Whether you just bought a new mattress that’s a different size or have sheets to get rid of because they’re tattered and torn, you might be wondering what to do with old bed sheets you no longer want. Happily, there are plenty of options for what to do to reuse and recycle bed sheets, instead of just stuffing them in the trash and sending them to landfill.
As part of my series of articles on eco-friendly bed sheets, I offer this guide on reducing, reusing, and recycling old bed sheets.
Donating old sheets
By far, your best option is to rehome sheets that are still serviceable. That means gifting them to family, friends, neighbors, colleagues, or anyone else that will take them. If no one in your immediate circle needs sheets, considering donating lightly used sheets to a nearby retirement home, shelter, or social housing for those in need. Animal shelters might also have need for sheets to keep abandoned pets comfortable and safe.
Don’t just dump them on these organizations though as this could just make more work for them. Instead, call around and see who needs old sheets, and ask them if they need any other household textiles while you’re at it, in case you’re getting rid of other used items.
Recycling and upcycling old sheets
What if the sheets are torn, stained, or otherwise unusable as bed sheets? Well, with a little imagination, bed sheets are great for craft projects at home, such as making costumes. Here are my top ten costumes you can make using a bed sheet (none of which are horribly appropriative or racist):
- Halloween ghost
- Roman or Greek toga
- Little Red Riding Hood
- Princess Leia
- Statue of Liberty
- The Weeping Angel (for all you Doctor Who fans)
- Thor (or any god, goddess, or superhero with a cape really)
- Egyptian mummy
- A snowman (Olaf!)
If this is all far too much effort, consider simply cutting sheets with tattered edges down to size and using them to fit a smaller child’s bed or guest bed. You could also turn old sheets into tablecloths, a plant cloche (to keep the frost off overwintering kale, for example), or to keep a parked car cool in summer. A carefully positioned old sheet can also help reduce your need for air-conditioning or heating.
When it comes to the environmental impact of sheets, it’s not just your choice of new sheets that matters. Only an estimated 15-20% of textiles in the EU are recycled, with the figure likely much lower in the US due simply to geographical factors (R).
Old bed sheets are, for the most part, just dumped in landfill and forgotten about. In these conditions, synthetic sheets can take many years to break down, as can sheets made with natural fibers that have been treated with toxic chemicals. Depending on the type of sheets, they may also leach harmful chemicals into the ground water and soil or into the air if incinerated.
As with every household product, before you even consider sending old sheets to landfill, think about ways to repurpose, upcycle, or recycle it. Then, when you’re ready to buy new sheets, consider organic cotton, hemp, and flax linen for truly biodegradable, eco-friendly sheets.