15 Ways to Recycle and Reuse Old T-shirts

by Mikey Rox on 13 July 2011 19 comments
Photo: John Amato

Everybody has that one T-shirt that they just can’t part with.

Mine is somebody’s used blue soccer tee that I picked up at a thrift shop about 10 years ago. When I bought it, it was already broken in; after a decade in my possession, it’s literally falling apart at the seams. Even though it’s so tattered and torn that my armpits and midsection show when I wear it (never out of this house, FYI), I can’t bear the thought of tossing it out.

The other T-shirts in my collection, however, I’m not so attached to. Twice a year, I go through and donate the ones that I no longer want. But getting rid of them all together seems like a waste. There are plenty of other ways to make the most of old tees. From dust rags to quilts to headbands, here are a few ideas that will turn your would-be trash into a brand-new treasure. (See also: 25 Things to Do With Old Jeans)

1. Around-the-House Rags

When I asked my Facebook friends what they do with old T-shirts, this was the most common, albeit uninspired, answer the gave; the former, not the latter, is why I’m including it on this list. Instead of buying towels — how we accumulated three drawers worth of hand towels in my home, I don’t know (but I think it has something to do with my husband “accidentally” taking them from the gym) — cut the shirts into pieces so you can dust the TV, sanitize your counters, and wash the car without causing scratches.

2. Quilts

I was flipping through one of my favorite catalogs, Uncommon Goods, one day when I came across this brilliant way of recycling printed tees. The T-shirt memory quilt from Ticche & Bea allows you to choose 16 of your destined-for-donation shirts to turn into “patches” to create a fleece blanket that pops with color and nostalgia. When my husband and I had ours made we each chose eight shirts to make a quilt that was equal parts my memories and his. Ticche & Bea can make the quilt for you (though the price is steep), or you can opt for a DIY kit that cuts the cost in half. If you’re particularly handy, you can try your hand at making the quilt without Ticche & Bea’s assistance with these memory quilt instructions on Straw.com.

3. Headbands

An athlete friend of mine says that she likes to cut the sleeves off her unwanted tees to turn into headbands for when she’s playing rec sports like kickball. I imagine that it’s easy enough to do — just cut the shirt into strips and tie it around your head (it’s not rocket science) — but if you’re gunning for style over simplicity, maybe you’d like to tackle this flower headband found at CraftSnob.com.

4. Handbags

Like Ticche & Bea with its quilts, I’m sure there are companies out there that will turn your T-shirt into a tote or handbag for a fee, but with these easy T-shirt bag instructions from Craftbits.com, there’s no reason to pay for something you can accomplish on your own. This is an item so simple to make (unlike the quilt, which I was happy to pay for due to its level of difficulty) that you might want to think about making many and putting them up on Etsy to earn extra cash.

5. Pillows

As with most of these ideas so far, turning tees into pillows requires some measure of sewing skill, like in these instructions for repurposed pillows. But you don’t have to master a thread and needle to make a one-of-a-kind head respite that your friends will envy. This video shows the less craftily inclined how to tie their way to stuffed success in a few no-fuss steps.

Watch video

6. Dog Toys

Recycle several T-shirts with these Dog Tugga Toy instructions that also require no gluing or sewing. When you’re finished, your furry friend will have a colorful new braided “bone” that he’ll beg you to battle for.

7. Baby Diapers

The only babies I have are four-legged (and by that I mean dogs, not mutants), but when my husband and I start adding to our family, I will be constructing these adorable rock-star-quality cloth diapers. After I make them, I wonder if I can convince hubby that he has to clean them.

8. Wall Art

Another great, inexpensive idea from a friend — cut out the main image of your used shirt and frame it or stretch it over a small canvas for personalized wall art. I’ve seen people do this with album covers and the like, which are much less personal than designs that define your fashion sense.

9. Art Smocks

No need for a quilt, handbag, or dog toy? Donate your old tees to a local school for the art teacher to use as smocks.

10. Book Covers

This book cover idea sure beats the book covers I made in school made from brown bags or the funny pages. It takes some precision — remember to measure twice and cut once — but the finished product is a soft, durable cover that will last much longer than paper.

11. Scarves

There are many ways to turn an old tee into a scarf, but this T-shirt scarf from Generation T is whimsical and fun. Perhaps the best part — besides that it’s no-sew — is that you can use the scraps from the T-shirts that you’ve already turned into other fabulous things to create this ready-for-fall neck wrap.

12. Pocket Squares

A good portion of this list is female oriented, so here’s one for the fellas. Get rid of that old white tee that has yellowed at the pits and transform it into a poem to stuff into your pockets. This poetic pocket square project calls for painting on a quote or poem with stencils that will decidedly brand you a hipster whether you have a mustache or not.

13. Place Mats

I’m not sure how I feel about this project that turns T-shirts into place mats, but I suppose it depends on what color tee you use and how much of a mess you make when you eat. At least they’re washable.

14. Doggy Bed

These T-shirt doggy bed instructions from The Eco Chic blog are so awesome that when my babies come back from vacation, they might just have a comfy new cushions to rest their paws. Maybe it’ll break that pesky always-in-the-bed habit.

15. Dinner Napkins

Cloth napkins impress dinner guests much more than paper towels, but these T-shirt napkins will totally blow them away. All that’s required is stitching around T-shirt squares to give the edges a more finished, refined look. Great conversation pieces and even better for the environment.

Have you turned old T-shirts into something new and fantastic? Let me know in the comments below.

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Guest's picture
Guest in CA

Greenworld's instructions on hemming squares of fabric to make napkins should read to fold the edges 1/4" & iron, then fold edges again 1/4" & iron. I'd make napkins 10-12".

Guest's picture
Kate

Thanks for all the great ideas. I'd hesitate though to turn old tees into dog toys since dogs can't necessarily distinguish between clothes that are ok to chew on versus those that are not. My mom used to give old holey socks tied in a knot to our golden until he started fishing for his own in the laundry pile!

Andrea Karim's picture

Man, I wish I had the t-shirt in the main photo.

Guest's picture

Awesome post! I usually just donate old shirts. But this posts really gets my creative juices flowing

Guest's picture
Sara

Thanks for sharing Mikey!

Guest's picture
Kayla K

I cut t-shirts into yarn to make into wonderful squishy rugs. They are very easy to make into grocery sacks by sewing the bottom shut and cutting handles from the shoulders.

Guest's picture
Lissy

How do you make squishy rugs? That sounds awesome!

Guest's picture

as a purse? what a nifty idea!

Guest's picture
nancy

You can also take all your old t shirts and have them made into a quilt that will preserve memories of all your vacations, concerts, sports. A great non profit company that supports deaf initiatives makes beautiful quilts. www.tshirtquilts.com

Guest's picture
Guest

I cut up 100% cotton Ts as weed block in my flower garden. I cut them up and lay them down around my perennials and then mulch over them. They keep the weeds down and naturally decompose.

Guest's picture
Sue

I made totes out of some old t-shirts and used them to hold my pumpkins that grew up a tree and over the garage roof last year. I cut off the sleeves of the shirt and sewed across the bottom. Then I cut across the two seams at the top of the tote (where you would normally hold the tote in your hands). You'll have two ties on the left "shoulder" and two ties on the right "shoulder". I carefully put the pumpkins into the totes making sure to keep the stem attached to the vine so they'd continue to grow. Then I tied the ties to the tree. The t-shirt material was tough enough to hold the pumpkins as they grew but stretchy enough to withstand a little movement in the wind.

Mikey Rox's picture
Mikey Rox

I would have love to have seen the pumpkins on your roof. :)

Good thinking!

Guest's picture
Guest

The headband is a great idea. I love it for when I workout because I have short hair and can't put it in a pony tail. All I do is cut the sleeve off just past the seam where it is sewn to the body the shirt and use the circle hemmed part by pulling the hem over my head so it rests behind my ears and just behind my hairline. No cutting strips or tying needed.

Guest's picture

I like the "Wall Art" idea. Being a guy, this seems like another good one besides the pocket tee idea.

Guest's picture
Lissy

If the shirt is oversized cut tiny seams on the sides making it have a fluffy kind of look like the no sew blankets, these are really cute and give it almost a cropped look if you weara cami under it!

Guest's picture

I love these posts about reusing old stuff for novel ideas! I don't know if I'm the only one obsessed with Pinterest, but there are SO many cool DIY ideas on there for old t-shirts, but these ones are a lot more creative. Not only can you cut them up for workout attire, but using them as old rags and "tug-toys" for pets is a great idea.

Guest's picture
Erica

great ideas and inspiring ways to use an old t-shirt! thanks for the post :)

Guest's picture
Guest

I turned my old t shirts into a bathmat! I cut 1"x4" strips from old t shirts using a self healing mat, rotary cutters and an old bath towel. I marked the lines on the bath towel 1 centimeter apart with a water dissolving marker and sewed my lines with the t shirt strips. The great thing about this bathmat is that when you wash it the ends of the t shirts curl up. It is very cozy and comfy underfoot.

Guest's picture
Rosemary

From the scraps of the two T-shirt quilts for my daughters, I made eco-friendly washable nursing pads for my niece. For each pair, cut 4 circles using an old CD as a circle size. Cut a diamond shape out pointed toward the center so that it fits snug. Make a fabric sandwich with cotton batting on the inside. Sew the dart and then zig-zag all the way around. They are quick and easy to make and use up those soft old T-shirts. She sent a Thank You note and remarked that they are a lot better than the store bought ones. You can also use adult size T-shirts to down-size to kids T-shirts if they're in good shape. And if they're colored, you can make bands of colors.