What Can I Do With T-Shirts That Are Too Worn Out to Donate?

Q: What do I do with my clothes that are too worn out for the Goodwill bin? More importantly, what do I do with all my husband’s old T-shirts that he’s had since college, and some since elementary school? I can’t give them to Goodwill – no one in their right mind would wear his pit-stained, washed 400 times, lifeguard T-shirt from the 10th grade, right? What do I do with this stuff?

A: Oh man, I know exactly what you’re talking about. Me thinks my hubby may have a few of those T-shirts himself (like the Midas muffler T-shirt from the year Midas went into business, that is so worn and washed-out it’s actually see-through ... and it’s a black T-shirt). You’re lucky your husband is even willing to part with these treasures, as mine has been hoarding them in the back of his sock drawer since he was 13.

Now I’m not going to tell you that I don’t have a few of these doozies myself. I still have the T-shirt from my sixth-grade class trip complete with all our personal jokes on the back that no one else understands. (“Broccoli!!!”) But I have chosen to save maybe three or four T-shirts throughout my life and my husband has say, about 50. So it stands to good reason (or at least to my reason) that some of these T-shirts should begin to make their exit, no?

Now, you may think that Goodwill will not accept such donations, or you might very well be embarrassed to even donate them at all (in which case, you craftily hide them underneath your decent giveaway clothing). But before you just dump these clothes into the trash can, hear this: Places like Goodwill and the Salvation Army will not only accept these items of clothing for donation, but they will put them to good use, even if they can’t sell them.

These clothing donation centers usually have contracts with textile recycling companies who specialize in recycling fabric. Clothes that are still wearable are shipped to underdeveloped countries for sale at a fraction of their price. Some cottons can be turned into polishing rags and the like, and still other fabric is broken down and used for other purposes, like home and automotive insulation, furniture padding, blankets and even to make paper.

Patagonia, an outdoor clothing manufacturer, even started its own recycling program in 2005, encouraging customers to send back their old Patagonia clothing to the company for recycling. The program started with just the Capilene long underwear, but has since expanded to include Patagonia fleece, cotton T-shirts, and even Polartec fleece clothing from any manufacturer.

If you’re handy, you can even recycle those old clothes yourself. You can use scraps to make quilts, pillowcases, or even grocery bags. And anyone can turn an old T-shirt into a rag with a good pair of scissors. Just don’t let your husband see you polishing the silver with that Lifeguard T-shirt of his. Even though he’s agreed to give it up, that doesn’t mean you should desecrate ol’ faithful right in front of him.