Banks
Textile recycling banks – found at your local recycling centre or large supermarket – offer one way to recycle your old underwear. Most accept all types of clothing – including ripped, holey, or torn clothing – but not all do so check before you pop your bag in the bank.
In theory, all clothing and textiles – even old underwear- that aren’t suitable to be passed onto someone else can be recycled and made into new items. This includes padding for chairs and car seats, cleaning cloths and industrial blankets. As I noted before though, due to the volume of unwanted clothing that we produce, it is unlikely that every item you donate is recycled.
Another option is one offered by ethical underwear brand Y.O.U. This brand can recycle your old bras, knickers, pants, socks and tights from any brand. It doesn’t have to be Y.O.U. branded underwear.
Y.O.U. recycle these items through TerraCycle. TerraCycle collects hard-to-recycle clothing and then turns them into usable products for industry, rather than going to landfill. Find out more about the Y.O.U recycling scheme here.
Send your old gear to: Y.O.U Underwear, 11 Bodley Place, Oxford, OX2 7TF
Do note that as a small business, Y.O.U. is unable to cover the postage costs. It is, however, covering the recycling costs so you don’t have to pay TerraCycle yourself to recycle your old underwear.
Ethical tights brand Swedish Stockings offers a handy tights recycling service to help reduce textile waste in the hosiery industry. Here it collects your old synthetic tights and then grinds them down. The fibre is then used as filler material in industrial fibreglass tanks or to make stylish tables.
Simply collect three or more pairs of synthetic tights from any brand, and send them to Swedish Stockings – making sure to include your email address. When they arrive at Swedish Stockings, you’ll then be emailed a 10% discount code off your next purchase by way of thanks.
Bra retailer Bravissimo runs a handy bra recycling scheme. Simply head to one of its 25 UK shops, where you can pop your old bras, regardless of brand or condition, into Bravissimo’s bra recycling bins.
The bras are then passed on to Bravissimo’s recycling provider A-TEX. This German-based company focuses on finding innovative ways to recycle textiles and prolong the life of textiles.
Bras good enough to be worn again are passed on for re-wearing. Meanwhile, those not good enough to be worn are separated into different types of materials and components. Some materials are recycled into padding for insulation or reworked to make car seats. And even the dust from these processes can be made into recycled cardboard.
Manufacturer Takeback Schemes
Some brands offer takeback schemes to recycle your old underwear:
Marks & Spencer’s ‘Shwoping’ scheme is a way for M&S’s customers to responsibly rehome, recycle and repurpose their pre-loved M&S clothes, underwear (including bras) and textiles.
Here M&S has partnered with Oxfam, who will either resell, reuse, or recycle these donated textiles and clothing to help raise money to tackle poverty.
Simply pop your pre-loved items in a Shwop box at one of its stores across the UK. If you’re a member of Sparks – M&S’s reward scheme – you can also scan the QR code on top of the box to receive a free treat in your Sparks hub.
Oxfam recycles clothes it can’t sell by selling them to bulk reprocessing companies. These companies then turn the unwanted textiles into new products such as mattress fillings or carpet underlay.
After supporting you every day, the last place you want to send your old underwear to is landfill. Thankfully, there are lots of ways to repair, sell, upcycle or recycle your old undies.
Repairing or selling, if possible, are always the most sustainable options. But if those options aren’t open to you, then you have lots of options. Whether you turn them into something new or recycle them through specialist recycling schemes, takeback schemes, or charity collections, it’s never been easier to keep your old underwear out of the bin.