When it comes to greening your wardrobe, a lot depends on what you do with your clothing at the end of its usefulness to you. We urge you to never send clothing to the landfill. Textile recycling is alive and well in the United States. Almost always, nonprofits that accept donations of clothing will recycle articles that are not reusable.
Underwear is sometimes an exception with clothing donations, for obvious sanitary reasons. And with all textiles, there are grades: Is the undergarment reusable or is it worn out? Sometimes underwear is still in very good shape and should find a new user. This is especially true for kids’ underthings that they grow out of quickly.
Nonprofits That Accept Underwear
Many nonprofits use donations of clothing and housewares to fund their mission while providing clothing to those in need either at low or no cost. Some of these include USAgain, Easter Seals, The Purple Heart Foundation, and the Salvation Army. Others such as PlanetAid provide usable clothing to sellers in other countries to distribute in their stores.
All of these groups state that they will send unusable clothing for recycling. The textiles can be shredded and made into soundproofing for appliances, wiping rags, rug pads, commercial insulation, and more.
Those listed above are all large, national nonprofits. You may have a homeless or transition shelter in your town that is looking for clothing. I promise you they need underwear. Call or email to ask if they accept gently used undies.
More Underwear Recycling Options
If you are buying new underwear, you might turn to a few forward-thinking underwear companies that accept used underwear for recycling. Knickey will trade you a pair of free organic underwear when you recycle underwear (any brand) through them. Hanky Panky, a lingerie company, also accepts bras and panties of any brand for recycling with a purchase. Additionally, clothing retailers H&M and Zara accept clothing of all brands for recycling.
You might have some luck finding a textile recycling group in your area in the Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles Association database. Also, check out Earth911 Recycling Search for locations near you that accept “clothing” or “fabric” — be sure to call to confirm the organization accepts used underwear.
There are a few businesses, such as Simple Recycling and Ridwell, that will pick up clothing for recycling in some areas. But if you have a great deal of textile recycling along with your underwear, you might want to turn to TerraCycle, a company that believes everything can be recycled and makes it happen. You can purchase a TerraCycle Fabrics and Clothing Zero Waste Box to fill and return to the company. A caveat: This valuable service doesn’t come cheaply, but works well if you pool resources with others. You can also check for TerraCycle’s free clothing recycling programs; these change periodically and are usually limited to certain clothing types and brands.
Bra Recycling and Donation
You have a few more options for direct donation and recycling your bras than you do for other undies. The Bra Recycling Agency (B. R. A.) accepts worn-out and unusable bras for recycling. The Bra Recyclers will recycle worn-out bras and donate any usable bras to those in need.
There are a number of nonprofits that provide bras to girls and women in unfortunate situations. Send your still-usable bras to I Support the Girls, Bras for Cause, or Free the Girls.
Still More Options for Your Undies
If you’re more of a DIY recycler, there are even more options for your underwear. Consider upcycling your underwear fabric; if it’s a cute pattern, turn your undies into an accessory or patch.
If your underwear is 100% cotton, you might try cutting it into strips and seeing what happens in your backyard compost pile.
As a last resort, you can always extend the life of your undies by using them as cleaning rags.
Originally published on April 27, 2021, this article was updated in November 2022.