Destroying Underwear Returned To Stores: Wasteful Or Good Hygiene?

G. writes that she learned something during a recent shopping trip to Gilly Hicks that shocked her. While customers can’t try underwear on in the store fitting rooms, they can try it on at home and return it. However, once the underwear is returned to the store, it’s destroyed. G. finds this shocking and wasteful, but it’s no big secret. It’s a common retail practice for returned underwear to be “damaged out,” or put aside for later destruction, when it’s been returned.

In fact, it was a big deal when an NBC investigation showed that department stores and specialty retailers were putting returned–and dirty–underwear back out on the shelves. The New York state Senate even introduced a bill banning the practice …in reaction to NBC’s reporting, of course.

G. writes:

I would ordinarily never go into Gilly Hicks (the smell of the cologne leaking out into the mall is enough to keep me away) but someone gave me a gift card to this store. I normally shop for my girly things at Macy’s or someplace like it, where it is policy that you try on undies over your own (besides, who doesn’t wash intimates first thing at home before wearing them?). So at Gilly Hicks (having NO idea how their sizes run, because I don’t shop there) I made my way to the dressing room with some bras and panties to try on. Fitting room attendant says I can’t try on the undies. I understand, but ask her, what happens if I buy them and they don’t fit? She says, oh no problem, you can return them.

Huh. Wait. I can’t try them on here, but if I return them because they don’t fit, isn’t it obvious that I have since TRIED THEM ON at home? I ask her how this makes any sense, but she assures me that any underwear that is returned is destroyed, not put back out for sale.(!)

Have you ever heard of a store destroying clothes that are returned? Why not just say they are non-returnable? Doesn’t this policy seem a bit off when everyone else in the world is trying to be more conscious of our waste (and in some corporations, at least appear so)?

What do you think? Does the occasional destruction of innocent panties outweigh the right of consumers to return things that they’ve bought?

VIDEO: Stores Caught Restocking Used Underwear & Lingerie


Edit Your Comment

  1. digital0verdose says:

    Jeans and shirts are one thing, but clothing that covers the naughty bits are fair game for an incinerator.

    • lordargent says:

      Just so you know, I tried on those jeans commando style.

      • njack says:

        I am sure that happens too, but unless I am wearing those jeans commando style, I don’t really care. I also wash them, so there are 2 layers of removing your commandoness from those jeans. Underwear on the otherhand, although I always wash them before wearing, I am comfortable knowing only my parts have been in them.

  2. SPOON - now with Forkin attitude says:

    destroy returned underware, have a strict return policy, and tell customers about it politely.

    • craptastico says:

      i don’t think it’s unreasonable to deny returns of underwear altogether

      • Griking says:


      • hotcocoa says:

        Also agree…discarding returned panties is wasteful, but if you saw the condition that some of these things came back in (I’ve worked at Nordstrom and V. Secret…*shudder) you’d agree that they should just not be accepted back, period. People are disgusting. They’ll bring stained boxers, streaked thongs, or ripped briefs back and look at you with a straight face like “what? where’s my $10?”

        • lordargent says:

          Also agree…discarding returned panties is wasteful

          And by ‘discard’ they mean ‘send overseas so that it can be put into a vending machine’.

    • RvLeshrac says:

      We have a strict return policy here, and we explain it thoroughly, in addition to providing customers with a copy of the return policy on every receipt, and having it posted in at least 7 locations in the store.

      People bitch, moan, scream, whine, and act like we’re destroying their very lives when we tell them that no, we won’t return the thing we told them that we wouldn’t take back, and labelled as such.

    • trentblase says:

      Yeah, I can see why retailers would want to cut legitimate customers some slack… after all, not every “medium” is the same size and the same customer who returns one “medium” may end up buying multiple “larges” in the future.

      And by tracking returns, and having a “strict return policy,” as you mention, they can probably do an OK job of keeping away the chronic abusers.

  3. CaptCynic says:

    I have to say, I sure wouldn’t want to purchase previously returned underwear. Destroy it, it’s not that big of a deal. I worked retail for years and you’d be surprised at the volume of returned merchandise that is destroyed.

  4. MDSasquatch says:

    Isn’t there a fairly large market for these things on eBay or Craigs List?

    • Hoot says:

      Yes. I once sold three pairs of completely unused, never even tried on underwear, complete with tags on eBay. I specified this in the listing. I’m not a skeezy person.

      I had people tell me that they’d pay me double or triple if I wore them first. -.- Gross.

      • Verucalise (Est.February2008) says:

        OMG and you didn’t? Heck, I would of – money is money!

        • dadelus says:

          Or just cut the tags off and send them off, unworn, while telling the creepy perv you did.

          • Hoot says:


            At the time I was a 19 year old grossed out college freshman.

            God, that fact alone could have gotten me more money. Sigh!

  5. Tim says:

    But what’s phase two?

    • PunditGuy says:


      Actually, phase 2 in this case would be to contact any of the myriad of fetish sites that traffic in this sort of thing, if shows like CSI weren’t lying to us.

    • Mike says:

      Who cares about phase two when we all know phase three: PROFIT!

  6. Billl says:

    Oh for heavens sake…just resell it. When did we turn into such babies (never mind).

  7. NarcolepticGirl says:

    Please destroy it – or send them all to “G.”
    Do you know what CAN go own down there??

    The only solution I could think of is to give them to a shelter/thrift store where they wash clothing – but that just seems like a pain in the ass.

    Men don’t have to worry about purchasing “used” underwear because it sealed up in plastic.

    • NarcolepticGirl says:

      Edit: can go ON down there.

    • Etoiles says:

      Plenty of women’s underwear also comes sealed in plastic. No-one says you *have* to buy from the $9/pair loose-grab tables. ;)

      (Though to be fair, mine would come from a loose-grab table if I didn’t order it from the retailer online, instead of going to stores.)

    • RayanneGraff says:

      I have never once purchased underwear that’s NOT sealed in plastic, and I’m a woman. Why would anyone spend $10 a pair at a lingerie shop when you can get an 8-pack for the same price at Wal-Mart???

      • redwing41 says:

        Purchasing new, sealed-in-plastic underwear at Wal-Mart is either the same or worse than purchasing returned underwear.

    • aristan says:

      Sorry, My underwear doesn’t come sealed in plastic and I’m a guy.

      I tend to shell out more for name brand underpants because they’re softer, wear better, and last longer. You’re surprisingly less likely to get ‘Boxer Bunch’ with the ‘more expensive’ underwear. Buy them at the outlet versions of the expensive stores and you’ve got the best of both worlds.

      Sure, all underwear is pretty much made the same, but we all know different types of cloth feel better, especially against your bad-touch areas.

      This all said… DESTROY RETURNED UNDERTHINGS. Seriously, why would that shock someone? Someone tries on underwear and it doesn’t fit… that usually means it tightly hugged areas I don’t want to know about. Put it in a large pile and kill it with fire.

      They’re letting you return something they can’t use anymore rather than tell you that you’re stuck with it. They’re doing you a favor by accepting the return and destroying the item. This may be a corporate rule or a rule from the vendor/manufacturer. And ‘Destroying’ does sometimes mean cutting the tags out and donating it.

  8. georgi55 says:

    collect, wash, donate, no need to destroy!

    • dolemite says:

      From the stories I’ve heard from inside of hospitals…I’m not sure I’d trust just a “wash” for underwear. If it wasn’t disinfected properly, you could end up with something permanent down there, that you really don’t want the rest of your life.

      • NarcolepticGirl says:

        not to mention – who is going to wash them?
        Are stores going to purchase a washer and dryer so they can wash returned underwear to give to charity? And hire someone to do it?

        • GrlRedBalloon says:

          Actually, charities like Goodwill wash all clothing before selling it in their stores.

          • NarcolepticGirl says:

            Could have fooled me.
            Anytime I get something from most of the thrift stores i go to, they smell like musty closets and I wash them when I get home.
            I guess they could keep a box of returned underwear and then call a thrift store that cleans its clothing with non-cheap soap to come and pick up the box.
            Something tells me, most thrift stores would pass. Most of them don’t even do pick ups anymore.

    • edosan says:

      Are you volunteering?

    • craptastico says:

      the problem is the company makes more money by destroying them than donating them. by donating they probably get a modest deduction from their taxes (which are taxed at around 50%) whereas by destroying them they can probablywrite off thir full value saving them more on their tax bill. this is an instance where tax laws are basically paying them to destroy rather than donate them.

    • eyesack is the boss of the DEFAMATION ZONE says:

      I’d be surprised if you found a Goodwill or Salvation Army that was willing to accept used underwear.

      • Michaela says:

        I’d be surprised to meet someone willing to buy used undies from a Goodwill or Thrift Store…

  9. grucifer says:

    “Ah shit, I got my herpes all over this pair of underwear, better return it to the store so I can give herpes to some other poor chap.”

    Laundry detergent doesn’t clean underwear, it sees it in the washer and says “fuck this, I ain’t cleaning that” and moves on to your jeans in there. I thought everyone knew that?

    • papastevez says:

      Viruses like HSV, HPV, HIV, H(something else i don’t know of) generally don’t live very long outside of the body. They usually require a living host cell to be at a specific temperature in order to spread.
      Im not a doctor or a virologist but I’m pretty sure that you’d be safe with normal washing alone. That is not to mention the period of time that they item would be sitting untouched while you drive to the store, return the item and it is restocked.
      Please though, someone with medical experience, correct me if I’m wrong.
      Parasites on the other hand…those are what I’d be afraid of. But at least those go away.

  10. NarcolepticGirl says:

    We should also get rid of toilet protectors in public bathrooms.
    Or at least fold them up and put them aside so the next person can reuse them.
    But I’m sure “G” doesn’t use them at all.

    • NarcolepticGirl says:

      I totally misread the last line of her post. I now see that she is upset that they can be returned and that’s wasteful.

  11. quirkyrachel says:

    I don’t care about how stores handle it provided the used undies don’t end up back on the sales floor.

    • chiieddy says:

      Ever hear of crabs? Yeah, I don’t want them either. And they are not easily cleaned in the washer.

  12. the atomic bombshell says:

    I have never seen a store (or worked in one) that allowed the return of underwear. They should start putting the little plastic liner in underwear like swimsuits have.

  13. NarcolepticGirl says:

    Okay, now that I re-read the bottom of the article, I have a question.

    What does the OP want done with “used” underwear?
    What does she do with underwear that doesn’t fit? Have underwear trading parties? Hang it up on the wall?
    I personally don’t like throwing anything away – so I’ll end up keeping it – until a year later when I throw it out anyway.

    I think it’s okay that retailers will let you return it because it doesn’t fit (as long as it’s not put back on the rack) – that way people aren’t spending so much money on underwear.

    I never even attempted to return underwear – I just figured that would be kind of gross and not allowed.

    • j_rose says:

      I think she wants them to allow trying on in the store, over current undies, to prevent as many returns in the first place.

    • myCatCracksMeUp says:

      I think that she wants to be able to try them on over her own underware.

      Personally, I think they should never be returned, but I wouldn’t try them on in a store either. I buy cheap underware in a pack of 6 or so, usually at Costco. I’ve bought the same size underwear since I was 15 or so, but even is my size changed I’d just toss the underwear, not try to return it.

  14. missdona says:

    When I worked at Bath and Body Works during the troubling “sun-ripened raspberry” years, it was the policy to destroy every bottle that was returned to the store. The product was in a screw-cap bottle without a plastic seal and they didn’t want to chance that anything could be tampered with.

    • JixiLou says:

      What are the “sun-ripened raspberry” years?

      • raydee wandered off on a tangent and got lost says:

        Probably one of their available scents. They have a new favorite every year or so and the stores reek of that particular scent.

      • missdona says:

        Sun Ripened Raspberry was an overpowering fruit-like fragrance that was (maybe still is) produced by B&BW. It was sold primarily in shower gel/body lotion form. It was very popular in the early 90s, especially among teens, who didn’t know that less-was-more, especially when it comes to Sun Ripened Raspberry.

        • Verucalise (Est.February2008) says:

          Hey, I remember those years… I was a cucumber-melon type of gal, myself. But I still remember after ever gym class, 20 girls in unisom applying the lotions, body spray, showering with the gel…. OMG just thinking about it, makes the smell come back to my nose….

          no, stop…. I can’t take it anymore…. NOOooooooooo

        • aloria says:

          I went to high school during those years and let me tell you, sun ripened raspberry smells like rotting fruit by the end of the day, especially in the summer.

        • milk says:

          Ah yes, I remember those sun-ripened raspberry high school days. My mother hated it so.

  15. eddikat says:

    Where is the option for only take back undies that are obviously clean?

    I think that this phobia people have about returned undies is generally silly and as long as the items are washed before wearing there is nothing contagious or nasty for the wearer to worry about.

    • redskull says:

      Fine then. I just took a shower, so how about I come over to your house, strip, and lay on your couch? I’m clean, so that’d be OK with you, right?

      Burn ’em. I ain’t wearing anyone’s second-hand underwear.

    • Jfielder says:

      Well, that’s great and all… but what about the person with GonoHerpaSyphylAids and a touch of crabs trys them on… Don’t worry though, she keeps things looking clean down there… Now would you even want to touch those?

    • pop top says:

      You do realize that a normal washing/drying cycle does not sterilize garments, right? If a woman has a yeast infection or a man has an outbreak of herpes, those could potentially be passed onto someone else via returned clothing. You never know and you shouldn’t take that chance.

    • caradrake says:

      Something can LOOK clean yet be full of germs and diseases. In this case, the diseases can be pretty nasty.

      That said, I hate the policy. I mean, I love that stores aren’t putting them back on the shelves, but I hate that the items are just being outright destroyed. It may save us, the consumers, money in the short term – but we’re paying for it in the long run in higher prices to make up for the items that are destroyed.

    • tonberryqueen says:

      To sterilize dishes (by ServSafe standards), you need to wash them at about 150 degrees Fahrenheit and rinse at around 180. I imagine something similar would apply to fabrics?

      Either way, if you were having all returns get washed and put back out (and supervised along the way to be sure that nothing that looks clean but isn’t doesn’t accidentally make its way back out to the floor), the resources and labor would jack up the cost of clothing.

      Also, I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to wear underwear that someone with herpes or a yeast infection has had touching their genitals, no matter how many wash cycles it’s gone through.

      (I used to work at an H&M, and I damaged out many a pair of underwear that were returned. Always made sense to me.)

  16. katarzyna says:

    They could use those protective strips they usually use in bathing suits. Though, come to think of it, it’s probably cost prohibitive.

  17. HogwartsProfessor says:

    Eeyeww. I’m glad I buy mine in the plastic package. That’s just gross to think they put it back out!

  18. JixiLou says:

    “Burn it with cleansing fire” was MADE FOR THIS SITUATION. Srsly. How often do people really return underwear anyways?

    I try very hard not to put things on my FunNaughtyBits that other people have put on their FunNaughtyBits.

    I can’t believe that someone is complaining about this.

  19. Underpants Gnome says:

    I approve of the tag on this article

  20. Judah says:

    Wash returned underwear before offering for resale? Or is that too much common sense?

  21. sock says:

    I’ve been buying my own clothes for nearly 1/2 a century. I can say that I’ve never bought a pair of underwear that didn’t fit me, and my back side has changed sizes vastly up and down. What’s so hard about S/M/L/XL?

  22. zandar says:

    I’ve heard used underpants can cause pleurisy. Comsumption too. and apoplexy. I think little demons might in live in there. holy water?

  23. Anne Boleyn says:

    How about option C: put it through some kind of sterilization process (an autoclave or ethylene oxide or whatever they do to hospital gowns) and sell them as “used-but-sterile”?

    • dr_drift says:

      And simply trust that retailers invest in the means of sterilization and do not simply wash them with cheapo detergent that leaves all the wee beasties snuggled toastily inside?

  24. Hoot says:

    What about those new commercials about the feminine odor laundry soap? I tried looking it up but I guess it’s not from Summer’s Eve like I thought.

    That has to battle anything nasty transferred from down there! Not.

  25. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    You didn’t include “allow me to try them on at the store”, so I didn’t vote.

  26. dr_drift says:

    In this age of conservation, can we not afford just this little bit of waste? Must we live like animals?! Animals who… uh, wear underwear and, I guess, return it to stores and it gets resold by the animals that… well, you get my point.

    • satoru says:

      Like recycling paper it somewhat depends. Cotton and paper are already renewable resources so waste is somewhat relative. Also a corporation disposing of the garments actually has a lot more options in terms of what they can do with it. They could send them to a garment recycling program, or some other company that re-purposes the cotton into new garments.

      Since you can’t donate underwear to charity usually, it makes more sense to me to allow retailers to dispose of them. They have economies of scale that would allow for such materials to be recycled back into something.

  27. haggis for the soul says:

    Given the fact that some supposedly clean and unworn new undergarments have been shown to have nasty things crawling on them, there’s no way I’d want to buy something that’s been worn and returned.

  28. evnmorlo says:

    Trying to preserve returned disposable clothes is more wasteful than just disposing of them.

  29. The Waffle says:

    I understand why they do such. It really all has to do with inventory practices and how you write off loss. It looks worse on paper if you have to adjust out a product than returning a product. Seems twisted but that’s how it always has been whenever I have worked retail.

  30. JMILLER says:

    I think all stores should have a STRICT no return policy on some items (bathing suits, underwear, bras, condoms) If the product is defective after one use, it needs to be destroyed. If not, you bought it, it is now yours. Don;t like the style? Who is at fault then? This is another example of self-entitled people thinking poor buying decisions can be changed at their whim.

    • Rectilinear Propagation says:

      This is about size not style. The product is getting returned because it’s too large/small. That’s not the same thing as suddenly deciding you don’t like the color.

  31. packcamera says:

    There is a someone in my building who steals underwear out of the dryers in the basement. If the returned-to-the-store undies were made available at a reasonable price, maybe my girlfriend’s panties wouldn’t disappear so often.

  32. GrlRedBalloon says:

    Now wait a second… Sure, no one wants to wear underwear that someone else has taken home and possibly worn! But WHY does it have to be destroyed? Places like Goodwill accept underwear as donations. These stores could 1) create a firm no returns policy on underwear or 2) donate all underwear to Goodwill or another charity. Goodwill washes clothes before they sell them, so I’d feel totally comfortable buying a pair of like-new undies from Goodwill, washing them again at home for good measure and then wearing them. THIS IS SUCH A WASTE!

    • 99 1/2 Days says:

      “no one wants to wear underwear that someone else has taken home and possibly worn”

      “so I’d feel totally comfortable buying a pair of like-new undies from Goodwill”
      Some disconnect here. What makes you think the people who shop at Goodwill aren’t included in your top statement?

  33. minneapolisite says:

    Isn’t there a middle ground? I would like to see undamaged underwear donated to a charity. A women’s shelter could make excellent use of almost-new panties after running them through the “sanitize” cycle.

    For the record, I LOVE Gilly Hicks (and my husband loves shopping with me because he loves the store’s scent.) One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

  34. minneapolisite says:

    Isn’t there a middle ground? I would like to see undamaged underwear donated to a charity. A women’s shelter could make excellent use of almost-new panties after running them through the “sanitize” cycle.

    For the record, I LOVE Gilly Hicks (and my husband loves shopping with me because he loves the store’s scent.) One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

  35. smo0 says:

    Uh… I thought most story policies on undergarments and bathing suits was no returns…

    aside from that… if you are accepting returns.. then just fricken destroy them… sick.

    I don’t even try on clothes that are moved from the return rack or even “look” tried on.

    That poll is flawed… both answers are correct for the given information.

  36. RayanneGraff says:

    I vote that all stores adopt a strict zero tolerance return policy for undies. Either that or seal them all in tamper evident packaging & only accept returns if the seals are intact.

    It’s gross to resell tried-on uns, but it’s also wrong to throw away perfectly good garments just cause stores have liberal return policies. I’ve worked retail & I couldn’t believe some of the things I’ve seen get returned. One time at Wal-Mart a morbidly obese woman succeeded in returning a ripped, stained, smelly pair of panties because, and I quote- “These are only 6 months old and the lace is already falling off of ’em!” I was horrified. I was even more horrified when they actually gave her her money back! The manager put a bag over his hand, grabbed the drawers, and threw them in the trash.

    I’ve also seen Wal-Mart try to resell used undergarments though. One time my friend returned a pair of pantyhose because they immediately ripped the second she put them on, and a few nights later guess what I saw in the womens’ department? Yep. The taped-up package of my friend’s ripped, worn hose. Needless to say I examine everything I buy from Wam-Lart very closely now.

  37. Rectilinear Propagation says:

    I say if the store wants to allow returns and then destroy the returned underwear, then let them. What is the customer going to do with underwear that doesn’t fit? It’s going to be thrown out either way. Why be mad at a store that wants to be nice enough to let you get a refund?

    The real issue, to me, is that clothing manufacturers still insist on using their own sizing systems on women’s clothing, even on items that can’t be tried on. If they’d just use actual measurements then this wouldn’t be so much of a problem. At worst something would be uncomfortable due to style.

  38. Mike says:

    I would suggest we not allow returns on underwear, sorry but that is just gross. If you buy the wrong size suck it up and do what I do- where that underwear only when you are truly desperate because you haven’t done laundry. I thought that is what everyone did.

  39. DWMILLER says:

    re-sell it to pervs on the internet who buys used underware. It could be a side business for the manager.

  40. stock2mal says:

    Why not sanitize the underwear and donate it to charity? The amount of merchandise that is destroyed in retail stores for stupid reasons is ridiculous. I worked at Sears and they had a program called Clean and Bright going on, which involved making everything spiffy and “newish” looking. Basically, they dropped about 200k on cleaning, painting and reorganizing at a single store and when they realized that dropping 200k right before the recession was a bad idea, they cut the hours of the store employees. Anyway, to show the corporate executives how great the store looked during a walk-through, anything that wasn’t on planograms or was old stock was trashed. This involved trashing and compacting 2 brand new unassembled wheelbarrows that they could have clearanced out. In fact, I offered to buy one for $20 right before it was trashed because it seemed so stupid, but they wouldn’t hear of it.

    Situations like this can be avoided with some creative (or in this, just purely rational) thinking.

  41. mbz32190 says:

    The underwear probably costs pennies to make in the first place, no matter what the price the store is selling them for. Accepting returns and throwing them out adds up to very little in the long-run.
    Similarly, I purchased a new Price Pfister faucet for a tub from Lowe’s ($150+). Well one plastic piece was broken , so I call up the company, and mail me a whole new faucet. This one was defective too, so they mailed me another one. (Finally this one was correct). But they never asked me to return any of them (I did end up taking one back to Lowe’s and getting a refund), so my theory is, these cost about $5 to make.

  42. isileth says:

    In Italy you can’t try underwear and you cannot return it unless you find that it’s in pieces.
    I think that destroying it is the only things to do: would you were someone else’s underwear?
    Not in a million years.
    I even wash the new one that came packaged.

  43. TWSS says:

    I was ashamed and embarrassed when I returned a plant to Lowes a few weeks ago and the cashier turned around and dumped it right in the trash bin. It never left the container I bought it in (I overestimated the space in my garden for it), but because of the risk of plant diseases and pests, they can’t resell plant returns.

    Makes sense that they’d do the same with underpants. We should probably be conscious of the impact of buying and returning anyway – even if retailers aren’t incinerating the jeans and shirts that get returned, they may be laundering and retagging them.

  44. ScramDiggyBooBoo says:

    Hey, a few pubes here and there is worth saving some $$$$. For real though, gross..

  45. pk says:

    I don’t see what the big deal is, how often do people even return underwear? I doubt much is being “wasted”

  46. bumblefoot2004 says:

    How do they destroy underwear? I’ll bet people at discount thrift stores would be willing to buy used undies, especially if they’re really cheap (and guaranteed washed).

  47. 99 1/2 Days says:

    No charity wants used underwear. Seriously.