Americans have a clothing waste problem. On average, we throw away 80 pounds of clothing per person every year. Once in the landfill, this waste releases greenhouse gases like methane that contribute to global warming and leach harmful chemicals into our groundwater. Some synthetic garments can take hundreds of years or more to biodegrade.
Before you decide to toss something out, here are some tips and resources on how to clean, repair, sell, or — if you must purge— responsibly recycle your old clothing and household textiles.
- Don’t let it set! The most important thing to remember is to address the stain as quickly as possible by keeping it damp with room temperature water. After it sets, it becomes even harder to remove. Aka get the stain out before you pop anything in the dryer. And along the same lines, dab, don’t rub. Rubbing can lead to setting.
- Get a Tide pen. This is a handy, small tool you can keep in your bag in the event of an accident. It’s especially good for the chronically clumsy amongst us.
- Have the right tools. The experts recommend keeping on hand all the following ingredients to address any type of stain: ammonia, bleach, cornstarch, dish soap, glycerine, hydrogen peroxide, laundry detergent, rubbing alcohol, a stain pretreater like Shout, and white vinegar.
Check out the following online resources for more stain-specific guidance:
- Real Simple has an excellent printable chart for your laundry room: https://www.realsimple.com/home-organizing/cleaning/more-techniques/how-to-remove-stains
- These Art of Manliness tips apply regardless of your gender: http://www.artofmanliness.com/2013/03/28/how-to-remove-stains/
- If you want to stay as all-natural as possible, check out these tips using only vinegar: https://www.thebalance.com/how-to-remove-laundry-stains-with-vinegar-1387973
Hey, wait, you say, what about funky smells? If you enjoy a good thrift store treasure hunt, you sometimes end up getting more than you bargained for in the form of musty or moth-ball odors. Here are some tips on airing it out:
- Literally air it out. Try hanging your clothes on a clothesline outside where they can get some fresh air.
- Stick it in the freezer. The chill in your freezer kills bacteria and can also cancel out stinky smells. (This is also a great alternative way to “wash” your jeans!)
- Good ol’ baking soda and vinegar. For washable clothes, add 1 cup of baking soda to the wash cycle along with detergent. Mix well and allow the clothing to soak for at least 1 hour before completing the wash. Add 1/2 cup distilled white vinegar to the final rinse.
- Add essential oils to the wash. A few drops of tea tree, lavender, or lemon oil in the wash might just do the trick.
- Try vodka. Mix 3 parts high-proof vodka to 1 part water, spray it on and let it dry. Then mix yourself a stiff drink and toast to your hard work.
No sewing machine? Don’t despair! Here are some easy stitches you can do just with a little needle and thread.
- This Lifehacker article (complete with videos!) offers five simple hand stitches you can employ for adding patches, shortening hems, fixing tears and more.
- When in doubt ask Martha. This helpful slideshow offers tips on mending a seam to patching a hole.
- Take it to a tailor. In my case, this is my mom, but if your mom lives far away (or can’t sew) I recommend finding a tailor in your area (Yelp is a good resource for this). They can usually quote you over the phone and will quickly get you back into that LBD in no time. (I’ve personally used JC Lofton Tailors on U Street NW in DC and have had a good experience with their quality and customer service.)
There are oodles and oodles of new and old thrift options for you to sell your old threads when you’ve outgrown them (physically or emotionally).
- ThredUp — For basics and less-fancy stuff (women’s and kid’s only), check out online consignment shop ThredUp. They send you a bag to fill up and send back, then send you a check or credit to shop on their online consignment store.
- Poshmark — It’s kind of like an Etsy for your old clothes. You list the item, choose the price, and manage the sales process.
- SnobSwap — DC-based SnobSwap is more for luxury items but functions similarly to ThredUp.
- eBay — When all else fails, just pop it up on eBay and see what happens.
The DC area has quite a few great shops that I have sold to or shopped at for secondhand clothes. Here’s a rundown:
- Secondi — Connecticut & R St NW — Secondi is a dreamland of high-quality secondhand garments, most of which are high-end or luxury. For your first drop-off, you have to call and make an appointment but after that you can just drop things off.
- Buffalo Exchange — 14th & N St NW — Buffalo Exchange is a national chain with locations around the country. You can drop by pretty much anytime (though you may have to wait in line) and have your clothes evaluated and get paid on the spot. Note that anything they don’t take, you may have to take back with you and donate elsewhere.
- Current Boutique — 14th & S St NW — Current is a slightly fancier Buffalo Exchange and only accepts women’s clothing.
- Crossroads — 14th & U St NW — Crossroads is like Buffalo Exchange but offers more options for selling (like making an appointment or selling by mail).
95% of the textile material we throw away can be recycled. That’s right, even your holey old t-shirts, worn out underwear, or sad, decoupled socks. Textile recycling is an old industry dating back centuries when old garments would be converted mostly into wipers for cleaning. Nowadays, used clothing is converted into a wide range of products from insulation to carpet underlay to blankets and much more.
Many people feel guilty about including old, worn-out items in a donation bag to charity, but for the most part, charities weed these items out and sell them to recyclers, so they don’t end up going to the needy, so feel free to include them in your donation bag.
And if you’re in the DC area, check out my startup, Texiles™, a used clothing home pickup service. We work with local charities and secondhand partners to ensure your items get reworn or repurposed, and stay out of the landfill.
Clothing waste takes up 6% of landfill space and each pair of socks or underwear contributes to that figure. So next time you think of sticking an item of clothing in the trash because of a hole or a stain, consider giving it a chance at a second life.
(Feel free to share any of your own tips or resources on cleaning, repairing, selling, swapping clothing, etc. in the comments!)