Wondering what to do with old t shirts taking up space in your closet? I’ve got a long list of things to do with them.
With old t shirts:
- try donating
- selling to second-hand stores
- repairing holes
- reusing to make new clothes
- repurposing the fabric
Most of these ideas do involve sewing.
If you don’t have a sewing kit or sewing machine, consider getting one second hand instead of buying brand new.
Why use old t shirts?
Here’s a quote from UNEP that pretty much sums up the problem with fast fashion:
“The fashion industry produces 20% of global wastewater and 10% of global carbon emissions – more than all international flights and maritime shipping. Textile dyeing is the second largest polluter of water globally…”
That’s not all.
Washing synthetic fabric can release huge levels of microplastics into the environment.
Of course, there is the lack of humanity in the industry too. Poor working conditions, low wages, child labor, and lack of protective equipment are just some of the many problems with fast fashion.
It is also difficult to recycle synthetics and fabric blends. So, don’t throw out your old tees. Resources have already been used to create them. Reuse and repurpose them instead to reduce the demand for new fabric and new fashion.
What to do with old t shirts?
These ideas are guided by the Rs: repair, reuse, repurpose, and recycle.
Upcycling will fall into the reusing category and using the fabric for purposes other than fashion will go into the repurposing section.
I hope you try many of these ideas when considering what to do with old t shirts you already own.
If your tees are still in good condition without holes or stains:
#1 Give as hand-me-downs
Extend the life of your clothes by giving them to friends and family. This is especially useful for kids and teens who need larger clothes every few months.
#2 Donate to charity
Reach out to local charities, shelters and activists. Ask if they need good quality, old tees. The short answer will likely be yes.
Donate to help natural disaster and emergency relief efforts too. Sometimes, people only have the clothes on their backs after a major hurricane, flood, or earthquake.
#3 Sell to second hand retailers
Why not make a couple bucks from your old tees? Resell them to second-hand stores and thrift shops. There are so many avenues to resell using thredUP, The RealReal, Tradesy, Poshmark, eBay, local stores, and garage sales.
#4 Stitch small holes closed
Use simple stitches to close small holes in the t shirt fabric. You will need a needle and matching thread, that’s it! Here’s an easy-to-follow tutorial.
#5 Darn larger holes
With this sewing technique (called darning), weave thread to fill in larger holes. This wonderful video explains darning perfectly.
#6 Use fusible interfacing
Fusible interfacing contains a thin layer of thermoplastic. When heated, the plastic glues the interfacing to fabric. You can use fusible interfacing to repair old t shirts without sewing.
Weigh the pros of t shirt repair versus the use of plastic. Decide if it is worth it. Also, ask your local fabric store if they sell package-free fusible interfacing.
This video explains how to repair holes without stitching.
#7 Dye to hide stains
Got stains? The best fix is to hide them. Try boiling food scraps to make your own dyes at home. Leave the tees to soak for 24 hours then rinse and allow to dry.
Follow Rosmery’s video – she used onion skins, avocado peels, and more.
#8 Tie dye the tee
With rubber bands and food scraps, try tie dying the tees. Check out Roo’s video for instructions.
#9 Hammer on flowers
To hide small spots, try hammering on dark colored flowers to transfer the pigments onto the fabric. Sheri gives simple instructions.
#10 Eco print the fabric
Use leaves and flowers to create patterns on the old tees. You’ll need a few things like alum, vinegar, rusty nails, foraged leaves and flowers. Aannsha’s video explains everything.
Here are some more tips on what to do with old t shirts related to reusing the fabric as fashion.
#11 Reuse as sleepwear
After so many washes, old tees are super soft and comfy making them perfect as pjs.
#12 Reuse as a hair wrap
A long sleeve tee works really well to wrap your hair. Mel has a great instructional video.
#13 Fix the fit
If your tees are the wrong fit, you can either downsize them or upsize them with added fabric.
Downsizing a tee:
Upsizing four ways:
#14 Cut out a tank top
If the tee is too big or there are armpit stains, try making a tank top. At minimum, you’ll need a scissors. If you have access to a serger machine, be sure to serge those edges so the top will last longer.
This video can help:
#15 Make a crop top
This is for DIYers with intermediate and advanced sewing skills. Jess Dang has a great video on making ruched crop tops a few different ways.
#16 Turn it into a mini dress
You’ll need a larger tee to try this Fashion Wizardry tutorial. It’s worth it!
#17 Or a wrap dress
Micarah explains how to convert a large tee into a cute little wrap top or add extra for a wrap dress.
#18 Convert into shorts
Sudhaa’s Craft Corner goes through the steps and measurements for making your very own shorts. You can use elastic or string for the waistband.
#19 Transform into a romper
Fashion Wizardry has a great instructional video on turning a tee into a cute romper.
#20 Make a baby romper
You’ll need a pattern, snaps or velcro, interfacing, and basic sewing supplies to follow this video on making a baby romper.
#21 And kids clothes
There are lots of resources and patterns online for making kids clothing. Use the soft old tees in place of brand new fabric to make pants, dresses, and more.
This video demonstrates how to make an adorable frock.
#22 Dress your pets
I’m not sure if this falls in the reuse or repurpose category on what to do with old t shirts. But, it’s still fashion so I’ll add it in here.
My dog is a large 80-pound rottweiler and she fits snuggly in my old tees. She’s such a big teddy bear. If your dog isn’t the same size, follow Fantasy Couch’s video on making pet shirts. I recommend using Velcro or buttons in place of pins.
#23 And dolls
Old tees are perfect for creating fun doll clothes. Take the opportunity to teach the kids how to sew too. That’ll spark their creativity.
#24 Make a tote
Old tees and a scissors are all you need to make reusable bags. No sewing necessary. Here’s a wonderful video showing you how to make a cute tote.
#25 Turn into drawstring bags
Jessica uses a sleeve of an old tee to make an on-the-go cutlery drawstring bag. That’s perfect for avoiding single use plastic cutlery.
#26 Sew into a pillow
Make through pillows and pillow cases using old tees. It’s simple to make with Jenn’s video. In place of foam, you can stuff the pillow with t shirt scraps.
#27 Or a stuffed toy
Make stuffed toys like giraffes, dinosaurs, star fish and more. I love Little zooo’s video that shows you how to do everything from designing the shape to making the eyes. Substitute the fabric for your old tee and use t shirt scraps instead of polyester filling.
#28 Try DIYing scrunchies
Here’s a no-sew video on making scrunchies of different sizes.
#29 And headbands
Make any of these three headbands from your old tees.
#30 Make reusable makeup pads
Cut small squares or circles out of the t shirt. Layer three or more and stitch them together. Use them as makeup pads, nursing pads and more.
#31 Cut into wipes
Cut larger squares or circles to make face and body wipes, baby wipes, rags for cleaning and more. They can be used as pot holders too.
#32 Sew a t shirt quilt
If you have lots of old t shirts, cut them into rectangles (or squares). Arrange them in a funky pattern and stitch them together to make a beautiful t shirt quilt.
Hilary’s video is simple to follow. She also used cotton batting and a backing fabric as well but you can repurpose an old, thick blanket here.
#33 Frame tees to create wall décor
Use your old tees to make fun wall art. Repurpose wood, plastic, or get a second-hand canvas. Wrap the tee around the canvas and attach with thumb tacks, staples or Velcro. Follow this simple Hallmark video.
#34 Make t shirt yarn
T shirt what? T shirt yarn involves cutting an old tee into strips that can be stretched to form one continuous length of jersey fabric. This video from Sustain My Craft Habit explains how to do it. You can tie, stitch and crochet this ‘yarn’ to create anything.
#35 Use t shirt yarn to make bags
There are lots of videos on crocheting the yarn to make stunning bags. Here’s a simple one.
#36 Design wall décor from t shirt yarn
Braid, macramé, or weave unique wall decor. I like this one:
#37 Or create a braided rug
You can also use old tees to make a beautiful braided rug.
#38 Weave baskets
Crochet t shirt yarn into beautiful cloth baskets. There are lots of videos on Youtube. This one is on my to-do list:
#39 Braid pet toys
My rottie loves when I make these toys for her. She swings them all around and enjoys her playtime.
#40 Or make safe spaces for pets
You can make pet tents with an old tee, some metal hangers and cardboard. Or place an open carboard box inside a t shirt so the neck allows your pet to get into and out of the box easily. Place old tees to line to box too. Follow this video for a quick guide.
#41 Use scraps as stuffing
Scrap pieces of fabric make great stuffing material for kids toys, pet toys, and pillows.
#42 Attach scrap to a handle
Attach strips of fabric to an old handle and use to dust shelves and sweep floors. Soak in warm soapy water when you’re all done to get all the dirt out. Allow to dry and reuse over and over again.
#43 Use scraps as ties
Cut strips of scraps to tie things together including bags and eco friendly gifts. I use them in the garden to tie tomato plants to stakes.
#44 Make a flambeaux
A flambeaux is a flaming torch.
Here in the Caribbean, we fill a thick glass bottle with fuel like kerosene. A long strip of old fabric like that from an old tee is fed into the bottle, leaving enough at the top to form a ‘wick.’ When the wick is lit, it pulls fuel up through the fabric and stays lit for several hours.
This is great when you’re out camping or surviving the apocalypse.
#45 Recycle the fabric
Find the clothing recycling programs in your area and reach out. Companies like Marine Layer and H&M recycle but there are some limits on fabrics like spandex.
There you have it in case you were ever wondering what to do with old t shirts.