What To Do With Old T Shirts To Repurpose Them

The green lifestyle means using less energy and recycling. Some of the obvious ways to do this are drive less, share vehicles, reduce garbage and shop secondhand – but it’s easy to forget when so many of have the habit of ordering online and tossing plastic, paper, and food waste into the trash. A great way to take a positive step is to consider what to do with old clothing, since the fashion industry is a huge contributor to global waste. Specifically, what to do with old T shirts and clothing that didn’t cost you much? We have eight ideas that literally anyone can do to repurpose worn, or tired, or non-joy sparking tees.

​What Is Repurposing?

assorted clothes in a cloth line

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Repurposing is like recycling, but by making the decision to repurpose you give the item new life by using it for a different purpose. For example, egg cartons can be repurposed as tiny gardens by filling with soil and planting seeds. Plastic products can be repurposed into specific containers, lawn chairs or fasteners depending on your level of skill. The best examples of repurposing are found in the world of skilled crafters who fashion wallets out of old inner tubes or furniture from recycled pop bottles (or that guy who built an island out of plastic) but anyone can learn what to do with old T shirts.

Why You Shouldn’t Throw Out Old Clothes

Fashion means that what people wear goes in and out of style. Most people, and especially women, dispose of clothing when they no longer like the way it looks. In some cases, we grow out of clothes or lose weight and they sag – but in most cases, we toss them out or donate them because we want newer, better clothing that is in fashion. Naturally, with the billions of people on the earth, this creates piles and piles of cotton (and synthetic fabrics) in landfills. One of the most effective ways of “going green” is to donate your clothing or, better yet, turn it into something you can use at home.

What To Do With Old T Shirts If You Aren’t Crafty

You don’t need skills to repurpose tees, because the bottom line is they can – and should – always be used as rags. Buying rags for the laundry room, garage or shop, or painting is almost never necessary. Old tees should immediately be ripped or cut and stored in a bag (which, by the way, you can make from old T shirts) for their next life. We have a few more creative and fun projects than just rags in our quick guide for repurposing old clothes.

​Can You Repurpose Clothes?

Clothing is one of the best materials for repurposing because fabric can be ripped, shredded, sewn, and crocheted into other clothing or blankets, towels, hot pads or other items. The best type of clothing to repurpose is made from natural materials like cotton, linen, silk, or wool because these are absorbent, durable and attractive, but any material can be sewn into a new shape and new life. When you think about what to do with old T shirts, the first thing that comes to mind is rags, and that function is – while super easy and simple– the first one we’ll cover. But cotton tees also lend themselves to myriad craft projects.

What To Do With Old T Shirts? Repurpose Them! Here Are 8 Things You Can Do

​Every piece of cloth in existence had to be grown (like cotton) or harvested (like wool) in a way that uses resources. When it’s used for a while then dumped into a landfill, those resources haven’t been optimized. Cotton, for example, is a high water usage crop that also strips soils of nutrients. Wool requires raising sheep, who consume grass, water, and food. since most of us don’t see the planting and harvesting processes, we tend to think there is an endless supply, but with billions of people on the planet, we now have no choice but to conserve resources and teach our children to do so.

Make Rags

five colors of rag

​Image source: pixabay.com

Buying rags is a waste of money and creates a market for someone to create rags out of new, unsustainable materials. Old tees, especially cotton ones, make terrific, absorbent rags. This project doesn’t even require tools! T shirts can be ripped into pieces about 12 x 12 inches for ideal rags that are useful for cleaning spills, working on the car, washing the car, or cleaning up after pets. Traditionally, rags were to the go-to for what to do with old T shirts and were used for polishing wood or applying shoe polish, and kept in the garage for tinkering with the car. Don’t buy shop rags, make your own!

​Dog Beds

dog lying down on a dog bed

​Image source: pixabay.com

​Old T shirts can be cut into strips or squares for dog beds. To repurpose one into a dog blanket, cut shirts into rectangles after cutting arms off and sewing them closed. Stuff the shirt with other shredded T shirt materials and you’ve created a dog bed that can be used to line the bottom of a crate. The structure of the bed is created by one semi-intact T shirt (arms removed, sewn shut; collar sewn shut) stuffed from the bottom with shredded pieces. If you don’t own a dog, this is still a project you can do for fun, then donate the dog beds to your local Humane Society or give them as a gift to friends or families who are dog owners.

​Tote Bags

woman carrying tote bag

​Image source: pexels.com

​This is an easy project that creates a tote bag for shopping. With a tote, you create a win-win situation by just saying no to plastic and paper grocery bags. To accomplish this, cut the bottom of the T shirt into strips or “fringe” so the entire bottom now has pieces about 1/” wide and 3 to 4 inches long. Use another T-shirt to cut two long strips (about one foot by 2 inches wide). Tie the ends of the “fringe” together to close up the bottom, and use the cut strips to make handles. The bag is strong, secure and flexible and you can experiment with techniques to make bags out of favorite tees you don’t want to let go of.

​Packing Materials

​Packing materials such as styrofoam peanuts and plastic bubble wrap work great to reduce breakage, but create huge amounts of non-sustainable waste. When considering what to do with old T shirts, store a few and then use them to wrap breakable items when packing. They don’t add much to shipping weight. Shred T shirt material to pack between objects and fill up the box. This creates a perfect cushion to keep your shipped items from shattering in transit.

​Pot Holders

​Pot holders don’t need to be highly attractive, but to make the best looking ones use two t-shirts of contrasting colors. Cut strips from the shirts, about ten inches long and 2-3 inches wide. Twirl the strips into small “ropes” and tie the bottoms. Weave these ropes together to create a hot pad that is tough, thick, and flexible enough for daily use. These make good gifts, and can also be used under small countertop appliances that don’t slide well. A secondary use for hot pads is as a heat barrier on the dining room table, to protect wood surfaces from hot dishes. Pot holder-making has the added bonus of being highly kid-friendly.

Blankets Or Faux Quilts

assorted fabric

​Image source: pexels.com

​When wondering what to do with old T shirts, those of us who are less crafty might be intimidated by sewing a whole blanket. Start small, and make a throw. The easiest method is to cut small squares of uniform size, then quilt them together into a patchwork. This works with cotton, linen, bamboo and even synthetic fabrics (although most tees come in cotton).

Save For Workouts, Painting, Etc.

​T shirts you once loved should be repurposed for workouts, whether at home or at the gym. This is the first line of defense. Does it still fit? Is it relatively unstained? Then it’s a great workout shirt. The same is true of house painting and other messy chores. Keep a few old tees on hand so you won’t be tempted to use a shirt you might stain. If you wear these old tees enough, they will eventually wear out and you can toss them while staying guilt-free!

Faux Paper Towels Or Camp Towels

different colors of towels

​Image source: pixabay.com

If you spend time outdoors, you are likely to own specialized gear like tiny, compact pillows or foldable camp chairs. Towels, whether for cooking or bathing, are handy to have in camp and they can be purchased. Why buy a new one when you can use old cotton tees? Cotton is highly absorbent and although it doesn’t dry quickly once soaked, it’s a great material for drying the body off when in the outdoors. As with blankets, make a prototype to find the right balance. Old tees are a great replacement for kitchen paper towels, which are a huge source of waste.


​It’s satisfying to recycle but even better to repurpose. After all, you never quite know what is happening to all that recycling that you toss in the bin, but you can be sure your old tee shirts are getting a great workout when they’ve been transformed into pot holders, dog beds, tote bags and more. Your imagination is really the only limit to what you can make out of fabric, and tees are made of durable cotton that should be repurposed until they can be used no more. The bonus comes with giving repurposed cotton tees as gifts, since people appreciate hand made items and many of us want to “go green” but don’t know how.

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