What To Do With Old Socks? Be To(e)tally Sustainable
Ahh, the question that’s beckoning you from the top drawer: what to do with old socks?
We’ve tackled the “what to do with old underwear and bras” question so what to do with old socks should be as breezy as the holes in the heels… right?
Yes and no, because responsibly disposing of old socks isn’t as simple as snapping some pics, hitting “post”, and effortlessly selling used clothes online.
While socks are a seemingly small problem, consider that a staggering 11,300 tons of them (compared with just 1,710 tons in 1960) end up in landfills yearly.
Those secret no-show socks seem a whole lot bigger now don’t they!
While old socks are far from the sexiest sustainable fashion garment, finding another use or proper way to recycle them gets a big thumbs up from our planet.
Let’s unravel our options…
1. DONATE UNWORN SOCKS
We’ll just come out and say it: No one wants your holey old socks.
If you send holey socks to a thrift store or charity they’re going straight in the trash.
However, if you do have some gently worn or new socks you’d like to pass on to another pair of feet, there are a few options. Finally, a conscious way to deal with all those Christmas socks you’ve been gifted but never ever wear!
- Local homeless shelters: In most cases, used (even clean) socks aren’t accepted, but they often need new socks. Shelters who work with victims of domestic violence or those who’ve lost everything in a natural disaster for example might be more likely to take socks, too.
- Local thrift stores: Again, if you have good quality or new socks you’re ready to part with, some thrift stores will accept them. Call ahead to inquire whether yours is one of them. If you get the green light, make sure the socks are clean and in a wearable condition.
- Freecycle: One person’s trash is another person’s treasure and you might just find someone interested in your gently used socks on this platform.
2. REPURPOSE THEM
This is where second hand socks really shine since there are endless options for transforming them into something else!
If you’re wondering what to do with old mismatched socks or what to do with old socks with holes, there are at least 61 options (to be exact), but here are a few fun, feet-sible ideas:
- Wrap valuables while moving. Packing paper and bubble wrap might be great for protecting items while moving, but they are exactly the opposite (especially bubble wrap) when you need to dispose of them. Instead, use old socks to protect valuables and cushion them during transit.
- Protect shoes and golf clubs: If you’re moving, painting, or simply storing shoes and golf clubs, sliding an old pair of socks over them can help prevent scratches or damage. Similarly, you can stuff balled socks inside shoes or even hats to help retain their shape while in storage.
- Help with fog-free car windows: Fill old tube socks with cat litter, tie the tops in a knot, and place it on your windshield. The cat litter will absorb any moisture in the air, keeping your windows fog-free. An easy fix for those cold winter mornings.
- Keep ice off windshield wipers: While you’re at it, use a few other socks to cover your windshield wipers during inclement weather, keeping them free of ice until they’re ready to be removed when you drive. This will also help extend the life of your wiper blades so think of it as doubly sustainable.
- Wash hands after gardening: If you have an outdoor sink where you wash up after gardening, keep a bar of soap in an old sock nearby. Wet the soap while in the sock, and use the extra abrasion to remove dirt and grime. This will also keep the soap cleaner and longer lasting.
- Make a bird feeder: Want to know how to increase biodiversity in your backyard? Take those thinning socks or pantyhose and make a bird feeder by filling it with seed and hanging it from a tree branch!
- Replace single-use plastic dryer sheets: Make a DIY dryer ball by placing a tennis ball inside a clean sock to make an alternative to fabric softeners and dryer sheets.
- Use it as a DIY potpourri bundle: Simply add some potpourri to a clean sock, attach a ribbon or rubber band at the top, and throw it in your underwear drawer, closet, locker, or gym bag for the freshest basics around.
- Get that perfect ballet bun: Cut the toe portion out of the sock, then roll into a donut shape. Roll your ponytail over the sock and, voila! You have a ballet bun!
- Make a DIY aromatherapy pillow: Add rice and a few drops of essential oil to an old sock, secure the ends, then either heat or cool before resting on your neck, back, or other sore spots.
- Use it for a drink koozie: Cut off the ankle section of the sock to match the size of your coffee cup, beer can, or home-brewed kombucha bottle. Either leave as is or make it a little fancier through simple sewing. Here’s a video for extra tips.
- Make a dog or cat toy: Fill a clean sock with either catnip or a few other old socks to make a cushy ball. If you’re feeling extra ambitious, you can even make a cute dog sweater.
- Keep warm with old socks: Socks can be used as leg warmers by simply cutting off the foot portion, and they can also be worn under mittens for an extra layer. You can even sew them into ear warmers, arm warmers, or a DIY scarf.
- Craft with kids: For a fun what to do with old socks DIY project, get the kids involved and make a cute sock puppet or some doll clothes.
- Keep out the cold: How about using old socks to reduce your carbon footprint at home? Stuff them under your door to keep the draft out. This will not only keep you warmer but increase the energy efficiency in your home during winter. Easy! In fact, socks are also great for storing small items and as reusable cleaning rags or dusters for your zero waste cleaning rituals.
See? We toe-ld you the possibilities are endless!
3. SEW THOSE SOCKS
If your big toe has been gradually peeking out further and further, put those sewing skills to the test!
Mending holey socks is a quick and easy fix, and even with sub-par sewing, will provide a solution that few people will ever see.
Darning a sock takes less time than you think and only requires thread, a tennis ball, and a needle. For helpful step-by-step instructions, head here.
4. USE A BRAND’S RETURN AND RECYCLE POLICY
We love that there are many sustainable fashion brands that don’t just consider how to make eco-friendly garments, but also how they can be properly disposed of.
Many companies (like Pact, Patagonia, and The North Face) accept old garments to either be turned into new products, donated, or properly recycled. While socks aren’t on the list of many (for hygiene reasons), there are a few who recycle socks:
- Nice Laundry is a sock seller that provides customers with a prepaid recycling shipping label which you can use to send back your old socks in the same packaging your order came in! Through their partnership with 2ReWear Inc., the socks are graded then either donated or transformed into home insulation.
- Zhano prioritizes past-their-prime socks. They’ll take any socks (made of any material) from any brand. Send yours to their facility in Alabama and they’ll take care of recycling them.
- Smartwool is a sustainable outdoor clothing brand that makes some of the finest merino wool socks designed for hiking, skiing, and other tough-on-the-toe outdoor pursuits. Recently, they launched their Second Cut™ Project to transform socks of all brands, colors, sizes, and materials into things like eco friendly dog beds. Just download a return label from their website, make sure your socks are cleaned and unrolled, and mail them in.
5. RECYCLE THEM
Aside from brand-sponsored sock recycling programs, you can responsibly transform your old ones into new products directly through various textile recycling organizations:
- Council for Textile Recycling: If you’re in the United States, Canada, or a select International location, use their location search tool to find a nearby recycle centre for your textiles—including socks. As the leading American textile organization, they want to achieve a goal of zero textile waste by 2037!
- Planet Aid Boxes: If you live in a big city, you’ve likely seen one of Planet Aid’s yellow bins around. Drop your socks in any one of these. If you don’t live close to one, you can also send up to 70 pounds of textiles (including clean socks) by mail.
- Terracycle: Their Zero Waste Box can be used for anything—electronics to pair-less socks. Grab a group of friends, do a clothing swap, and have everyone bring their old socks and underwear to donate in bulk. There are options for those in Australia and the U.K., too.
- Simple Recycling: This organization accepts nearly anything—including damaged or worn socks—to be transformed into new products (another sock, even!). In participating cities, it’s totally free, too!
6. COMPOST IF MADE WITH NATURAL FABRICS
Wondering what to do with old wool socks?
Send those natural materials back into soil through the magic of composting!
- Natural fabrics like organic cotton, hemp fabric, linen, and bamboo fabric (just be aware that bamboo socks made of viscose might not biodegrade).
All you need is a healthy compost bin or pile, a good population of worms, and time.
You’ll likely see some elastane, but if that percentage is small (roughly 5% or less), it should still break down.
Also, be sure to remove anything that won’t degrade (lace or other decorative pieces) and cut the old fabric into smaller pieces to help the process along.
WHY SUSTAINABLY DISPOSE OF OLD SOCKS?
The average American will throw away 70 pounds of textile waste every.single.year.
When old socks and clothes end up in our landfills, they’re not just releasing dangerous microplastics and chemicals into our environment, they’re also releasing methane when they break down (despite being a natural fiber)—a greenhouse gas that’s roughly 30 times more potent than CO2.
It’s also important to remember that human and natural resources were used to make those socks. That’s even before they were likely shipped around the world before they ended up on your cold feet.
When we extend the life of anything, either by transforming it into something else, donating it to another person, or breaking up its basic components so they can be reused, we’re making a difference, one toe at a time.
HOW TO MAKE SOCKS LAST LONGER
If we can extend the life of our socks by darning them or turning them into a DIY craft, great!
It might take a little bit of foresight and planning, but keeping those socks hole-less for a little longer is worth it.
- Wash your socks inside out. This helps to reduce pilling and prevents any lint from forming on the outside of the fabric. Also think about where all that sweat ends up after your run… it’s definitely not the outside of the sock.
- Machine wash with mild soap. Eco friendly laundry detergent isn’t just gentle on our planet, it’s gentle on our socks too.
- Tumble dry low or lay flat to dry. Avoid hanging socks as it might compromise their elasticity.
- Don’t give up on lost socks right away: Before getting rid of your lone socks, check behind the dryer and pull out your sock drawer from time to time. It’s amazing how many stray socks find their long lost partner in crime.
- Wear mismatched socks: Unless socks are damaged and uncomfortable to wear, try to keep them in use as long as possible. That might mean wearing mismatched socks of a similar style. But don’t stress, most people won’t even notice your new jacket let alone your socks, so why care if they aren’t an exact match?
FINAL THOUGHTS ON WHAT TO DO WITH OLD SOCKS
And let’s be honest, we all have a drawer or bag of them stashed somewhere. Those pairless socks we just can’t throw away!
Nor should we. Remember, the best solution is to keep your wearable socks in use for as long as possible.
And when they do wear out, there are easily accessible DIY guides and recycling organizations at hand. There’s no reason to throw away another sock again.
If you know of any friends or family with a surplus of old socks, feel free to share this guide and help them save-a-sock so we can all help save the planet!