What To Do With Old Jeans: Clever Upcycle & Recycle Tips

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Wondering what to do with your old jeans? Here are lots of clever repair, upcycling and recycling tips to help keep them out of landfill.

In the UK alone, we collectively buy 70 million pairs of jeans a year. That’s a whole lot of denim. So much so that Oxfam says that the carbon emissions produced by manufacturing these jeans are comparable to the emissions produced by a coal-fired power station in 18 months.

And that’s before we’ve even looked at the problem of clothing waste. The United Nations reports that less than half of used clothes are collected for reuse or recycling. The remainder goes straight to landfill. And for the used clothes that are collected, only 1% of these are actually recycled into new clothes.

If you have an old pair of jeans that’s in a sad state, then let’s try to not add to these quite sobering statistics. Instead, I’ve got lots of clever ways to repair, upcycle or recycle your denim. These will either keep them in use in some way for longer or increase their chances of getting recycled.

Easy Ideas for Repairing, Upcycling & Recycling Your Old Jeans

Denim fabric and scissors with blue text box that reads what to do with old jeans, clever ways to upcycle and recycle them.

If you’re wondering what to do with your old jeans that you can’t wear anymore, then here are my top tips to get you started. You can use the quick links to jump to each section or keep scrolling for the full post.

Repair Them

Repairing your old jeans, if possible, is the absolute pinnacle of sustainability. It keeps your denim in use longer and means you don’t have to buy a new pair. Double win!

Making simple repairs doesn’t have to be daunting. Even if you don’t consider yourself particularly crafty, there are heaps of useful tutorials out there that practically hold your hand through the whole repair process.

Patch Them

Patching ripped or torn jeans is a fun and easy way to make a repair whilst injecting some personality into them. Iron-on patches are the easiest to apply, but if you are reasonably nimble with a needle, then you can sew a patch on relatively quickly.

You can buy patches in almost any design imaginable – try Etsy for the biggest selection. Once you’ve picked out a patch – definitely the trickiest bit – here’s how to affix it to your denim:

Visible Mending

Visible mending is a creative way of repairing holes in your jeans using colourful threads, stitches and/or pieces of fabric that aren’t hidden from view. Your mend essentially becomes a wearable piece of art.

Replacing The Buttons

If your jeans button has come loose then don’t despair. It’s not as difficult as it looks to make this repair. All you need is a  no-sew button (available for a couple of pounds on Etsy) and a hammer! No needles are required!

  • This handy video on replacing a button on denim is incredibly straightforward.
  • This blog post on replacing buttons on jeans goes into much more detail. So if part of your button is still attached to your jeans, or the fabric is torn, it tells you how to make these fixes too.


If you need to hem your jeans, this is a surprisingly easy fix to make that can be done by hand, using a sewing machine, or by using no-sew hem tape (like this tape from John Lewis). This handy blog post from A Beautiful Mess talks you through each option.

More Repair Tips

You can also check out my handy guide on fixing your clothes, for advice on how to repair and mend almost anything.

Alternatively, if the repair is beyond your skill level, a local tailor can make any repair for you for a fee.

Ways To Upcycle Old Jeans

If your jeans are beyond repair then the next best thing to do is upcycle them – essentially giving them a new life as something else entirely. Here are five clever ideas to get you started, but the only real limit is your imagination!

Denim Makeup Bag DIY

Upcycled denim makeup bag on pink background.

Give your jeans a new lease of life with this clever upcycle from Curly Made. This cute makeup bag is perfect for corraling your cosmetics and can be adapted easily to the size you need. The hardest part will be affixing the zip, but Curly Made talks you through the whole process in the handy video.

Denim Work Apron DIY

Person wearing a denim work apron made from jeans

The blog, Adirondack Girl At Heart, has a clever DIY for making a denim work apron from a pair of jeans. Super handy for crafters, it’s a great way to keep all your tools to hand, whilst giving your denim a brand new lease of life.

Upcycled Luggage Tags

upcycled denim luggage tags

If you’ve worn your jeans to the absolute death, then sometimes only small bits of denim are salvageable. If that’s the case for you, then you still don’t have to bin them! Instead, these clever upcycled denim luggage tags from Scratch and Stitch are a cute way to use up the bits of denim you can salvage.

DIY Coasters

Denim coasters made from upcycled old jeans

Again, if you just have some small bits of useable denim, then these fun upcycled coasters are a great way to use up this fabric whilst creating something practical for your home. This DIY is also from Scratch & Stitch – they sure do know their way around upcycling old clothes!

Commission An Upcycling Expert

upcycled denim tote bag

If the idea of upcycling your jeans is way beyond your skill level, then you can send them away for upcycling by clever individuals.

Cornwall-based Jeanie & Me, for example, will take your old jeans and cleverly make you a bespoke bag from them, like the bag pictured above. If there are any special features on your jeans, then these can be included in the bag design. Just let Jeanie & Me know your requirements.

Way To Recycle Old Jeans

If your jeans are beyond repair, and beyond being able to be upcycled, then the best thing to do is to recycle them. Recycling old clothes that can’t be donated to charity is tricky, but it can be done. Here are some ideas:

Use Manufacturer Take Back Schemes

If you have bought your denim from an ethical jeans brand, then they may well have a takeback scheme in place. Here they will reuse your jeans to create new jeans or products, keeping them out of landfill.

Brands that have takeback schemes include:

  • Nudie Jeans – who use your old Nudie jeans to make patches to repair jeans, as fabric for new denim accessories, or to create a recycled fabric blend for making new jeans. 
  • Fanfare – who will take back your Fanfare jeans and reuse, recycle or redesign them to keep your jeans out of landfill.
  • MUD Jeans – who takes back your old MUD jeans, and then weaves them into new denim fabrics, containing up to 40% post-consumer recycled cotton.

Some other ethical jeans brands don’t have takeback schemes but are trying to do things better. In most cases, only the legs of conventional jeans can be recycled, because of the rivets and hardware on them.

Ethical retailer BAM is trying to do things differently so that the whole pair of jeans can be recycled. As such, it has been working with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Jeans Redesign team to be fully recyclable. Now BAM’s jeans have no rivets and have an un-screwable button. This means that once the zip is cut out BAM jeans can be fully recycled for denim with less waste.

Whilst charity shops can only sell good quality clothing, worn-out clothes can also sometimes be donated. This is because many charity shops do sell unwearable donations to the rag trade, for a small profit.

It’s not an ideal solution, as due to the scale of the fast fashion problem, there are simply too many clothes and not enough ways to recycle these clothes. There is no guarantee that your rags won’t end up in landfill, incinerated, or fly-tipped.

First, ask if your charity local shop accepts rags. If they do, make sure your clothes are placed together in a bag clearly marked as rags. This should be separate from other quality goods that are being donated for sale. This means the volunteers know not to sort out your donations, and to place them directly in their rag collection area.

Final Thoughts

Making jeans is both resource-intensive and carbon-intensive. To lessen the load on the environment, and to prevent your old jeans from clogging up our landfills, there are some clever things you can do. Whether you make them last longer by making some simple repairs, give your old denim a new lease of life through clever upcycling, or recycle them responsibly, it’s easy to turn your blue jeans green!

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