What To Do With Old Underwear & Bras: 7 Ways to Protect Privates And Our Planet
We’ve all been there.
The unravelled elastane threatening to leave us underwear-less with just one wrong wiggle. The escaped bra underwire stabbing our side boob.
Even when they betray us, it’s tough to let go of something that has supported us for so long—especially when doing so isn’t very supportive of the planet.
That’s why we’ve made it our mission to get to the bare bottom of what to do with old underwear and what to do with old bras.
In a fast fashion world, most of us have an overflowing drawer of undergarments: countless styles, colors, and ideal occasions (including those that serve as mementos for lucky days or first dates).
Instead of relegating ratty underwear and stained sports bras to the trash can, here are 7 sustainable ideas for repurposing old underwear and bras.
Think that tattered, stained pair of panties can be passed onto someone else?
Having said that, there are certain types of undergarments (read: bras and shapewear) that can be responsibly donated.
Note that many traditional thrift stores (i.e. Goodwill and the Salvation Army) do not accept underwear donations, but some will accept bras (check with your specific location first).
Beyond that, here are a few other organizations:
- I Support the Girls: Once your bras (in good condition) are received, they’ll be distributed to women in need. There are many drop-off locations across the US, but donations can also be mailed.
- The Bra Recyclers: Partnering with more than 100 non-profits around the globe, The Bra Recyclers has already donated more than 4 million bras to women in need. They accept all types of bras, as well as new panties.
- Free the Girls: Working with those formerly involved in sex trafficking, this organization provides job opportunities by supporting women with bra-selling businesses.
- Donate Your Bra: Accepting lingerie, bras, and swimsuits, DYB works to provide these items to breast cancer survivors around the globe.
- Local Shelters: Check with any local homeless shelters or YWCA’s as they may accept bras or never-worn underwear for donations.
2. SELL UNDERGARMENTS ONLINE
Wondering what to do with old bras that don’t fit? Or maybe what to do with old nursing bras?
Bras and nursing bras are pricey, so if they’re still in relatively good shape, you might want a little extra cash for them.
While paying options are slim, that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.
Much like selling used clothes online, a few of the big resale platforms also accept clean bras (including nursing bras) that are in good condition.
- Poshmark is a well-known leader in the world of peer-to-peer clothing sales. If you’re wondering what to do with old, still good bras, download their app, snap some photos (modeling not required), and begin the sales process today.
- Depop has a long list of prohibited items, but bras and some types of sustainable lingerie are still accepted. Their Instagram-esque feed makes selling fun and easy. This one is limited to the U.S. and U.K. markets.
- ThredUp will also accept your gently-used bras. Simply order a bag (that comes with prepaid shipping), send it back with your bulk garments, and leave the rest up to them. Just be sure the bras are high quality and from an accepted brand, or ThredUp will end up donating them anyway.
- Ebay is the OG of used goods. Used bras may be sold using the platform, but they must be clean and not modeled by a real human.
Here’s where we can get a little creative.
When it comes to upcycling underwear and bras, repurposing options aren’t as numerous as they are with old clothes, but there are still more than you might think.
Let’s start from the top.
For what to do with old useless bras, remove the “useless” from your upcycle vocab by choosing one of the following options:
- You can still use the cups of unwearable bras by stitching them into a swimsuit, dress (perfect for backless dresses!), or top.
- The padding can also be used as a shoe insert to help shoes maintain shape in storage or when jammed in your eco friendly luggage.
- Re-use the hook and eyes to create a bra extender, maybe even making it so you can sacrifice one or two bras that don’t fit to save some others that have grown a little tight in the torso.
- You can also add new straps to an ill-fitting bra, by turning it into a multi-strap bralette.
- Transform your bra into a bra purse. For those daunted by more in-depth DIY projects, rest assured: it only requires decorative items, scissors, needle and thread, and a hot glue gun or fabric glue.
When it comes to repurposing old panties and underwear, the ideas are fewer, but we were still able to come up with the following:
- Rags are a reusable replacement to disposable paper towels and other single-use paper products. Your old undies may become an excellent wood polishing rag or even zero waste toilet paper solution (not for the squeamish but they’re already well-acquainted anyway!). We’d recommend obviously *not* using that old pair of briefs to clean a kitchen counter.
- They can be shredded and used as pillow filling.
- Ruff ruff, repurpose! Making DIY eco friendly dog toys is super simple and the perfect answer to what to do with old mens underwear. Like you would with a t-shirt, just cut the boxers or briefs into threads and braid to make a dog toy! Finally, a way for dogs to be allowed to chew up your underwear.
- While you’re at it, sew 4 cups of two bras together, stuff with some shredded old underwear, and you get an earth-friendly dog or cat ball.
4. MEND AND REPAIR
What to do with old bras and panties that you aren’t ready to say goodbye to?
Perform a little granny panty glow-up.
In many cases, we throw away panties for stains, even though it’s typically just one spot. Since the rest of the fabric is still perfectly useful, kill two birds by repurposing an old cotton shirt into a new cotton gusset.
No, you don’t need to be a talented seamstress.
All you’ll need is a pair of knickers, paper scissors, fabric scissors, thread, dressmaking pens, a pencil, paper, and a ruler. The full set of instructions can be found here.
What about when the elasticity wears out?
Instead of tossing that thong, wash your underwear in hot water to shrink them. This won’t provide a long-term solution, but it should somewhat extend the life of the underwear.
If there are larger rips or the elastane isn’t so elastic anymore, you can use fabric glue to mend those tears or make the band a little tighter.
You can also use a ripped pair of underwear to practice your sewing skills (because, no one will really see that messy sew-job, will they?).
Now for brassieres, which also have a few quick fixes!
Underwire peeking is a well known issue for old bras, but it’s also one of the easiest to fix.
You can even use medical gauze for a quick fix here. Check out this video for a step-by-step guide.
Now for broken bra problem number two: broken straps.
5. USE A BRAND’S RETURN AND RECYCLE POLICY
Our favorite sustainable and ethical fashion brands are those that have adopted practices of circularity. In other words, they don’t just produce sustainable products, but also have programs in place to recycle or repurpose them when they wear out.
For non-undergarment items, we love Coyuchi’s 2nd Home Take Back Program, which gives you a discount on your new order and transforms household soft goods like sustainable towels and eco friendly bedding into new products.
Let’s talk about brands who accept the garments that go under our clothes.
- Knickey is the true leader here. The organic cotton underwear brand accepts old undies from any brand to be transformed into a new material by a NYC nonprofit. The underwear are sorted and broken down by fiber, and transformed into rags, rugs, and insulation. You’ll also get a free pair of underwear with any box of undies you send to be recycled!
- Soma partners with I Support the Girls and The Bra Recyclers (mentioned above) to either donate or properly recycle new or gently used bras. You get $10 as a reward for participating.
- Hanky Panky’s Lingeriecycle™ allows customers to send back any brand of bras and panties to be recycled. The metal hardware is recycled separately and the fabric is shredded into carpet padding.
- Pact has a Give Back. Wear Forward program that sends any type of gently-used clothing to a nonprofit. While they don’t elaborate, it’s likely bras in decent condition will be accepted, too (we’ll be double-checking this).
- The North Face has an impressive Clothes the Loop for transforming any brand’s footwear and apparel (in any condition) to new garments via a partnership with Soles4Souls. This provides livelihood opportunities, keeps garments out of landfills, and gives you a discount.
6. TURN TO A TEXTILE RECYCLING ORGANIZATION
For when selling, donating, and repurposing aren’t viable options, send your old undergarments to be sustainably recycled through the following organizations:
- Council for Textile Recycling: Use their website to check out where a local recycling/donation facility is located, they’ve got them in the United States, Canada, and in some International locations.
- B.R.A. (The Bra Recycling Agency): More than half a billion bras are sold every year, and this woman-owned organization is designed to keep them out of landfills. B.R.A. takes your old bra, pulverizes it, and transforms it into a new product. Get a free shipping label on their website or by texting BRA to 79274.
- Planet Aid Boxes: Drop off old clothes in one of Planet Aid’s yellow bins located in major metro areas or print a shipping label and mail them up to 70 pounds of clothing. As long as they’re clean, they can solve the burning question of what to do with old bras and underwear? They accept both, no matter the condition.
- Terracycle: Order a Zero Waste Box from Terracycle to responsibly recycle just about any item (from deodorant tubes to tube socks). Available in Australia and the U.K, too.
7. COMPOST NATURAL FABRICS
We love sustainable fabrics largely because they’re far more environmentally friendly to produce and dispose of.
Fabrics like organic cotton, hemp fabric, ethical wool, bamboo fabric (sometimes), peace silk, alpaca, kapok, linen, and ethical cashmere—with the help of some hungry worms—can be turned into nutrient-rich compost after being tossed into the compost bin.
Conveniently enough, those are the materials often found in undergarments.
Just be sure your underwear/bra is made with 100% natural fibers and not mixed with synthetic fabrics (i.e. polyester, spandex/elastane, nylon, rayon fabric). This minimizes the degradability of your underwear and, worse, introduces toxic chemicals into your compost bin.
If there is just a small amount of synthetic fabric in the underwear or bra (because most are blended with a little bit of elastane/spandex), you may still be able to compost them.
Try to keep the content of synthetics at a minimum (less than 5%).
Before chucking anything in the compost heap, we recommend doing the following:
- Get rid of anything that won’t biodegrade. Remove any decorative pieces on the underwear, or any plastic buttons or metal zippers. Similarly, remove any tags and labels. For bras, make sure you remove any foam padding and the elastic straps.
- Speed the compost process up. Cut or rip the undergarments into small pieces. The smaller the pieces, the faster they’ll break down.
- Undergarments = “brown material.” Food scraps and garden materials = “green material.” You need a balance of the two colors to keep your compost happy. A subject for another post which you can find here: what is compostable versus what is not compostable.
- It’s getting hot in here (so compost all your clothes)! Your compost bin or heap likes it hot, and the higher the temperature is, the quicker those old undies will disappear. Heat up your compost bin by following these tips.
WHY SUSTAINABLY DISPOSE OF OLD BRAS AND UNDERWEAR?
Sustainable and ethical fashion is not just about moderating our clothing consumption, it’s also about how we responsibly dispose of the clothing we’re replacing, too.
Every single year, the textile industry produces 15 million tons of waste.
Like most aspects of the fashion industry, a linear supply chain means that we take, use, and dispose of lingerie and other undergarments at rates that are destructive.
The best we can do with synthetic based old underwear is to properly and responsibly recycle them.
Disposing of undergarments in an environmentally conscious way is good for our planet, an even better solution though is to make those boxer briefs last as long as possible.
HOW TO MAKE BRAS AND UNDERWEAR LAST
According to a Forbes article, “The way we use underwear right now is a complete waste of resources and it is terribly damaging for the environment.”
How can we wear underwear in a way that won’t throw our planet under the bus?
Brands like Organic Basics are utilizing a bacteria-killing, sustainable, and low-concentration recycled silver chloride. It’s what is used by NASA to purify water, and in OB’s SilverTech’s case, it’s made from recycled nylon, and will keep bras and undies odour-free for years.
While they’re worn more often than other garments, the advice to replace undergarments every six to 12 months(!) should be ignored if you’re properly caring for your underwear.
Here are a few under-the-belt recommendations for proper undergarment care:
- Don’t wash with the rest of your laundry. We know, sometimes separating colors seems like too much work. But washing your unmentionables separately can do a lot to improve their longevity. Plus, it’s good to wash underwear in hot water from time to time, which you should avoid doing for the rest of your clothes.
- Instead, first rinse them in cold water. Unless you have a drawer-full of cotton undies (that prefer machine washing), hand washing with cold water is the best way to support that which supports you. Gentle scrubbing, but no stretching, or tugging (no matter how annoying that period stain is).
- Opt for a delicate-friendly detergent, too. You’ll find the gentlest ingredients in eco friendly laundry detergents but you can also look for the words “gentle” or “delicate” in the description.
- Consider a lingerie bag. If adding yet another task to laundry day is too much, use a lingerie bag for machine washing. It’ll help keep your intimates intact (and catch any microplastics if you’re using one of an appropriately fine mesh).
- Always skip the dryer. Dryers are misshaping monsters, especially for bras. Hanging dry is the way to go. Hang at night to wear a dry, fresh pair in the morning.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON WHAT TO DO WITH OLD BRAS AND UNDERWEAR
Many of us have jumped aboard the Marie Kondoesque decluttering train or have begun to incorporate a minimalist wardrobe mindset.
While reducing what we own is crucial, we also need to be conscious about how we dispose of anything we’re saying sayonara to.
We don’t want to (ass)ume, but there are likely many more solutions to what to do with old boxers, underwear, and bras?
The more ideas the better.
These undergarments support us, so let’s all do what we can to support our planet.
You can also help by sharing this article, since we all (well, most of us,anyway) are known to wear underwear on occasion!