Recycling Old Socks + 21 Ways to Repurpose Socks

RusticWise - Recycling Old Socks

We all have a few pairs of old socks in our drawers. Holey socks, single socks, mismatched socks, and worn out socks.

Instead of throwing them in the trash, try recycling old socks in the spirit of sustainability. Yes, your old socks can be recycled. We’ll go over the various ways you can donate, compost, and repurpose old socks.

The landfill is surprisingly filled with clothing items, including unwanted socks, old underwear, and more. 

Let’s take a closer look at recycling old socks, creative uses for old socks, plus where you can drop off used sock donations. The earth thanks you for it.

recycling old socks, socks drying on clothesline
Credit: Nick Page / Unsplash

Why you should donate your unwanted socks

Clearing out your sock drawer?

The fashion industry is a large contributor to landfill waste. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), discarded clothes are the main source of municipal solid waste in landfills. In 2018, 11.3 million tons of textiles were added to landfills, which accounted for 7.7 percent of all municipal solid waste.¹

In Canada, the numbers are not great either. In Metro Vancouver alone, residents threw out over 44 million pounds of textiles in 2018. This works out to roughly the weight of 44 t-shirts per person.²

While it may not seem like a huge deal to throw out some old socks, this contributes to the waste problem. Throwing textiles in a landfill also is a waste of taxpayer money. Did you know it costs three times as much to put textiles in a landfill than to recycle it?³ There are better ways to deal with old socks instead of throwing them in a landfill.

Can you recycle old socks?

When we think of recycling, the first items that come to mind are newspapers, cans, and bottles. Did you know that old textiles and unwanted clothing (including socks) are recyclable?

Many organizations accept gently used socks in good condition. But can you donate holey socks?

Yes, you can recycle socks with holes or mismatched socks and donate those too. Organizations like Value Village pay other charities for all textiles that are brought in, regardless if they are worn or damaged.

So what happens to clothing that’s damaged, or not suitable for resale locally?

These articles of clothing are often repurposed into other uses, including insulation for your home or car, matting, and carpet padding or flooring underlay. The rest is packaged and sold overseas to countries such as Ghana, Bolivia, and India.³ From there, local entrepreneurs buy and resell clothing as a source of income.

Some clothing that’s donated does unfortunately end up in the landfill, but much of it is diverted.

Where to donate old socks

Looking to donate your old socks? Here’s a few places where you can donate socks and other used clothing.

  • TerraCycle: TerraCycle is an organization that recycles hard-to-recycle items such as cigarette butts and used pens. They also have a Bedroom Separation–Zero Waste Box™ where you can place items you no longer need from your bedroom, including clothing, accessories, shoes, and toys. The catch is that you must pay for the box first, but they’ll handle everything else.
  • Zkano: In the US, Zkano accepts donations of used socks for recycling.
  • Goodwill, Salvation Army, and Value Village: While we don’t want to be promoting the donation of damaged clothing, as we mentioned above, these second-hand stores sort donated items for resale, recycling, or sent overseas. Please ensure you label and bag damaged items separately. Goodwill and Salvation Army are non-profits while Value Village is for profit.
  • Second Cut Project: Available in the U.S. and Canada, the Second Cut Project by Smartwool allows you to roundup your preloved socks and drop them off at a participating retailer, or print your own prepaid shipping label (in Canada). In the U.S., you have the option of ordering a free pre-paid mail-in bag during your next online purchase.
  • H&M: The fashion industry is notorious for its fast-consumption and fast-disposal cycles. H&M is no stranger to this. However, kudos to H&M for introducing its textile recycling program. They accept any brand of used clothing and either rewear (sold as second-hand clothing), reuse (old clothes are turned into other items such as cleaning cloths), and recycle (textiles become insulation). Recently, H&M launched Looop, “the world’s first in-store recycling system turning old garments into new ones.” It’s a machine that shreds old clothing and knits a new item from used fibers.
  • Local charities: Look for a charitable organization in your area. Diabetes Canada has clothing drop-off donation bins throughout the country that accept bagged items of clothing. This is one of the many charities that sell items to Value Village.

In the U.S., check out American Textile Recycling Services and SMART (Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles) for more information on where to find drop boxes.

Can you compost old socks?

If you have a backyard compost, you might wonder, are socks compostable?

Yes, if your socks are made of 100 percent natural material (such as wool socks), you can compost them! Just be sure to remove any non-compostable materials such as buttons or zippers. Shred them into small pieces and add to your compost pile. Other natural materials include:

  • Cotton
  • Wool
  • Hemp
  • Bamboo
  • Linen
  • Silk

21 Creative ideas on recycling old socks

Recycling old socks is an easy and fun way to get your creative juices flowing while also diverting textile waste from the dump. 

So what can you do with old socks? Plenty. You can repurpose them into simple items such as a dusting mitt, or shred it into pet bedding, or make DIY heating pads filled with dry rice.

Here’s a roundup of 21 ways to upcycle an old pair of socks organized by category: around the home, ideas for pets, crafts, and self care.

New uses for old socks around the home

1.) Dusting mitt: If you have a dusting mitt, you know how useful they are. Convert an old sock into a dusting mitt. Slip the sock over your hand, mist lightly with water, and dust away! This is a great way to get little ones to help dust around the house.

2.) Cleaning rags: Old cotton socks are great for using in a pinch when you’ve made a mess of things and don’t want to dirty your nice towels. Keep your old socks in the laundry room in a bag, and use as needed.

3.) DIY Dryer ball: Make your own version of a wool dryer ball with a pair of old wool socks. Wool dryer balls help to distribute the load more evenly and speed up drying times. Place an old tennis ball in a wool sock and tie a knot at the top. Add a few drops of your favorite essential oil.

4.) Mug cozy: Protect your hands from hot tea or coffee with an easy mug cozy. Just cut off the top of the sock and slip it over the outside of your favorite mug. Cut a slit to fit the handle if needed. You can sew the ends if you’re feeling ambitious, but it’s not necessary.

recycling old socks, mug cozy, MommyPotmaus
Credit: Mommy Potamus

5.) Potpourri pouch: Snip off the top part of an old sock, just below the heel. Fill the sock with your favorite potpourri and use a pretty string or ribbon to secure it. Place it around the house where you could use a nice fragrance, such as in closets or dresser drawers.

6.) Padding for paint jobs: I’ve recently spruced up old cupboard doors. I removed the doors, placed them on a workhorse, and used several rolled up socks to place underneath them to prevent damage to the doors. When you’re painting two sides of a door, allow the first side to dry for at least 24 hours, then flip over to paint the other side. Place several rolled up socks underneath to prevent damaging the painted side before the paint has fully cured.

Upcycling sock ideas for pets

7.) Soft bedding: Shred several old socks and rags to make a nice, soft bed for your furry friend.

8.) DIY Kong toy: Dogs love to find surprises in store-bought rubber Kong toys. Make your own DIY Kong toy for your pooch by slipping in a small treat inside an old sock. Roll the sock into a ball.

The next four ideas are from Proud Dog Mom where she shares how to convert socks into four different dog toys:

9.) Throw toy: Use a long tube sock and place a tennis ball inside. Push the ball to the toe of the sock. Tie a knot at the top of the sock and you’re done!

10.) Snake toy: Fill a long sock with stuffing, add a squeaker in the middle, and tie closed.

11.) Crinkle toy: Remove the plastic cap and ring from an empty plastic water bottle. Place the bottle inside a long tube sock and tie closed. Instant chew toy!

12.) Knotted rope sock toy: With a long sock, begin by tying a knot at one end of the sock. Leave 1 inch between each knot and continue tying knots along the length of the sock.

recycling old socks, knotted dog toy, ProudDogMom
Credit: Proud Dog Mom

Crafts with old socks

13.) Sock puppet: Of course, I had to include a classic sock puppet craft to this list! 

14.) Stuffing: Are you making a stuffed toy, pillow, or some other crafty project that requires stuffing? Shred up clean old socks to use instead.

15.) Sock Chia Pet: Remember Chia Pets? Make your own sock pet with an old sock, potting soil, grass seeds, scrap fabric, and a cup or pot. Check out the tutorial here.

16.) Stuffed Totoro: If you’re a fan of the Studio Ghibli movie Totoro, you can make your own Totoro stuffie using a white, gray, and blue sock. Check out the tutorial from Cut and Keep.

recycling old socks, Totoro, CutandKeep
Credit: Cut and Keep

Self-care projects with old socks

17.) Heat pack: Soothe those aches and pains with your own DIY sock heat pack with rice. Select a non-holey sock (preferably a longer tube sock) for this project. Fill with 2-4 cups of dried rice. Tie a tight knot at the top. Warm the sock in the microwave in 1 minute increments to prevent overheating until you’ve reached the desired temperature.

18.) Soap pouch: If you have slivers of soap that are too small to use on their own and don’t want to waste them, collect them in an old (clean) sock. Tie a knot at the top. You’ll be able to lather up while the fabric of the sock acts as a cleaning rag.

19.) Arm warmers: Convert your old worn out socks to arm warmers. Just cut off the toes, and make a slit in the heel of the sock for your thumb.

20.) Baby leg warmers: A pair of old adult-sized tube socks makes the perfect size for toddler leg warmers. Just cut off the toes and use on your little one.

21.) Hair bun: Sure, you can buy a hair bun donut, but you can also put that old sock to create the perfect hair bun. Here’s a sock bun tutorial to check out.

recycling old socks, sock bun, Instructables
Credit: Instructables

Related questions

Can you donate used underwear?

Yes, some charitable organizations will accept donations of clean, gently used old undies. Look into your local Goodwill, Salvation Army, and Big Brothers Big Sisters for local guidelines. If the old underwear is unfit for resale, it will be sold to other organizations and possibly used as scrap fabric.

How long does it take for socks to decompose in the landfill?

That depends on the materials the socks are made of. The general consensus is that wool socks may take up to 5 years to decompose. However, some stockings are made of materials that take a long time to decompose. Synthetic materials such as polyester, nylon, and spandex are not fully biodegradable. It can take anywhere from 10 to 50 years (or longer!) for these types of socks to decompose completely. These materials do not break down easily in the soil and can release harmful chemicals into the environment as they slowly degrade. Therefore, it’s important to reduce the amount of waste we produce and dispose of our socks properly by recycling or donating them.

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  1. United States Environmental Protection Agency, Facts and Figures about Materials, Waste and Recycling, Textiles: Material-Specific Data, Accessed May 2023.
  2. Vancouver Is Awesome, Textile Waste Growing Fast in Metro Vancouver, Accessed May 2023.
  3. Corfu, Nina (19 January 2017). “ Why charities want your old, stained and ripped clothes,” CBC. Accessed May 2023.

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