It’s tricky to figure out what to do with old undies, bras, and socks. Some thrift stores don’t accept them, some textile recycling programs don’t accept them, and individuals may not want used underwear.
That said, there are several options for getting rid of your old undies responsibly—whether your underwear or socks are new, lightly-used, or falling apart.
Extending the Life of Your Clothing
Before we dive in, it’s important to note that underwear and bras don’t have an expiration date, contrary to popular belief.
Some people claim that you need to replace underwear or sports bras every 6-12 months, but that’s a marketing myth. Philip Tierno, a professor of microbiology and pathology at NYU, says that there’s no “end period” to our underwear, except when it’s “mechanically dysfunctional.”
Sports bras should be replaced once they no longer offer adequate support, but I’ve personally found that to take 10+ years (though I am part of the IBTC, so this probably varies by cup size).
One of the sports bras I’ve had for 10+ years
To keep your underwear, bras, and socks in good condition for as long as possible, you may consider these care tips:
- For bras, you can wash less often if they don’t get sweaty (but underwear and socks are usually best washed after each wear)
- If your straps tend to get caught and tangled, consider washing in a delicates bag or pillowcase
- Wash on cold and air dry to reduce fiber breakage (of course, warmer water is better for killing bacteria, so the temperature is up to your comfort levels)
- Use a shorter washing cycle
If you want more general clothing care tips, I have a whole post on making your clothes last years.
If Your Undergarments Are in New or Good Condition
If your underwear, bras, or socks still have a lot of life in them, you have a lot of options for rehoming them.
1. Resell online
2. Give away directly
Buy Nothing groups are hyper-local online communities where people give away and get things for free. You never know what might be useful to someone, including lightly-used underwear or socks. Even if your items aren’t in good condition, but are clean, people might still want them for rags or stuffing. It doesn’t hurt to try posting them.
3. Donate to domestic violence centers
People may arrive at DV centers with no clothing beyond what they’re already wearing, so many centers accept clothing donations. When it comes to undergarments, they usually ask for brand-new items, but some centers may accept lightly-used bras.
4. Give to homeless shelters
Homeless shelters also often need new underwear and sock donations. You can also bring new and lightly-used items directly to homeless folks and see if they need anything. Socks are in particularly high demand.
5. Donate to bra-specific charities
Free the Girls: Free the Girls provides sex trafficking survivors with donated bras so that they can sell them locally and become financially independent.
I Support the Girls: I Support the Girls collects new and lightly used bras to be redistributed to homeless folks. They also accept individually sealed menstrual products.
The Bra Recyclers: The Bra Recyclers accepts new or gently-used bras and provides them to survivors of human trafficking or domestic violence and breast cancer patients. They also take donations of brand new underwear.
6. Donate to thrift stores
This is low on the list because some thrift stores don’t take underwear. Beyond that, only 20% of what’s donated to thrift stores ends up resold, and the rest is trashed or dumped in the Global South. And because a lot of people have an aversion to buying used underwear, it’s quite possible that this percentage is higher for these pieces.
But, if the other options don’t work for you, see if your local stores accept underwear, bras, or socks. It’s quite possible that they’ll get sold, especially if they’re brand new or from a popular brand.
Upcycling Ideas for Old Undergarments
If your underwear or socks are the worse for wear, you still may be able to get some more life out of the fabrics and materials.
1. Turn them in cleaning rags
Rather than spend money on new cleaning towels, consider cutting your underwear or socks into rags. Socks actually make great cleaning rags while intact as you can wear them like a glove and wipe down surfaces.
2. Cut into strips to support plants in your garden
As your plants grow taller, you may need to tether them to some support structures, and old clothing strips are perfect for that.
3. Use as stuffing for pillows, stuffed animals, art projects
No one can see what’s inside these items, and it’s a great way to save money on stuffing materials. If you have a pet, they also migh enjoy just playing with the rags as-is, or you can cut them up into strips and braid them into a pet toy.
4. Use the elastic for sewing projects
The elastic on underwear tends to outlast the fabric itself. Snip it off, and use it for pants, a skirt, or a dress. You could also turn it into a hairtie or scrunchie.
5. Make patchwork clothing or a blanket
Some underwear has quirky and fun patterns. If there are parts of the fabric that are less worn than others, see if you can use them for new projects (the pieces of fabric don’t even have to be square – assymetrical patchwork pieces are especially fun).
6. Create a bustier top
Underwire bras are the perfect foundation for a bustier. This tutorial shows you how to turn your unwanted bra into a new, stylish piece.
Recycling Programs for Truly Old Underwear, Bras, and Socks
If you’ve worn your underwear and socks to shreds (kudos to you!), then they definitely shouldn’t be donated. If you’re not in need of any material for upcycling projects, then check out these recycling programs.
Some of these programs do incur a small fee, and a couple of these links are affiliate links, meaning that I may earn a small commission on any purchases, at no extra cost to you. This income helps me keep my blog running and allows me to create more educational resources!
The Bra Recycling Agency turns old bras into carpet padding and their underwires into magnets. You do have to pay to mail them in, but the prices range from postage only to $5-15 depending on the number of bras being sent in. All proceeds will fund breast cancer research.
Knickey is a sustainable brand that recycles underwear of all brands and turns them into insulation. Each recycling label is $5, but in return, you get a free paid of their organic cotton undies. You can also recycle bras, socks, and tights.
Underwear brand Parade has partnered with TerraCycle to offer free underwear recycling (bottoms only). You order the bag and get a free shipping label to your doorstep.
4. For Days
For Days has $6-20 take back bags for clothing and socks only in any condition (no undies and bras). For Days is a circular sustainable brand that makes sure the clothes won’t get thrown away. The money you spend on the take back bag also gets applied to your account, where you can later use it on For Days’ organic cotton streetwear.
Let us know if you have any other upcycling ideas or if you know of any other orgs that take old undies! If you’re looking for tips on rehoming your regular clothing, check out my post on places to donate clothes other than Goodwill.