If your old sheets have seen better days or are too small for your new mattress, don’t just toss those sheets in the trash. There are tons of ways to reuse and recycle old bed sheets, including making your own rug! Not so crafty? Here are some other ways to quickly repurpose worn sheets and save money and resources in the process.
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Donating old sheets
Before we jump into ways to downcycle or upcycle old sheets, let’s talk donations.
By far, your best option for old sheets is to rehome those 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, but you do have basic sewing skills, consider cutting sheets with tattered edges down to size and sewing a hem for use on a smaller bed.
You could also turn old sheets into a:
- Washable wet wipes
- Furoshiki (reusable cloth gift wrap)
- Plant cloche (to keep the frost off overwintering kale, for example)
- Car cozy, windscreen cover, or shade for summer
- Blackout curtain for summer cooling.
Really, the list can go on and on and is only limited by your time, imagination, and skills. Back when I had more of the first (time), I cut up an old duvet cover into a long piece of ‘yarn’ and knitting a circular rug for the nursery.
Recycling old sheets
If your sheets are seriously worn and you can’t see a way to repurpose them, recycling is your best option. This is much simpler if your sheets are made with a single kind of fiber, such as cotton or linen. For polyester or blends, you may have a harder time finding textile recycling facilities that will accept sheets.
This just goes to show the importance of choosing natural materials for any new bedding purchases. Not only are natural fibers better for people and planet through the lifecycle stages of resource extraction, manufacturing, and use, they’re also far healthier, safer, and more cost effective to recycle afterwards.
Many recycling depots now have a fabric or textile recycling bin where you can put old (clean) sheets and other bedding. Some home textile stores also host textile recycling bins. If neither of these are options where you live, consider using TerraCycle to send bedding and other home textiles for recycling.
Why repurpose and reuse?
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 consider sending old sheets to landfill, think about ways to repurpose, upcycle, or recycle bedding. Then, when you’re truly ready to buy new sheets, consider organic cotton, hemp, and flax linen for truly biodegradable, eco-friendly sheets.