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How To Donate Responsibly

I believe that volunteering and donating is a gift to ourselves and to others.

Ask before you donate.

Ask before you donate.

I think donation is always an excellent idea. It helps to uplift communities. It provides jobs and resources. I’d say the most important thing for me is that when we donate something instead of throwing it out, we keep that item out of a landfill.

I’m guilty of over donating though. I realized this when I called a local thrift store to ask if they accepted exercise equipment. I was directed to their website where they listed all the items that they would or would not accept. I was probably naïve but also surprised at how many items they could not accept. I’m still stuck with my exercise equipment, but our local scrapyard will take it because it’s mostly metal and they can recycle it.

Ask Before You Donate

I called a few of my local thrift stores and asked the managers why they couldn’t accept certain items. Their responses were varied, and some directed me to their website.

I emailed customer service of a large thrift store to ask the same questions. I used baby products as an example and received the following reply.

“Hello Celeste,

Thank you for reaching out to us regarding your questions. There are many factors on what we can accept and what we don't. Yes, you are correct on baby items such as car seats and other baby items are restricted by law. Some items do need to be in the original package sealed. Some items are just too large to store with the limited space in our stores. I hope this answers your questions! Thank you & warmest regards."

This reply answered the baby products question, but unfortunately didn’t provide answers about mattresses, carpets, and a whole lot more.

I understand that thrift stores are businesses and like any business they need good clean inventory in working order. It’s rude and unfair to donate dirty, smelly and broken items because that item will be thrown out at the store’s expense.

Items Thrift Stores Do Not Want and Alternative Donation Locations

I did a bit more digging and found these items. This is not a complete list but gives you an idea of what can not be accepted.


Any large appliance that is not in working order. If they can’t sell it, they will have to pay a waste management company to haul it away. Many stores don’t have the space to store large items. Alternatively, contact a scrap yard or junk removal service to discard unwanted appliances.

Baby Related Items and Toys

Any item that does not meet the Consumer Product Safety Standard is not acceptable. Thrift stores don’t have the time or resources to check every item. You can check your item at or call them at 1 800 638 2772. So, cribs, car seats, strollers, highchairs and toys are often not accepted.

Any item that could have sanitization issues like baby bottles, pacifiers or breast pumps will not be accepted either.

Consider contacting childcare centers, social services, women’s shelters, or houses of worship. They may accept these items if they are clean and in working order.

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Books and Encyclopedias

If the books are in good condition, they may be accepted. Encyclopedias are old school and the information in them is often outdated. Many crafters will use the book pages in art projects or collages but thrift stores don't want them.

Carpets and Rugs

Call ahead because the thrift store may not want your carpet unless you’ve had it cleaned first.

CRT Electronics

Most of the older electronics and televisions have cathode ray tubes which have been replaced by LCD technology. Thrift stores can’t sell these items and many CRT electronics contain lead which makes them even less appealing to a consumer. Call your local waste removal management company to find out where to discard your old television.

Cosmetics and Toiletries

For sanitary reasons, if it’s not sealed, they won’t accept it. They may not sell it but might donate it to a shelter.

Denim Jeans

If your jeans are in good condition, thrift stores will take them in a heartbeat but if they are worn and torn, they won’t. Consider donating your denims to a recycle program. To learn more, visit the Blue Jeans Go Green Program online.

Clothing donations

Clothing donations

Responsible Donations Continued

Duvets, Comforters and Pillows

These are difficult to donate and many thrift stores will reject this donation. However, an animal shelter may take them to fill their crates. I've donated to my local veterinary hospital because they treat larger farm animals and horses. They welcome old blankets and comforters. Please just wash them before you donate.


I was surprised when my local library wasn’t interested in my box of old magazines. However, they did put me in touch with a local senior center, our elementary and middle school and a crafter’s circle. These groups often either accept them as reading material or use the magazines in art projects.

Mattresses and Box Springs

If you want to donate a clean mattress, consider calling ahead to make sure the store will accept it. They're often reluctant to take them because they don’t know if it’s free of mold or bed bugs. Salvation Army and Habitat for Humanity are your best bets here and might consider taking them.

Musical Instruments

Some smaller instruments like guitars might be accepted but it’s probably more beneficial to donate these items to a music program at your local school, aftercare club or local music charity. Some houses of worship may be really happy to accept musical instruments especially larger ones like a piano. A thrift store won’t accept large instruments because they are labor intensive to move.


These are typically accepted but an alternative to a store could be organizations such as Soles 4 Souls. They distribute gently used shoes in the US and globally.

Walkers, Mobility Devices or Medical Devices

Since a mobility device must be in excellent condition to work, thrift stores may avoid accepting these. If an item is faulty and its use results in an injury, the thrift store may be held responsible. To avoid liability issues, they may reject this donation.

Thrift store employees and volunteers are not trained to test or inspect medical devices. They can’t check if they are in working order or sanitized and therefore the stores cannot accept these devices.

I did find MedShare online and they may accept gently used devices and surplus medical supplies.

The American Medical Resources Foundation will accept used but functioning and repairable medical equipment. They distribute these to clinics and hospitals in developing countries.


Any item that may be used as a weapon should not be donated. Contact the National Center for Unwanted Firearms to find out how to dispose of a weapon.

Wedding Dresses

Vintage and thrift stores will almost always accept these, but you could also contact organizations that help those less fortunate.

Brides Across America offers wedding gowns to military brides.

Angel Gown Program. When you donate your wedding gown to this program, it's sent to a one of 180 seamstresses across the United States. They'll convert the dress into several tiny outfits that are donated to grieving parents of a NICU baby that has passed away. Sometimes they are used as the final garment in which to lay the baby to rest.


The list in this article is not complete. I'd have to write a three-part series of articles to mention all the items. The list will change and evolve as our world does. New electronics or hazardous materials or recalls will alter the list continuously.

Always visit the thrift store or charitable organization’s website or give them a call to ensure that you are donating responsibly so that your donation becomes a benefit not a liability to the charity.


Value Village


Salvation Army

Home Addict

Inspiring Home

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Celeste Wilson

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