How to Compost Clothes in your Backyard

Do you know the true fashion footprint of your clothing?

It’s no secret that fashion waste is a huge contributor to the trash piling up in our landfills. But do you know just how much we contribute? Learning how to compost clothes can help.

85% of clothing (as a whole) ends up in landfills, or burned. Even if you recycle. But why?

The reason isn’t as clear-cut as it may seem. No matter how much fast fashion you consume, the bulk of the clothing waste heading straight to landfills isn’t from fickle fashionistas throwing away their still-good clothing. 

It’s the manufacturers, tossing unsold inventory of brand new clothes to keep supply down and demand–plus prices–up. 

To add insult to injury, textiles created by these manufacturers often aren’t recyclable. Not everyone checks the tags on their clothing, and it’s cheaper and easier for production. 

So, most fashion waste isn’t your fault, even if you’re tossing your clothes. But it’s still our responsibility to change how we shop and behave to support truly ethical, sustainable brands.

We can shrink our personal fashion footprint to zero and force the hand of shoddy manufacturers and retailers at the same time. If no one’s buying wasteful clothing, they’ll stop selling. 

Wading through the greenwashed manufacturers and empty mantras of “we’re doing our part!” can be a trek. But truly sustainable clothing does exist.

The pinnacle of slow, circular fashion is clothing with longevity, versatility, and recyclability (not only in the traditional sense). It hits the trinity of reduce, reuse, recycle. Which leads to a common question I get about sustainable textiles: “Can you compost clothes?” 

The answer is a resounding YES! It’s one of my favourite ways to reduce my own fashion footprint.

It’s direct action with results I can see with my own eyes. It produces a usable product, and helps me return all I use to the Earth and complete the cycle of regenerative fashion! The best part is that it’s super easy. 

So, without further ado: How to compost clothes by hand. 

Make sure you’re using 100% natural fibres, either undyed or naturally dyed.

I’d never make you go searching for the list of compostable natural fibres yourself! Here goes:

  • Cotton
  • Linen
  • Hemp
  • Bamboo
  • Viscose
  • Rayon
  • Tencel
  • Lyocell
  • Wool
  • Silk
  • Mohair
  • Alpaca

If you want a detailed guide about the best sustainable fabrics read my other post where I cover which ones are best for textile dyeing.

Again, make sure these are either undyed or have been dyed naturally with materials like plants or minerals. 

If you already own clothing that contains plastics or synthetic dyes, your best bet will be to mend your clothing, pass it along to someone who likes it, sell it, repurpose it, or recycle it. 

I wrote a bit about how to repurpose your clothing in my blog about how to build a capsule wardrobe, including some craft project ideas and suggestions for re-dyeing your items for a style refresh. 

Remove non-compostable items.

These include extra bits and bobs like zippers, trims, buttons, thread, and labels. Anything that might not be natural, or that could include plastic. 

Cut the fabric into small pieces or strips. 

This is pretty self-explanatory, but if you’re the type of person (like me!) who loves instructions: cut the strips about 2 to 8cm wide. The bigger the pieces, the longer they take to break down. 

Mix into your compost pile and keep well hydrated. 

Once you’ve cut your textiles into strips, incorporate them into your compost like normal. 

No more than 25% of your compost should be made up of textiles. If you need to, you can just hold onto your clothing strips and add more as you contribute other compostables like grass and food waste. 

Turn your compost pile every so often.

“Turn” your compost every 4–5 weeks. This is as simple as taking a shovel and flipping the contents of the pile inside out (the contents in the middle of the pile should now be on the outside, and vice versa). 

If you turn too often, you’ll disrupt all the fungi goodness that helps your materials decompose, so stick to the every-so-often schedule. 

“How long does clothing take to compost?” and other FAQs + tips. 

How long does composting your clothing take? Composting your textiles can take from two weeks to six or seven months, depending on the fabric and method used. It’s always best to estimate on the longer side! 

Can they be composted more quickly? Yes. Your clothes will compost more quickly if you keep them close to the middle of the pile, because that’s where the heat concentrates and the majority of the composting happens. 

What else should I put in my compost? We already covered that no more than 25% of your compost should be made up of textiles, but that’s not the only ratio to be aware of. 

To be efficient, compost needs equal amounts of “green” waste (food scraps, fresh garden waste, grass clippings, herbivore manure) and “brown” waste (textiles, cardboard, paper, dry leaves, sticks, and soil). 

Why does the ratio of brown to green matter? Brown materials are rich in carbon, feeding the organisms that break down all the green waste scraps, and brown materials supply nitrogen, which is key for your soil. 

Creating a sustainable lifestyle isn’t only good for the earth. It’s good for you. 

Slow living brings us back to our roots. Learning how to compost clothes is just one tiny part of the process. That’s not to say the only good way to live is out on a homestead somewhere, making all your clothing from scratch. It just means that becoming a more mindful, conscious you is one path to fulfilment. 

When you take careful stock of what you own already and what’s truly worth adding, you’re more likely to peek inwards at your own true desires and sort through outside influences and shallow wants. 

Choosing to live sustainably is a radical freedom from the fast-paced, me-first world that corporations want you to crave. 

Your life is yours alone, and you can break free from the cycles of mindless consumption and distracted living. Making sustainability work for you means changing bits and pieces of your life as you can until you’re living your own goals. 

If you’re intrigued by the concept of living slowly and exploring freedom and creativity in sustainability, sign up for my workshop Living Colour with the Five Elements

I’ll teach you everything you need to know about hand-dyeing your own textiles, completely naturally. It’s been my sole focus and joy in the past few years, and I’d love to share it with you.

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