10 Ways to Recycle Your Old T-Shirts!

Written by: Jacob Stein
Copyedited by: Tara Kari
Proofread by: Sofia Anrecio

Here at the University of Florida, we have t-shirts for every year, occasion and event. Each class has its own merchandise, and the Honors College even distributes its own shirts. Each college has t-shirts printed every single year. On top of this, Gainesville has several businesses from screen printers to bookstores that focus on selling t-shirts to students and residents alike. For a small city, we sure pump out a lot of graphic tees. After a while, these shirts add up in terms of production. Indeed, the overproduction and consumption of clothing in the Western world has become a problem known as “fast fashion.” Clothing is being produced non-stop to fuel consumer demand. In the olden days, people would patch up, repair and recycle these clothes. Now, we just throw them in the donation pile. While some say donating clothes to thrift stores helps reduce their environmental impact, which is definitely true, the fact is most clothing is deemed too unusable to be sold, is baled up, and gets sent to third-world countries. While seemingly a gesture made in good faith, sending clothes to third-world countries often leaves them with piles of unusable material and ruins the local textiles economies. The best way to wring more life out of a t-shirt is to recycle or upcycle it yourself. There are many different ways in which you can recycle your unwanted clothes, detailed below.

1. Chop it!

One of the best ways to recycle a shirt is to turn it into a cleaning rag. One hundred percent cotton graphic t-shirts are excellent for cleaning up counters and stains. If you have a spill, you can use your new rag instead of ruining your nice towels. Simply cut the shirt up with scissors and voila! If you have a beat-up pair of jeans, the fabric is excellent for patching up other pairs of pants. This method is also great for raggedy shirts that cannot be worn or cleaned. Always clean first before you decide to chop up a tee!

2. Crop it!

Cropped t-shirts are always in style, and if you are into fashion, cropping a graphic tee can turn an ugly shirt into something cool. All you need is scissors!

3. T-shirt blanket!

Though extremely expensive, a t-shirt blanket is a great way to reuse large quantities of old shirts. Most services charge around $70 to 100 to make one. However, you can always find a friend who is willing to make one for you!

4. Bleach it!

Bleaching works best with dark-colored tees. You have to be very careful not to get any stuff you do not want bleached, and also make sure there is something between the bleach and the ground. There are tons of different ways to bleach them, and YouTube is a great place to start!

5. Dye it!

This method works best for white t-shirts. Tie-dye shirts are always in demand, and it seems like they never go out of style. Search YouTube for all the different ways you can dye your shirts.

6. Clean it!

Sometimes a dirty tee just needs some TLC. For colored tees, it is best to wash with regular detergent. For white tees, the sky is the limit. You can use Oxi-Clean and Borax to wash out stains, as well as any other household washing product.

7. Sell it!

Selling clothes on places like Etsy and Facebook Marketplace is a great way to make sure someone gets use out of your old garments.

8. Give it to a friend!

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Something you might not like could be a gem in the eyes of your friend. 

9. Decorate it!

It is amazing what a small patch can do to make a t-shirt look better. Between patches, drawings and decorations, there are endless options to turn a t-shirt into something trendy.

10. Donate it to a small local  thrift store!

Before you donate, always make sure that the organization is non-profit and actually helps people. On many donation boxes, there is a fine print which details that the receiver of clothing is for-profit. When in doubt, look for local shops that help the community out.

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