Can You Recycle Cotton Pads? (Your Full Guide)

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Jean Richardson

Jean Richardson is a lover of knowledge, in all forms. He has spent over 15 years as a high school teacher, instructing students in history, geography, mathematics, and more.

Cotton pads are useful for several things. They are great at applying face creams, cleansers, astringents, and even makeup.

They are also gentle enough to remove makeup from your face at the end of the day, but after that, you will have to toss them straight into the trash.

So if you are a frequent cotton pad user you may wonder, how do I dispose of them safely? Am I able to recycle them? Are cotton pads compostable? Continue reading to find out these answers!

Can You Recycle Cotton Pads?

You cannot recycle cotton pads. Though they are made of compostable cotton, the process required to make the pads interferes with their recyclability and biodegradability as they are packed full of chemicals and pesticides that are extremely harmful to many different ecosystems.

This may come as a shock to you, but below you will find all the information you need to understand why cotton pads are not able to be recycled. Read on to learn what inhibits their recyclability!

What Are Cotton Pads Made Out Of?

Cotton pads are normally made out of cotton, but that is not necessarily the only thing you are putting to your face when using them. 

  • Cotton pads might be full of chemicals that were used while they were growing. 
  • Beyond this, cotton pads are usually made from cotton that was bleached to achieve that pure white color.
  • Since you cannot wash the cotton pads before use, this means that any residual chemicals will be going straight on your face.

Furthermore, contrary to popular belief, organic cotton still uses pesticides during production. 

These are usually not man-made, but they can still reside in the cotton well after that production period.

Additionally, during the mixing process, a lot of cheaper cotton pads are mixed with synthetic fibers. 

This affects their biodegradability, but it can also affect how the cotton pads interact with your skin.

How Do I Dispose Of My Cotton Pads?

Since cotton pads are not able to be recycled, the most responsible way to dispose of them is by tossing them in the trash.

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So you do not need to do anything fancy, like rinse or cut them up. Just make sure they end up in the trash when you are done using them. 

This will ensure they end up in a facility where they can be managed adequately and appropriately.

Can You Flush Cotton Pads?

It is not a good idea to flush cotton pads. While they may feel a bit like toilet paper, cotton pads do not break down in the same way toilet paper does. 

They are extremely absorbent and are likely to clog your drain line once they have soaked up their fill of water. 

Even if you flush one and nothing happens, cotton pads will add up over time and lead to major plumbing issues. 

Beyond this, flushing cotton pads does not allow for the waste on the cotton pad (e.g. makeup, cleansers, toners) to be properly managed, and the chemicals can leach into the water supply.

Are Cotton Pads Biodegradable?

Cotton pads that are 100 percent cotton and unbleached cotton are biodegradable, but this does not mean that they are desirable for compost. 

Furthermore, cotton pads will break down under the right conditions, usually within one to five months. 

However, if cotton pads are bleached or mixed with synthetic fibers they will take much longer to break down, though it is difficult to pin an exact time frame. 

Furthermore, whatever is soaked or lingering on the cotton pad may or may not be biodegradable.

Are Cotton Pads Compostable?

Are Cotton Pads Compostable?

Despite being biodegradable, cotton pads are not compostable. This is because the chemicals involved in their production and processing can easily upset a compost.

Even if you rinse the cotton pad there is no way to guarantee the safety of your compost due to the intense production process. 

The chemicals and pesticides used can hang around on the material much longer than necessary, and even the cotton used in clothing still shows signs of residual chemicals.

This may not be a major issue if you compost simply to break down waste, but any compost that has cotton pads in it should not be used to fertilize soil used for food production.

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Furthermore, composting cotton pads increases the chance that the chemicals pollute water supply lines, both natural and manmade.

Your city’s composting center may accept cotton pads, but you will have to double-check with them. 

However, in most cases, municipal composting centers do not accept cotton pads.

Can Cotton Pads Be Reused?

You cannot reuse a soiled disposable cotton pad, but there are a few options to increase their lifespan.

If you know that you will not use the entire cotton pad you can cut it up into as many pieces as are manageable before use. 

This will allow you to increase the lifespan of the cotton pad, sometimes doubling or tripling your supply while limiting waste and saving you money.

You can also purchase reusable cotton pads, usually referred to as cotton rounds. In most cases these are made of cotton or bamboo, sometimes both.

Furthermore, these are designed to be washed and used multiple times, so they have a much greater lifespan than disposable cotton pads. 

Unfortunately, even these cotton pads cannot be recycled or composted ethically.

Therefore, the best option is to make your own cotton rounds using material that would otherwise be thrown out. This can be from:

  • Old t-shirts
  • Receiving blankets
  • Washcloths

Are Cotton Pads Bad For The Environment?

Most people think cotton pads are better for the environment, but once you consider that they can neither be recycled nor composted you get a better understanding of how bad they are.

Theoretically, natural fiber like cotton should be a top-tier resource for sustainability. 

Unfortunately, the methods involved in cotton production are known to be harmful to the environment.

Cotton Production And Pesticides

Cotton is known to be the world’s dirtiest crop because of how heavily pesticide use weighs on production. 

Though cotton covers only 2.5 percent of the land used for agriculture worldwide, its production is responsible for 6 percent of insecticides and nearly 16 percent of all pesticide use worldwide.

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The most common pesticides include:

  • Acephate
  • Cypermethrin
  • Imidacloprid
  • Glyphosate

The extensive use of pesticides is responsible for killing off plants and insects that are not harmful to cotton production, leading to an imbalance in these ecosystems. 

Furthermore, when pesticides are washed from the soil they pollute groundwater and natural waterways, affecting the availability of drinkable water in certain areas.

Other industries are affected by pesticide use in cotton production as well. 

For example, cattle are frequently quarantined because their grazeland is compromised by pesticide runoff, and the poisons used are known to adversely affect commercial bee pollination.

In fact, it is suspected that pesticide use in cotton is a major factor in the worldwide bee die-off.

Cotton Production And Water Consumption

On top of waterways being poisoned by pesticides used in cotton production, it is estimated that it takes 101 gallons of water just to produce a single pound of cotton.

To put this in perspective, the amount of water it would take to make a basic T-shirt would be equal to the amount one person would drink over three years. 

This is almost admissible in the case of a T-shirt that can be worn over and over, but it certainly is not sustainable for cotton pads that are thrown away.

To learn more, you can also read our posts on whether you can recycle butane cans, whether you can recycle business cards, and whether you can recycle baking trays.


Despite being a natural fiber, the process used to produce cotton pads leads to a product that is not recyclable or compostable. This, combined with the excessive use of pesticides and consumption of water, leads to the idea that cotton pads are not great for the environment.

Even organic cotton pads show little promise for recyclability or compostability, but they are a step in the right direction.


  • Jean Richardson

    Jean Richardson is a lover of knowledge, in all forms. He has spent over 15 years as a high school teacher, instructing students in history, geography, mathematics, and more.

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