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Where do Rags Come From?

Updated: Nov 22, 2021

At Bigelow Products we supply a variety of different types of rags, ranging from used clothing cut up to rag sized pieces to brand new all white cotton t-shirt material. All of these make excellent rags and different applications demand different types. However, a common question that we get is “Where do these come from?” We are always happy to answer that question, mainly because we are in a green, environmentally friendly industry that makes use of recycled clothing and that is where the answer to that question begins.

We begin with clothing donation bins that are seen on the sides of roads all across America, which are often run by charities such as Goodwill or the Salvation Army. These companies wash and sort through the clothing and about 10% is kept by the organization and sold in their thrift shops. Some of it may be in high demand and deemed stylish, such as that t-shirt that someone purchased from a Run DMC/Beastie Boys concert at Madison Square Garden in 1987 or an old-school Dream Team t-shirt from the 1992 Barcelona Olympics with Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Christian Laettner and the rest of the squad on it. Someone may get a bargain and buy this at Goodwill and flip it on eBay for a $122 profit or they may just buy a pair of pants that were donated that are still in great shape and they want to wear. The money received from these sales is kept by the charity and used to help keep their organizations afloat.

We are left with about 90% of the donated clothing with nothing to do with it, but to throw it in the trash. WRONG!!! That is not happening under Bigelow Products' watch. We do not let clothing go to waste. We need to get some more use out of this material. That remaining 90% gets sold off to textile recyclers, who process, sort and distribute the material around the world. About 25% that is distributed goes to developing countries to be used as clothing and the remainder is used as wiping cloths. They are sorted by color and category, such as colored t-shirts, white t-shirts, flannel material, sweatshirts, corduroy, jeans and any other type of material they may have. We receive these materials in large bales usually in the 1,000 lb. range and they are cut, boxed up and re-used as rags to clean up oil and grease.

That explains the clothing type of rags that Bigelow sells. How about sheets, surgical towels and terry cloth towels? Allow me to explain how those end up being used as a rag for a mechanic, marina or painter. Many hotels, hospitals and gyms use third party industrial laundry services to clean their sheets and towels. With millions of pounds of these materials being washed daily, many will be found with a rip or stain, so they get thrown in the trash. WRONG!!! Those pieces get sanitized, cleaned, processed and cut into rags and we get a hold of them.

The brand new material comes from textile mills that produce cotton t-shirts and towels in all different shapes, colors and sizes. In this manufacturing process there are run offs of extra material that cannot be used. Others come out defective or not up to the standards of the manufacturer or the customer of the textile mills, so of course they throw all this unused cotton cloth material into the trash. WRONG!!! Those get sent to Bigelow Products and we sort them by type of material and color and are cut into rag sized pieces and boxed up for use as rags.

There we have it. Those are the ways that three different types of our rags end up at our warehouse at 149 Greenwood St. in Worcester, MA and into the hands of our customers. We are happy to be in an environmentally friendly business and we do our part to help in the sustainability of the environment and make the most use of recyclable materials to help save our planet.

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