Your cart is empty!


How long does it take for my clothes to biodegrade?

17 Oct 2022

How long does it take for my clothes to biodegrade

Now we're in the business of firmly believing that the following information shouldn't really come in any use because all clothes that are end of life should be upcycled or recycled. That said, we're also in the business of (low-key obsessively) encouraging people to avoid the bin at all costs and seeing how 13 million items of clothes still end up in landfill every week, we reckon knowledge is power.  So, if you have ever wondered how long it might take for your clothes to decompose in landfill, here is everything you need to know.  Just to reiterate: the key takeaway from this should be that landfill equals bad, recycling equals good. Ok, buckle in (yes, pun intended)…


Kicking things off with linen with a tidy two weeks. Linen is a natural material made from Flax. The actual time it does take to decompose varies depending on weight, but on average it takes 2 weeks for the fabric to biodegrade.

The same goes for hemp clothing, which is often considered a comparable material to linen.

These two are often considered to be some of the most environmentally friendly materials to choose for your wardrobe.


Cotton makes up a huge percentage of most of our wardrobes, and as far as biodegradable fabrics go, it is relatively quick to break down. Organic cotton is a popular fabric choice for brands trying to be more environmentally conscious.

The organic label doesn’t mean the cotton decomposes more quickly, but it usually means less chemicals are used in the making process, so that means less chemicals released into nature at the end of its life.

It’s worth noting that synthetic labels and stitching will take longer to break down as well, so they’ll stick around long after the garment decomposes.


100% cotton denim will take up to a year to decompose. If it's blended with synthetic materials (which is very common with denim these days), it will take longer. It’s easy to check if denim is blended by looking at the label. Because denim is pretty water-intensive to create, we recommend buying pre-loved jeans whenever you can to reduce your carbon footprint.

Hardware (buttons, rivets and zips) will also take a lot longer to decompose depending on what they're made from. When we recycle denim, we take off all of the components and recycle them separately to make sure we don’t waste any important resources.

Read our guide to sustainable denim here.


Wool is a natural material so it can fully decompose. Remember, we're talking about landfill conditions here. A good quality woollen jumper could easily last your lifetime if cared for well.


Another plastic material for you. Old tights hanging around for nearly half our life? No, thanks. When nylon breaks down, it actually can’t completely disappear, so it turns into smaller and smaller microplastics that enter into the natural landscape and cause all sorts of issues.

Tights that are 100% nylon can be recycled easily and used to make recycled clothes.


We're talking genuine rubber here, which, believe it or not, is a natural material unlike its plastic counterpart which is often used. 

Rubber is an easily recyclable material so there really is no need for any rubber to end up in landfill. Unfortunately, often it does, and it takes a long time to break down!

Shoes will often be made out of lots of different fabrics and components, meaning they’re tricky to recycle and each different part decomposes at different speeds. That’s why we try to keep footwear in circulation for as long as we can, by repairing or reselling the ones we get from our takeback services.

You can send back old shoes via our partners Dune, Kickers, Salt-Water Sandals or Grass and Air.

Are your favourite shoe brand offering a takeback? If not, why not send them a message and let them know they could partner with us, and you could get money off your next pair (and save shoes from landfill).


I don't know about you but the thought of our old sweaty sportswear still being around in the time of our great, great, great, great grandchildren doesn't make our hearts sing.

Lycra is a man-made material and derivative of plastic, so this is essentially plastic pollution. Just like our nylon tights, the polyester breaks down into microplastics, and essentially can never completely disappear, unlike natural fabrics and biodegradable fabrics.


The party may be over but sequins didn't get the memo. They're literally going to be around to haunt generations to come. There are lots of alternatives to sequins out there these days so we recommend opting for vintage sequin outfits if you need that sparkle fix.


Please don't wash sequins in the washing machine - gently hand wash them instead. They're really not kind to Mother Nature and we don't want them going down our pipes.


Honestly, we don't know how long this will take to decompose but it's estimated to be at least hundred and hundreds of years before spandex starts to biodegrade. Making spandex is pretty crap for the environment too, so basically, if you see spandex, run the other way. If you’ve got some spandex leggings or sportswear knocking around it isn’t all bad though, as it’s easier to recycle than mixed fibres (like a cotton/spandex blend). Check the label, and send any 100% spandex or 100% nylon to recycle.


And of course, you’re welcome to send Sweaty Betty pieces to us, and we’ll rehome or responsibly recycle them, saving them from landfill.

Ok, so we know what you might be thinking. Some of these aren't that bad, are they? Unfortunately, they are.

Decomposing clothes contributes to greenhouse gases and consequently climate change. They also can make local areas toxic and unsafe for animals.

Not to mention microfibres which are left behind after decomposition, which can end up in our soil and water streams, and then eventually in our food. Yep, we are now finding plastic in our bloodstreams.

Moral of the story? Don't put your clothes in the bin. If they're eligible for our takeback scheme, send them to us. Alternatively, we've written a whistle stop tour on what you can do with your old clothes and how to pass them on ethically.

If you want to buy clothes made from more sustainable fabrics, look out for single material organic fabrics with natural dyes. They do tend to be pretty niche, so you can also look out for recycled materials to shop more sustainably too.

But of course, shopping pre-loved is pretty much always better than opting to buy something new. If you want to shop without the guilt of worrying how long your clothes will take to biodegrade, then pre-loved is the way to go.

Sign up to Reskinned to find out more about what we do and be the first to find out when drops are happening from the brands you love.

Blue Earth Summit Logo