Emma Grace Fairchild:
Replacing bed linens and towels is a necessary part of life, one that — with just a bit of effort — can be made with environmental awareness and sustainability. For many people, going green has an economic incentive; reusing, recycling and reducing your purchases often saves money! With a little creativity, your old sheets, towels and other linens can be repurposed into countless new uses to save money and reduce the amount of waste headed to landfills. When you decide to invest in new bedspreads or towels (don’t forget to invest in organic cotton or locally made products), you are essentially buying large swaths of fabric that can be transformed into anything once they no longer serve their original purpose.
There are many ways to reuse tired sheets and towels in ways that require almost no effort.
- Sheets are a great size for use in the yard and garden. Use sheets to collect fallen leaves or weeds when raking and cleaning out garden beds and yards, where the organic waste can be transported easily to a compost pile or to the green waste collection bins. Why buy a plastic tarp when you already have the supplies in your linen closet?
- Sheets or towels (or even old curtains) can be used to insulate small trees or shrubs when the weather gets cold. Or they can be suspended above gardens during the summer to function as a shade cloth on extra hot days.
- In San Diego, I used old sheets to harvest mulberries from my tall trees: I laid two or three big sheets all around the tree before shaking the branches to allow the fruit to fall. Then it was an easy shake to get all the berries into a nice pile in the middle of the sheets so they could be eaten.
- In cold climates, old linens are excellent free draft catchers. They simply can be folded and tied into a tight roll to fit neatly next to a leaky door or window frame.
- Stock the trunk of your car with an old towel and an old sheet for unexpected messes, dirty dogs or kids, or a spontaneous picnic.
- Probably the most simple way to reuse old sheets and towels is to cut them into smaller lengths for cleaning towels and rags. Old towels are especially good for using around the garage to clean cars and greasy hands. You can even have designated cloths for car wax, washing or interiors.
If you’ve reused sheets and towels for all of these simple purposes, there are more transformative things to do, as well, that take a bit more effort.
- Completely eliminate the need for wasteful wrapping paper for the holidays and birthdays by turning old sheets into handmade gift bags. There are many patterns and styles, ranging in difficulty, some of which are very simple (even for a first time sewer such as myself). To elevate plain cloth, you could color them with natural dyes, or use fabric paints to create unique designs. As gift giving occasions come around, include a little note that describes how the recipient is to use the gift bag in turn for the next gift they give. It’s like giving two gifts in one.
- Use two top sheets to create a homemade duvet. Having a collection of duvets for your comforters and blankets could eventually eliminate the need for top sheets all together.
- Make old pillow cases into a bag for grocery shopping or farmers markets (or anything, really).
- Handmade menstrual pads are a sustainable project because of the environmental impact of disposable pads and tampons, as described by Green-Mom.
- Turn old towels into homemade pot holders for personal use or as gifts.
- Ultimately, almost any project that needs cotton fabric can be made using old sheets.
A final and important consideration is to donate extra sheets and towels to your local animal rescue. These donations can always be put to use to help the facility care for the animals.
So before you toss a perfectly good bolt of cloth away to a landfill, reconsider — you could have a wonderful new use for it after all. How do you reuse retired sheets, linens and towels? Share with us in the comments!