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What kind of items are discouraged from being donated?

Donating unused or unwanted items to charity is a great way to declutter your home while also helping those in need. However, not all items are suitable for donation. Charities have guidelines on what they can and cannot accept due to safety, legal, or practical reasons. Knowing what not to donate can save charities time and money while ensuring your donations have the most impact. This article will provide quick answers on the main categories of items discouraged from donation and explain the reasons why.


Food donations can be tricky. Many food banks and shelters have policies against accepting:

  • Expired food – Food that is past its best-by date may not be safe for consumption.
  • Open packages – Open bags and boxes, jars without seals, or punctured cans increase the risk of contamination or tampering.
  • Home canned or home-prepared foods – For safety, charities prefer commercially prepared items that are sealed and labeled.
  • Alcohol – Legal and practical reasons often prohibit charities from distributing alcoholic beverages.

If you want to donate food, it’s best to call the organization first and ask about their needs and policies. Stick to commercially sealed, non-perishable items that are still within date for the safest bet.


Donating prescription or over-the-counter medications poses a major safety risk and legal liability. Patients require a doctor’s supervision when taking medications, and donated pills may be expired, contaminated, or inappropriate for someone else’s medical needs. Due to these dangers, charities strongly discourage medication donations. The safest way to dispose of unneeded drugs is through a pharmacy, hospital, or police department that handles medications properly.

Used Undergarments

Hygiene and health concerns mean most charities will not accept used undergarments including underwear, bras, socks, and swimwear. These intimate garments carry bodily fluids that can spread infections. Only brand new, sealed packages of underwear and socks can be safely donated.


Gently used makeup and beauty products often cannot be accepted either due to hygiene issues. Cosmetics contain bacteria from the skin that can cause breakouts or infections. Some charities will take unopened cosmetic donations if the seal is still intact. Partially used makeup, creams, and fragrances, however, are discouraged.

Hazardous Household Items

Anything flammable, toxic, corrosive, or reactive is unsafe for charities to handle. Household hazardous waste like chemicals, oils, batteries, and paint should be disposed of properly through community collection programs, not donated. These substances can pose serious risks to volunteers and the environment if not disposed of carefully.


Used mattresses tend to harbor dust mites, bed bugs, and bodily fluids that make them unsuitable donations. Most charities will not accept them due to the high risk of spreading parasites, infections, and diseases. Mattress recycling is recommended instead. New mattresses that are still in the original packaging can be donated in some cases.

Car Seats

Used car seats typically cannot be donated due to liability and safety issues. The plastic can become brittle over time, especially in accidents. There is also no way for a charity to verify the full history of a used seat. New, unused car seats in the box may be accepted by family resource centers in some cases.


As with car seats, older model cribs no longer meet current safety standards. Used cribs are discouraged unless you can provide proof they were manufactured after 2011 when the latest guidelines were introduced. New cribs still in the box can be suitable donations in many cases.


Do not donate used bicycle, motorcycle, ski, or other sporting helmets. Like car seats, helmets are designed for one-time impact and may be damaged internally even if they appear fine. Second-hand helmets offer no guarantee of protection and pose a major liability risk.


Charities are often inundated with old electronics like computers, TVs, cell phones, printers, and appliances. But unless an item is new and still in the packaging, electronic donations are seldom accepted. Old electronics frequently do not work properly, are expensive to dispose of, and take up limited storage space. Call ahead before assuming used electronics will be wanted.

Major Appliances

Large appliances like washers, dryers, stoves, and refrigerators require extensive inspection, electrical work, and repairs to be usable. Donations of major appliances will likely be declined unless the item is new, energy efficient, and in high demand. Even then,pickup and transportation costs may be prohibitive. Always check with the charity first.

Office Furniture

Chairs, desks, filing cabinets and other large office furniture are difficult for charities to collect, clean, and redistribute. These bulky items take up precious warehouse real estate unless a recipient is already lined up. Make sure to confirm there is need before trying to donate used office furniture, even if it seems in good shape.


Outdated textbooks and encyclopedias unfortunately have little value to most charities. With frequent new editions being published and the availability of instant internet research, used textbooks tend to languish on shelves taking up room. Unless an organization has explicitly requested them, textbooks and reference books are better to recycle.

Rusted Outdoor Furniture

While outdoor furniture seems convenient to donate after summer ends, items that are rusted, damaged, or falling apart will most likely end up in the trash. The cost and effort to restore and clean items like broken patio chairs often outweighs charities’ resources. Unless it’s a high-quality set in good condition, heavily rusted outdoor furniture is better disposed of or recycled.


Being a mindful donor is just as important as the act of donating. Taking the time to learn what charities can and cannot use will ensure your gifts provide the most benefit. When in doubt, call or check organizations’ websites for current guidelines. With some basic research, we can all maximize the impact of our donations and support those in need more effectively.