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Low-waste living: why you shouldn’t bin last season’s fast-fashion buys

From reusable cotton pads to a creative replacement for cling film, learn how to DIY old clothes and give them a new lease of life with these simple tips for clothes recycling! Upcycling old clothes couldn't be easier.


By Cleanipedia Team

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Love fashion but hate waste? Having clothes you no longer wear is inevitable - but don’t worry. If you don’t think they’re worth tucking away in storage, we’ve got some surprising DIY clothes ideas to give them a whole new lease of life. Waste is out and clothes recycling is in! From upcycling jeans to discovering how to upcycle clothes without sewing, the only limit is your imagination!

Make reusable cotton pads

So you might be wondering how to recycle clothes into new clothes, but there are so many other things you can do with old garms to help the environment!

Cotton pads are widely used for taking make-up off – but have you stopped to think how many you go through in a week, a month, or even a year? It doesn’t bear thinking about. There’s a way to halt this habit and make use of your old clothes at the same time – by making your own cotton pads. And these you can wash and dry after use before going again. It's the perfect clothes recycling hack!

What’s more, a variety of fabrics do the job. Things like linen, coarse cotton, and even denim could work on the rough side of the pad, while softer fabrics like flannelette, cotton and jersey can go on the other side.


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As with most of our tips, you’ll need a sewing machine - but that doesn’t mean you need to be an expert. Here’s how you can make reusable makeup remover pads:

  1. Cut the fabric into 10cm x 10cm squares, and match them up with the other fabric if you want a rough and a smooth side.

  2. Use a medium-length zig-zag stitch on your sewing machine, starting and finishing with a few back-stitch stitches. A tip for the corners: make sure the needle is in the fabric when you need to go down another side, so you can just rotate the fabric while it’s still in.

Another T-shirt bites the dust… in a good way

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Soft cloths are always needed around the house, whether it’s to dust off your mirrors and glassware, buff your surfaces or clean your jewellery. But why bother buying these when you can make them super easily from old T-shirts? If you're looking to DIY old clothes, or you want to know how to upcycle clothes without sewing, this is a great one for you. Because really, if it means not throwing it out and creating waste, then it's an upcycle in our eyes! 

Here’s how to make your own dust rags and t-shirt upcycle:

  1. Lay your clean, print-free T-shirt down flat.

  2. Cut a straight line across the chest area, just below where the sleeves start.

  3. Put the top part of the T-shirt aside and trim three of the edges of the bottom part with a rotary cutter.

  4. You should now have two cloths. Simply trim any ragged edges and you’re ready to go!

female hand cleaning ring with blue cloth

Make a cotton bowl cover – and never use cling film again

You never want to waste food, so when it comes to leftovers it’s easy just to stick them in a bowl, cover with cling film and bung in the fridge for the next day. However, while cling film is convenient, it is also plastic – and thrown away after every use. Not the most environmentally friendly. Here’s how to make bowl covers – that you can simply wash after use – from any of your old cotton clothes.

For just covering food for a picnic or packed lunch later in the day, use just one layer of fabric. For leftovers, you can use two layers. For extra freshness power, you might want to add a layer of PUL fabric (this is the stuff used for reusable nappies) – but remember, it’s still plastic, so you may want to avoid altogether.

Here’s how to make a bowl cover using the combination of a cotton T-shirt and some PUL fabric – or two layers of a cotton T-shirt:

  1. Cut two circles 1.5” wider than the bowl that you want to cover.

  2. Place the circles with the ‘right’ sides (that’s the printed, or ‘pretty’ sides of the fabric) facing outwards and zig-zag stitch around the circumference.

  3. Measure some elastic to fit the bowl that you want to cover. And instead of buying the elastic, why not see if you have any old elasticated trousers or skirts that you no longer need?

  4. Stretch the elastic and sew right to the outside edge of the cover. Use a lock-stitch or back-stitch where the ends meet.

Cushion covers, pillowcases and blankets

T-shirts often have fabulous prints, so it seems a shame to relegate them to the back of the wardrobe or into storage. If you're into upcycling clothes – this is the option for you!

You can keep these prints alive with a little bit of creativity: simply use the T-shirt to make a statement cushion cover. You could even stitch a few prints together to make a collage-style blanket. They’re brilliant ways to add your unique personality to your home, as well as to prompt memories of the fun you might have had when wearing the design in its former life.

And if you’ve got some old jeans that don’t work for you anymore, you can give these a new lease of life by making them into pillowcases or cushion covers, too. Upcycling jeans is a great way to make the most of different shades of denim, even better – you can use your many different pairs of jeans to make a striped design to add casual chic to your living room or bedroom. Upcycling clothes into soft furnishings is a brilliant way to add a little bit of quirkiness to your home décor. 

And if all else fails… recycle, recycle, recycle

Unfortunately, there will always be some unloved clothes and fabric left over from your stash. But you can still make sure they’re reused in some way.

Many high street chains, such as H&M, accept old clothes for recycling. Or, if you have items in good condition, why not donate to a local charity shop? And while you’re there, it’s worth checking what they do with clothes not in good enough condition to sell – they may well know a reputable fabric recycling scheme.

Your local council will probably also have a policy for recycling clothes, whether they take them alongside your regular weekly recycling collections, or have recycling points (often found in local car parks and at supermarkets).

Another option is getting your mates round and to run your own swap shop. A swap shop is a great way for your clothes to last even longer with a new owner – and to get yourself a new wardrobe at the same time! 

So what are you waiting for? Whether it be setting up your own swap shop or making your own cotton pads, get rummaging through those old clothes and see what you can do with them. Whatever you do, have fun with these upcycling ideas for clothes. 

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Originally published