How to Recycle Old T-Shirts: Ideas to Reuse & Recycle Old T-Shirts

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Once upon a time, the T-shirt was created as a sort of petticoat for a man to wear under his collared dress shirt. Today, T-shirts have many roles. They are no longer hidden underneath clothes but rather worn ‘out loud’, as a fashion statement and as the ‘little black dress’ of casual wear. They are collected by marathon runners, and even a parent looks ‘cool’ when their teenager discovers that ratty Grateful Dead or Def Leppard T-shirt in the bottom of dad’s drawer. Unfortunately, not all T-shirts were made to earn a place in the family trunk, and so many get tossed into the landfill every year. Before sending that old lifeless shirt to the Big Drawer in the Sky, consider some of the following suggestions first.

Donate It

If the shirt is still in good condition, consider donating it to a homeless shelter. Many times shelters have an abundance of women’s and children’s clothes, but have a shortage of men’s clothes because men usually wear their clothes until they are used up and then they need to be thrown away. An animal shelter is also a good candidate for T-shirt donations because they have unlimited uses for them.

Jazz it Up

Options abound for jazzing up an old shirt. Whole aisles in craft stores are dedicated to decorating T-shirts. There are products specially formulated for painting on that type of material. There are dye-based paints for using the shirt as a canvas or paints that puff up to add texture when they are applied. T-shirts can be sequined or bedazzled, or both. Several books are available at the library offering patterns for modifying the shape of the shirt. For example, the shirt can be cut off below the arms and strung to be worn as a halter top or mini skirt.


Beautiful area rugs have been created by tearing the old shirts into strips. The strips are then sewn together at the ends and then braided together. Twenty large T-shirts will make an oval rug approximately four by five feet around. Alternatively, the strips can be woven, crocheted or knitted into fabric which can then be used to create a rug, tote bag or even a charming jacket. The shirt can be cut into patches and made into a homey quilt.

The most common use for this abundant resource is for rags. A household can never have too many rags, and when the mess is not caustic or otherwise dangerous, these rags can be used many times. T-shirt material is absorbent and lends itself well to many applications.