old ripped towel

What to do with old towels?

Dear Sustainability Sam,

I have so many bath and hand towels, some dish towels, that are getting  shabby, so I’m gradually replacing them, but they are perfectly good, and I have many more than I need for back-ups or in my clean-up-messes bin.  Do you know of an organization, such as a shelter, that could use them?




Thank you Rita, for the great question!  What to do with extra, old or worn towels and linens is definitely an issue right now.  Hennepin County used to take old textiles at their recycling center, but because there is a limited market for used textiles, they stopped collecting them about 2 years ago.  That leaves us to find innovative ways for making sure that our old textiles are properly disposed of.  Last year, the Tangletown Environmental Committee did a year-long series on textile reduction, reuse, and recycling.  If you would like to watch any of our panels and resources from that series, you can find them here.  

Our Committee did a little brainstorming and sleuthing for local places that could use your old towels and linens.  Here is what we found:

  1. The Animal Humane Society will take towel and blanket donations at any of their locations.  They ask that the blankets not contain any stuffing.
  2. People Serving People will take donations of new or good condition bed linens.  The website is silent on towels, but if they are in usable condition I think they could find a home for them.
  3. Bridging will take towels and bed linens that have been gently used.  If you would feel comfortable giving the item to a friend or family member then it is probably in good enough condition for donation.  
  4. Veterinary offices or kennels may be able to use towels not in good enough condition to donate, but still usable.
  5. Facebook Buy Nothing Groups are a great place to post about your old towels and linens.  It’s amazing what people may need out there!

If none of these suggestions work for you, you could find ways to reuse your old towels someplace else in the house.  Some suggestions for reuse are:  save them for small DIY projects like painting, use them to cover plants, flower beds and container gardens in the spring and fall when frost is forecasted, keep a few in the car for muddy feet and cleanups, use as dog towels or cut them up into smaller sizes to use as “unpaper towels.”

Remember, the best practice is to buy the best quality towels and bed linens that you can so that they will last for a very long time.  With limited options for recycling textiles and few places for reuse the best option is to reduce the amount of textiles you consume by buying high quality items that will last for years.   

-Sustainability Sam