Here’s What Happens To Your Goodwill Donations

Remember those jeans you donated last season when you cleaned out your closet? Have you ever wondered what happens next?

We decided to look into the journey that clothing makes after being donated to Goodwill. Indeed most items are sold in Goodwill stores—and this is great news, as 82 percent of Goodwill’s revenue is used to fund employment and training programs for the disabled and others facing challenges to securing employment. A small percentage of items do end up being recycled or thrown away.

To give you an idea of where your blue jeans go, here’s what employees from the Goodwill NY/NJ told the Huffington Post about the journey clothes take after being donated to Goodwill. We also checked with the Missouri Goodwill and they follow a similar process.

First Stop: Goodwill Retail Stores

Workers operating in more than 3,000 stores nationwide go through all of your donated items to make sure they’re usable and non-toxic (i.e., not wet or full of mildew). If no one likes your clothes in four weeks, they’re taken off the shelf and go to…

goodwill photo
Flickr | JeepersMedia

Then: Goodwill Outlet Stores

Like those outlet stores you see along the interstate, Goodwill has their own chain of outlets. Customers are encouraged to buy donated clothes at ridiculously low prices so that Goodwill can keep the clothes out of the landfill. If customers don’t want your clothes for 99 cents, some go to…

goodwill outlet photo
Flickr | pasa47

Next: Goodwill Auctions

This is where bidders bid on huge bins, going for as little as $35, without knowing what’s inside—think “Storage Wars” but for donated clothes. If your clothes don’t go to auction or aren’t unloaded during the auction, they’re sent to…

auction photo
Flickr | mcmorgan08

Next: Textile Recycling Centers

These organizations will take your clothes where they will either be resold in the U.S., cut into rags, processed into a soft fiber filling for furniture and home insulation, or sent overseas to salvage dealers. And as the last resort, if your clothes don’t go overseas (or get cut up), they’re sent to…


Only 5 percent of donated clothes are sent here, but they contribute to the 12 million tons of U.S. textile waste that end up in landfills annually.

Textile Recycling Center photo
Flickr | Alan Stanton

Note: Goodwill stores are independently owned and operated and may not follow the exact steps above.   

What We Can Do To Keep More Clothing From Ending Up In Landfills

Although almost 95 percent of all clothing waste could be recycled or reused in some form, a survey says that the average American will throw away 81 pounds of clothing and textile products this year. Here are four tips to help reduce, reuse and recycle.

1. Never Throw Away Your Clothes

Enough said. Consider donating your clothes to Goodwill—they make great use of them and the money raised may help your community. Side note: If you have wet or moldy clothes, talk to your city’s sanitation department about properly disposing of them.

Getty Images

2. Consider Selling Unwanted Items Online

From eBay to Craigslist, there are many online outlets where you can sell clothing, trinkets and knickknacks. Our favorite happens to be EBTH. Here, people can sell collections of items (like model cars, Disney collectibles, Precious Moments, rare coins and more) or even an entire house-worth of stuff.

EBTH’s trained professionals catalogue, photograph and write descriptions of each item you want to sell. Items go up for auction for seven days. Afterwards, they manage payment, pickup, shipping and delivery, so it’s easy as pie for you.

According to EBTH, sale proceeds are typically 3-5 times higher than traditional alternatives. If you’re downsizing or decluttering, we definitely recommend checking them out.

3. Make Use Of Hand-Me-Downs

My favorite coat growing up was this Iowa Hawkeyes Starter jacket that used to be my older cousin’s. Thanks to my family’s hand-me-down culture, we kept clothes in the family for years, until we finally sent them to donation centers.

kids photo
Flickr | pocketwiley

4. Be Mindful Of Your Shopping Habits

Instead of buying all the clothes you want, buy only the clothes you need. Courtney Carver of minimalist fashion challenge Project 333 limits herself to wearing only 33 different items of clothing every three months. She comes up with enough combinations to avoid wearing the same outfit twice in one week, despite having a limited amount of clothing to choose from.

Cut down on the amount of clothing you buy (and therefore eventually throw away or donate), and you’ll free up space in your closet, your wallet and our landfills. Win, win, win!

shopping bags photo
Getty Images | Dan Kitwood