Mixed rags refers to a category of used clothing that either is unsuitable for resale (due to imperfections) or used clothing that hasn’t sold in a resale (thrift store) setting. Sometimes mixed rags are called ‘institutional clothing’ or ‘institutional mixed rags’.
Americans donate nearly 5 billion pounds of clothing annually. But only about 20% of those donations will be resold in the US as used clothing. The other 4 billion will be sold either overseas or domestically for uses other than clothing. Here’s how that happens: Clothing is donated to a charitable institution or thrift store. Donation bags are opened and the clothing is sorted. Pieces that are clean and in good repair are tagged for resale and sent to the storefront. If, however, a piece of clothing is stained, torn, missing buttons, has broken zippers, or is otherwise not suitable for resale, it is sent to a warehouse where it is compressed into a bale of similar used clothing. Also included in these bales are items of clothing that are suitable for resale but that (for whatever reason) didn’t sell in the thrift store. These are mixed rags. They stay at the warehouse until they can be sold to mixed rags dealers who either send them overseas to be sold as secondhand clothing, or process them into fiber to be used in the production of other products (such as carpet padding, home insulation, clothing, tablet and phone cases, etc), or cut them into industrial wiping rags.
Nearly 100% of mixed rags are reusable or recyclable in some way. 45% of mixed rags are sold as secondhand clothing, either domestically or overseas. 30% of mixed rags are cut into wiping rags and used for manufacturing or industrial purposes. 20% of mixed rags are processed into fibers that can be used in the manufacture of new products, leaving only 5% of mixed rags that are unusable (usually due to moisture damage or chemical contamination).
Mixed rags are a key part of creating sustainability in the textile industry. Because of the mixed rags industry, 4 billion pounds of used clothing were kept out of landfills. And not just kept out of landfills, but put to use in a variety of ways (as mentioned in the previous paragraph)!
See also: Credential Clothing