How to Compost Your Old Clothes and Fabric Scraps

How to Compost Your Old Clothes and Fabric Scraps

Introduction

Composting is one of the best ways to recycle your old clothes, fabrics, and other textiles. By composting these materials, you can divert waste from landfills and create a nutrient-rich soil amendment for your garden.

In this comprehensive guide, I’ll explain everything you need to know about composting fabrics, from how to prepare materials to what you can and can’t compost. With a few simple steps, you can turn old clothes, sheets, towels, and other textile scraps into valuable compost for your plants.

What Fabrics Can Be Composted?

Most natural fiber fabrics can be composted, including:

  • Cotton – t-shirts, jeans, towels, sheets
  • Wool – sweaters, socks, blankets
  • Silk – blouses, scarves, ties
  • Linen – tablecloths, napkins, clothing
  • Hemp – clothing, reusable bags
  • Cashmere – sweaters, scarves

Synthetic fabrics like polyester, nylon, acrylic, and spandex should not be composted as they do not biodegrade.

How to Prepare Fabrics for Composting

Before adding old fabrics to your compost pile, it’s important to properly prepare them:

Cut Into Smaller Pieces

  • Use scissors to cut or rip fabrics into smaller fragments, ideally 2 inches or less.
  • Smaller pieces will break down faster.

Remove Buttons, Zippers, Hooks, etc.

  • Remove any plastic, metal, or silicone attachments which cannot biodegrade.

Avoid Dyes and Prints

  • Plain, undyed fabrics compost best.
  • Avoid fabrics with prints, dyes, waterproofing, flame retardants or other chemical treatments. These may contain toxic compounds.

Composting Process

Add Fabric in Thin Layers

  • Mix small amounts of prepped fabric pieces into your compost pile.
  • Add 1-2 inches deep layers throughout the pile.

Bury Pieces Under Compost

  • Bury fabric under at least 8 inches of compost.
  • This keeps pieces moist and kickstarts decomposition.

Maintain Proper Conditions

  • Maintain a moist compost pile, with a moisture content of 40-60%.
  • Turn or mix the pile to circulate air and foster aerobic conditions.
  • Use a mix of “greens” (nitrogen-rich materials like food scraps) and “browns” (carbon-rich materials like leaves and wood chips) for a balanced C:N ratio.

Troubleshooting Problems

Slow to Break Down

  • If fabrics are decomposing too slowly, the pile may be too dry. Mix in water or urine to increase moisture.
  • Add more greens like grass clippings to improve nitrogen levels.
  • Turn and mix the pile to boost aeration.

Mold Growth

  • Mold on fabrics indicates the pile is too wet. Add more brown materials like sawdust to soak up moisture.

Unpleasant Odors

  • Bad smells mean the pile is anaerobic. Turn the pile to increase airflow.
  • Add coarse materials like wood chips to improve aeration and drainage.

Pests

  • Bury fabric under at least 1 foot of compost to deter pests. Screen piles using wire mesh if needed.

Using Composted Fabric Scraps

After 6-12 months of active composting, fabric scraps will be completely broken down.

The finished compost can be:

  • Added to garden beds as a nutrient-rich soil amendment.
  • Used to create compost tea, a natural fertilizer.
  • Added to potting mixes for houseplants and containers.
  • Used as a mulch or top-dressing around plants.

So don’t throw away those old clothes and textiles! With a little preparation, they can be successfully composted and reused to nourish your garden.