15 ways to recycle old T-shirts into new clothes

May 03, 2023

Looking for ways to recycle old T-shirts into new clothes? You’re not alone.

Let’s be honest, we all have old T-shirts stacked at the back of your closet that haven’t seen daylight for years. So what can you do with old shirts that no longer get the love and attention they deserve? 

Don’t throw them away. Instead look for ways to recycle them into new clothes and give them a new life. Afterall, this is the best way to help move towards a circular economy and reduce the impact of fast fashion. 

Why is it a good idea to reuse old clothes?

Reusing, recycling or upcycling old clothes prevents them ending up in landfill. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimates that the fashion industry accounts for 10% of global CO2 emissions. That’s more than international flights and shipping combined!

The sad truth is that less than 1% of clothing is recycled, with a garbage truck entering landfills or being burnt around the globe every second. That's a huge amount of greenhouse gas emissions.

So, step away from your rubbish bin and choose one of these eco-friendly (and fun) ways to reuse old clothes. 

Let’s dive in. 

Here are 15 ways to recycle old T-shirts into new and exciting clothes. Hopefully they will spark your imagination as to the possibilities of what you can do. 



15 ways to recycle old T-shirts into new clothes

1. Cut your old T-shirt into a new tank top

Let’s start with something easy that everyone can achieve, cutting your old T-shirt into a new tank top. It’s really easy and will only take a few minutes

It will give your old tee a new life and new purpose, without needing to throw it away. What’s more, it’s something you can do without sewing.

Here’s how you can cut your old tee into a new tank top:

  • Step 1: Choose an old t-shirt, ideally one you love the design of but don’t wear anymore. A graphic tee or small logo top can work well. 
  • Step 2: Cut off the sleeves: start by cutting along the seam of the sleeve, then expand this across the armhole. At this point, you’ll need to try on the top to make sure the armholes are big enough. It’s likely you will have to make the armholes slightly larger by cutting down into the tee. Cut to your preferred style and fit.
  • Step 3: The neck will also need cutting. Again cut around the neckline and try on before cutting any more. This may take several attempts to get the perfect fit. 

Et voilà! You have upcycled your old tee into a tank top or vest. Not only is this perfect for warmer weather, it can also double up as a fun gym top. 


2. Cut your old T-shirt into a new crop top

Another easy way you can upcycle old t-shirts without sewing is by cutting it into a crop top. Simply, follow the above by turning your old t-shirt into a tank top or vest. Now add one final step. 

With excess fabric at the bottom of the shirt, grab your scissors and cut straight along the bottom. Again cut less than you want at first, you can always cut off more but you can’t add more back. 

Top tip: the raw edges of the material may start to roll after you’ve cut your crop top. To stop this, hem around the base with a needle and thread or add fabric tape. 

recycle tshirt to crop top

3. Tie dye your old t-shirt

Another easy way to recycle your old t-shirt and give it new life is to tie dye. This is super fun, and is a great way to hide any stains on favourite tops that you feel you can’t wear but aren’t ready to get rid of. 

Tie dying also doesn’t require any cutting or a sewing machine. Trust me, it’s one of the easiest ways to recycle an old t-shirt into new clothes. 

What you’ll need: 

  • A tie dye kit. These include pastel colours, elastic bands and bottles to colour your tops with.
  • Design ideas: get inspiration and select your favourite tie dye designs. Have a look through Google, Pinterest or other social media channels.
  • An old white t-shirt.

Now for the fun part. It’s super easy to tie dye your old white top. How to tie dye your old t-shirt:

  • Step 1: Set up a work area to tie dye. You’ll need to do this somewhere you can get messy. Definitely don’t do it on your parent’s new carpet. 
  • Step 2: Mix your dyes, following any instructions on your paints.
  • Step 3: Pre-soak your garment.
  • Step 4: Scrunch or fold your garment. This determines the pattern of your tie dye, read more on this here
  • Step 5: Tie your old T-shirt using elastic bands or bands provided in your kit.
  • Step 6: Generously apply the dye using the colours you want.
  • Step 7: Leave it - usually 4-6 hours, but follow the instructions on your paint. Too little time and the colours won’t stick.
  • Step 8: Wash your Tee. Don’t wash it with other clothes, as the colours will run slightly.

There you have it, a fun way to recycle your old tee.

tie dye old tshirt


4. Turn your old T-shirt into shorts

Turning your old T-shirt into a pair of shorts isn’t as hard as you might think, but it will involve some sewing. 

  • Create a pattern by selecting a style of shorts you love 
  • Use your pattern to make two panels from your Tee
  • Construct your shorts. Take the two panels and line them up, sew them together. 
  • Finish: sew the hems, add a drawstring or elasticated waist band

Want more instructions? I suggest checking out this article

old tshirt to shorts


5. Create a vintage jean jacket

Do you have an old graphic t-shirt that you used to love, but now looks a little worn around the edges? Have you considered saving the graphic design? 

This works best by adding it to an old denim jacket, but could equally work on another warmer weather item. 

Simply cut out the graphic from your old tee. Sew it on the back of the denim jacket, and there you have it. Here's a great website to guide you step-by-step. Remember to recycle any waste materials at a recycling centre (see point 15).

Pro tip: use bold coloured thread to jazz up the design a little. Feel free to garnish with extra thread and yarn to really bring your new jacket to life. 

6. Make a tote bag

We all love a tote bag. They are an essential for every sustainable shopper. T-shirts can make a great base to build tote bags from. 

The ideal tee is a tie dye or graphic tee. 

  • Step 1: Put your tee on a flat surface and ensure no wrinkles.
  • Step 2: Cut the sleeves off, but leave the seams. These will become the tote bag handles as they are reinforced.
  • Step 3: Cut the neck off to create the opening for the bag. For a square opening, use a ruler and cut down a square.
  • Step 4: Sew the bottom of the T-shirt to create the base of your bag.

Want more detail? Use this for a complete guide to turning your old T-shirt into a tote bag. 


7. Create a T-shirt quilt

This takes a bit more time and is not for the faint hearted. But it creates something truly unique. 

It’s a perfect gift, and a great way to upcycle last year's favourite tee. The finished product will be full of memories and something you’ll cherish forever. It’s also a super soft, cozy quilt. Who doesn’t love that? 

Here’s a tutorial to create your first T-shirt quilt from scratch. Want a shortcut? There are also companies that do it for you, just search on Etsy for one. 


8. Weave a pillow

Your old Tees likely hold sentimental value and have many fond memories. They are often also soft. Both are good reasons not to throw them out. 

Why not sew them onto a pillow to keep them on display? 

Want to take it to the next level, try weaving together strips of fabric in a few different colours or patterns. 


9. Cut old Tees into headbands

It’s possible you’ve already worn your favourite top hundreds of times, meaning they don’t have much life left in them. Well there are still many things you can do with your old T-shirt. 

Have you considered turning them into headbands? This is an easy thing to do with your old top, and is a fun way to create your own personalised headbands. 

Perfect for keeping your hair out of your face during a workout or a windy day. 


10. Use your old top as a hair curler

Our tenth way to recycle old t-shirts is a little different, but a very eco-friendly way to curl your hair. 

Yes, it takes a bit more time than a hair curler, and you will look like you’re from the sixties. But it’s fun, and will give you bouncy curls. It’s also a great idea if you have clothes that aren’t suitable for charity. 

This curling technique has been around for decades, and is super simple. All you need to do is wrap your hair around small cloth strips, tie them into place and sleep with them in. 

Here’s a quick guide:

Step 1: Cut your old T-Shirt into strips about 10cm long and 5cm wide. You may need to make them a bit larger if you have thick hair. 

Step 2: With hair that’s 90% dry, comb and separate into roughly 2cm sections of hair and wrap your hair around the centre of the cloth strip.

Step 3: Wrap until you reach your scalp. Tie the ends of the fabric together, keeping your rolled hair in the centre of the bunch.

Step 4: repeat steps 2-3, wrapping and tying each clump of hair until you have tied all your hair in the strips you’ve made. 

Step 5: Let your hair naturally air dry before you go to bed. Then just sleep with the roles in.

Hot tip: this will produce fairly tight barrel curls, but simply lightly brush to help them fall out to produce more gentle waves. 

Here’s a YouTube tutorial should you want to get more instructions. 

11. Hang plants in them

Hanging your plants in old T-Shirts is a creative and colourful way to bring life to your house. 

Simply cut long strips from your old tees, tie them together into a basket shape and place in them a potted house plant. This saves you money and gives a great talking point next time you have visitors. 


12. Turn old T-Shirts into rags

This one is as old as the hills and hardly creative, but as a last resort you can turn your old cotton T-shirt into rags. 

Sometimes a good old-fashioned rag is the only tool you really need to get the job done. If you’re trying to clear dirt, oil and grime off your bike chain, or want something to clean your car windows, a rag might do just fine. 

Once the rag is truly on its last legs, make sure you deposit it in your local recycling centre to prevent it ending up in landfill (see point 15). 

How do you make old shirts into rags? Very simple, just cut your shirt into the desired size you want your rag to be. I recommend using roughly 20cm squares, but go bigger or smaller if that’s what you need. 


13. Donate your old clothes

Let’s face it, we’re not all into DIY. If you’re not planning to give old garments a new life yourself, take it to a local charity. 

You won’t have to look far to find a charity that will take old clothing. Every high street normally has a number of them. Homeless shelters are also a great option as they're always happy to accept donations.

Make sure your clothes are clean, washed and in good condition if donating to charity. This gives your unloved items a chance to have a second life. 

donate old tshirts

14. Sell your good quality old clothes

It’s possible to make a bit of money by selling your old and unloved clothes. Popular sites include DepopVintedeBay, and many others. 

Again make sure your clothes are in good condition and clean. Take good pictures in bright lighting. Also add a good product description and call out the brand if relevant. Selling items can take time, so be patient if they don’t go within days. 

Sell old tshirts

15. Clothes recycling programs

The reality is that not all clothes are suitable for charity. So what can you do with unusable clothes in the UK? 

In a bid to do more, many fast fashion retailers now have recycle bins in store. H&M, Primark and M&S are good examples of retailers which have donation bins in store to recycle fabrics that can no longer be worn. Some major brands like Patagonia or Levi's even give store credit to buy new clothing when you recycle with them.

In the UK, you can also search for local textile recycling spots by giving them a quick Google. For example, recyclenow.com will help find your local donation bins near to your postcode. 

 Donate upcycle old tshirts

Want to read more? 

If you have other ideas that you think we’ve missed, please let us know in the comments below. 

You might also find the following articles useful in your quest to be more eco-friendly:

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