How to Recycle Previously-used Yarn

By Alicia Kachmar – 11 Comments

Do you have sweaters you no longer wear? Afghans a-plenty in the closet? Ignore them no longer! If you have neglected crocheted items that you don’t have sentimental attachment to, perhaps it’s time to go on an unraveling binge. Recycling previously-used yarn is a great way to make use of those items again–by turning them into something else! Sometimes I find crocheted garments at thrift stores that are in good condition, but not what I’d want to wear. And yet, at $3 for a bulky wool sweater worth of yarn? Too good too pass up. Below I will tell you how easy it is to restore recycled yarn so that you can use it in your next project.


  1. Unwinding: Grab the to-be-recycled crochet piece. It may not be obvious where the yarn ends are on your recycled item, especially if its maker was really adept at weaving these in. Think logically about where you would end when crocheting something like a sweater or afghan. For instance, a sweater is usually started at the bottom, worked upwards where the armholes are then shaped, and so on. Unwinding can take some time depending on how big of a garment or blanket you’re dealing with.
  2. Winding: Whether you have a machine-winder or use a friend’s arms and hands, you’ll have to wind the pile of yarn into a loose hank so it’s not one big tangled mess on the floor. Like Rachel says in this post, crocheters have preferences when it comes to winding yarn into hanks, so it’s up to you how to go about it. In general, you want a loosely-wound hank for the next step, washing.
  3. Washing: Just like winding, crocheters have preferences when it comes to washing yarn. Some swear by Woolite while others say a gentle shampoo or simple Ivory soap does the trick. Regardless, your recycled yarn will be kinky and a good warm washing is needed to calm down the fibers. If you are using a non-animal-derived yarn, common soap suggestions are: gentle laundry detergent, Ivory Soap, shampoo or the product called Soak. If the yarn is animal-derived, such as a wool yarn, add some hair conditioner can further help restore the yarn.
  • In general, add a very small amount of any of the above to a basin or plugged sink of warm water and immerse the hank of yarn.
  • Let the yarn sit in there for a few minutes and then remove it, ringing it every so slightly.
  • Repeat these steps two more times, draining and re-filling with sudsy warm water each time.
  • Dry the hank on a flat, towel-covered surface or one of those foldable drying racks.

Now you’re ready to use your yarn for a new project! If you prefer to wind the yarn back into a ball or fancy skein, you can do so now. Has anyone recycled yarn in this way before? Any tips or suggestions?

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  1. LizzieK8 says:

    It isn’t absolutely necessary to unkink or even unwind yarn from old project. I often just knit or crochet right as I unravel.

  2. Amy says:

    I also have just crocheted as I unraveled. I have not yet recycled yarn from anything terribly old though… only things that I somewhat recently crocheted that didn’t turn out as well as I liked.

  3. Kcrystina says:

    When we were going through my Grandfather’s things after he passed away this year, I found a couple of sweaters that were still in good condition. I knew I wasn’t going to wear them and no one else wanted them, so I took them home with me. My idea is to take them apart and make a blanket or shawl/wrap out of them & give them to my Grandmother and Mom. 🙂 I’ve just started on one of them, & knew basically what I was doing but wanted to know more about washing it… so this post came at the right time! Thanks!

  4. Alicia says:

    Wow, Kcrystina, that is a great idea!!!

  5. Laurie says:

    I often repurpose yarn from my own projects, but I’ve never even thought of hitting local thrift stores or yard sales to look for handmade items to repurpose. Thanks Alicia!

  6. Alicia says:

    You’re welcome, Laurie!

  7. Bethintx1 says:

    I make shawls for the local hospice. We get donated yarn, In one bag was a knit unfinished sweater dress (size small). I undid the tops of the body pieces to below the underarm shaping and couch-stitched the two pieces together at the top. It made a perfect shawl.

  8. Bananas says:

    what I do so i don’t have yarn spaghetti is use an umbrella winder then place it on my steamer hook and steam it. then I create what I want then, of course wash it with wool-lite

  9. Great information. Thanks. I often wondered how one would go about reworking an old piece. Now I know!

  10. wanda says:

    That is such a great idea. I’ve wondered what to do with this used yarn. Thanks

  11. Camie says:

    I’ve been crocheting since I was 8 and at 14 I unraveled my first thrift store sweater (75 cents thank you) that was in the perfect color for a accent top for a special church outting. Ive been doing this ever since. Especially for my holiday outdoor decore (I decorate my patio with all kinds of themed little crocheted items and my neighbors really get a kick out of it) since they are exposed to the elements and usually stored away for most of the year. I just can’t see getting the expensive regular store yarn for these objects and most of the time i cant find the color or texture etc for what i want to make. I have 3 or 4 different 2nd hand stores I frequent and usually buy my pre-used yarn items for about 1-2 dollars each. I’ve only had to wash something one time and it was such a disaster that ill never do it again. id rather trash it and find something else since they cost me so little. Then again, i am a little bit picky about what i do buy-the item cant have a funky feel to it (sometimes they feel like they arwe coated with something akin to dried slick slime) and they cannot have an odor. Most of the time i can even ignore a stain or two because i will just trash that section of yarn and still end up with 3-7+ large balls of yarn depending on the item. Another good place to get these items are yard & garage sales, though they tend to be a bit pricier. With some of my denser yarns i usually make up rectangle shaped kennel blankets for the animal shelter that’s at the end of my block. I also make “snuggle bowls” for the shelter cats to sleep in.

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