It’s always nice to freshen up your bedroom with fresh, new sheets from time to time, but what do you do with the old ones?
When brainstorming eco-friendly ways to repurpose old linens, a better way to think of bed sheets just might be “large all-purpose cloths.” Once the linens have gotten a little too worn out for cozy sleep, they can be transformed quickly into a variety of other useful items.
From picnic blankets to plant warmers to produce bags, here are 10 genius ways to reuse and repurpose bed sheets and keep waste out of our landfills.
1. Take them on a picnic
There’s definitely no need to shell out for a fancy picnic blanket when you have perfectly good bed sheets sitting in the closet. Bring them along as a sit-upon for your next outdoor meal, folding the sheet a few times for extra coverage if the ground is a little damp. (Or just bring two, and layer them.)
2. Let your kids make a fort
Too cold or wet to play outside? Hand a pile of sheets over to your kids and challenge them to construct The World’s Best Fort. Making the World’s Best anything can take a lot of time. Remember to provide the kids with additional pillows, which can supply reinforcement to the fort’s cloth walls, and clothespins help prevent sheet slippage!
Of course, building the structure is only the beginning: Once the secret hideaway is up, everyone can hang out and tell spooky stories, have an indoor picnic, put on a shadow puppet show, or even camp out overnight. And when it’s time for the fort to come down, use the sheets as costumes for dress-up.
3. Save them for packing material
Packing materials like bubble wrap and butcher’s paper are wasteful. And when you need a lot of it, it can get expensive. But, because you can use old bed sheets over and over and over, they get the job done without harming the planet. Plus, they’re free!
Fold big sheets into layers to form thick cushions for breakable items, or use them to prevent scratches while moving. Save pillowcases for the smaller items, like glasses, small picture frames, and trinkets. Stuff sheets into the corners of boxes to keep loose items from jostling around. And you can add them as a top layer to secure items before you tape up the box.
4. Three words: instant movie screen
Nothing beats watching a movie outside on a warm summer night. Hang a large sheet between two trees and use it as a projector screen under the stars. If the sheet’s a little wrinkly, iron it first for a smoother picture.
Don’t have a projector? No problem. Search eBay or Craigslist for inexpensive used ones or ask your neighbors and invite them to the flick, too. You can also check about borrowing one from your local school or rec center.
5. Package gifts with zero waste
Sure, wrapping paper looks nice — for about five seconds before your gift recipient tears it up and tosses it straight into the trash. Instead, cut sheets into wrapping-paper sized squares, using pinking shears to get a pretty edge that won’t fray.
Fold the sheets just like wrapping paper and secure with safety pins at the corners. Or, place your gift item in the middle of the sheet, gather the edges on top, and tie the whole thing up with ribbon or twine. Stamps and paints can be used to make the wrapping more festive and it makes a great holiday project for kids.
6. Give ‘em to the dogs (or cats)
It’s no secret that pets love having warm, cozy places to burrow and snuggle. But to your furry friend, it won’t matter whether his or her cuddly blanket came new from the pet store or used from your linen closet. Sheets can also be used to re-stuff pet beds.
If you don’t have a dog or cat, you can always donate your sheets to a local animal shelter. Since shelters are always short on supplies, it will be put to good use.
7. Reduce paper waste
Old sheets that have been cut into squares are a greener alternative to many disposable products. Turn them into rags to replace paper towels; use them for cleaning up floors or for dusting cloths. Keep some in the garage for cleaning messy hands or shoes.
8. Take them to the store
With zero effort, pillowcases can instantly be transformed into reusable shopping bags. You can even use them at the grocery store as an alternative to plastic produce bags or plastic containers in the bulk aisle. To turn them into an easy-to-carry tote, sew on a couple handles and you’re good to go: PreparednessMama has some simple instructions.
9. Make draft catchers
Drafty doors and windows don’t just make your home uncomfortable in the winter — they also make your heating system work harder than it needs to. You can stuff pieces of old sheets into drafty corners to block out cold air, or craft easy-to-make draft catchers: Cut the sheets into squares or rectangles, sew up three sides, fill them with rice or dried beans, then sew up the last side.
When microwaved for 30 seconds or so, mini draft catchers also make great hand warmers that you can stick in your coat pockets or heat packs for sore muscles. Just be sure to test the warmers with a finger before grabbing them with your whole hand, in case they’re too hot.
10. Cover chilly plants
Protect your fall veggies and flowers from unseasonably chilly nights by draping them with old bed sheets. The sheets will trap whatever warmth is left in the ground, keeping your plants toasty and helping them stick around a little bit longer.
Do you have good ideas for reusing old bed sheets? Share your tips with the community in the Earthling Forum.
Feature image courtesy of Cama
Editor’s note: Originally published on December 13, 2014, this article was updated in January 2019.