istock/ryanjlaneCribs and car seats
Children’s items like cribs and car seats are often recalled—even if yours hasn’t, it might not be up to safety snuff anymore. Car seats have expiration dates, and if your old one is past its prime, the new owner could be in danger, says Tim Raines, marketing manager at The Salvation Army. “We do not knowingly accept any items that have been recalled,” he says. “Some locations have banned entire categories of items, as the hazards associated with accepting them outweigh the benefits.” Find out other dangerous mistakes even careful parents make.
“A walker is an item that people depend on and trust that it's in perfect condition,” says Kyle Stewart, director of donated goods retail at Goodwill Industries International. Unknowingly donating a walker that isn’t as stable as it was when it was new could be a major safety issue for the next owner. Thrift store staff members usually don’t have the expertise to evaluate whether a walker is up to snuff, so some locations might reject all of them to avoid putting anyone at risk. Don't miss this guide to what not to buy at garage sales.
istock/lynnschiltzClothes with safety hazards
When you clean out your closet, don't be afraid to donate clothes that are ripped or have food stains to a thrift store, even if they seem unwearable. “Anything that’s not sold in the outlets, we sell to textile recyclers,” says Jose Medellin, director of communications at Goodwill Industries of Greater New York and Northern New Jersey. Those companies can turn those ratty outfits into items like carpeting and insulation, he says. Clothes that you might need to remove from your giveaway pile? Children’s clothing with metal or drawstrings, or items that are wet or have chemical stains—all of which can be safety issues. Contact your local sanitation department for more information about how to handle these materials safely.
Some thrift stores only accept flat-panel HDTVs, while others turn down any model that’s more than five years old. Because of certain chemicals inside, environmental laws block them from landfills. Those TVs have to get sent to certain spots to be deconstructed, which could turn into a big expense for a thrift store acting like the middle man. “It’s a product of the times,” says Stewart. “They’re not in a high demand, and it becomes an item that, quite frankly, is a fairly significant expense to us.” Research local organizations that can recycle old TVs safely. Check out donation centers that can make use of your old things.
A thrift store might not be a safe home for paint, pesticides, drain cleaner, and other household chemicals. For one thing, the staff can’t confirm that the items are labeled correctly. Plus, donation centers often aren’t set up to hold toxic chemicals safely, so there are often “too many hazards and not much need,” says Raines. Disposing of chemicals can get expensive for thrift stores, so do them a favor, and do a bit of research places in your community that will get rid of them safely, without sending toxic items to a landfill. For DIY cleaners, learn how to clean with lemon instead of chemicals.
Even if you haven’t touched personal care items like shampoo, lotion, or perfume, stores can’t confirm that the bottle’s contents are what they say. Plus, even sealed items are easy for people curious about the scent to open. “We don’t want to sell things like shampoo that people can open and smell and leave open and can be unsealed easily,” says Medellin. “You hear so many things about how bacteria travels, so we want to make sure we’re not dealing with that.” Plus, stop wasting your money on these beauty products that aren't a good value.
Your mattress might be in great condition, but for stores wanting to avoid bedbugs, it’s better safe than sorry. “We have to take a lot of great care in taking items that could bring in hazards like [bedbugs], not only to the stores and everything around the mattress inside, but we’re not passing those along to the second owner,” says Stewart. (Not sure if it's time to ditch your mattress? These are the 7 signs that it's a tad too old.)
Your local donation center might not have room for large appliances like ovens and refrigerators. “It takes two people just to get it out of the truck, and now we have to find a way to store it,” says Stewart. “It takes a lot more resources to manage those products.” Plus, the bacteria inside could cause safety issues when donors don’t clean kitchen appliances before dropping them off, says Medellin.
Don’t immediately haul your old carpet to a thrift store after tearing it out. Carpets can be home to bacteria and allergens that the stores don’t want to introduce to someone else’s home. Plus, the demand probably wouldn’t be high enough for all the carpets donation centers would end up taking in. “We have to be careful about opening the door to taking carpets because it would essentially give every person replacing a 20-year-old carpet a convenient, free way to get rid of it,” says Stewart. “We would be full of old, grungy carpet!”