11 Things You Can’t Donate To Goodwill (Or Any Thrift Store)

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My wife and I try to do a major donation run every couple of months. We’re not quite Marie Kondo but we do our best to keep our house simple and uncluttered (although it doesn’t help that we’re always thrifting).

During one of our latest purchases my wife and I debated for quite a while over keeping a metal rack we had in our bathroom. In the end, we decided we didn’t have a great place for it right now so, in the interest of being more minimalist, we took it apart, bagged all the hardware, and put it in the car to take to Goodwill.

You can imagine how much it bummed me out when I handed the box of pieces to the worker and he walked straight over and dumped it into, the metal recycle bin. It was a complete, labeled, and perfectly good shelf. I would rather have kept it than just have it tossed.

It turns out that the location I was donating to does not sell any furniture or home goods (like my shelf) that are donated in pieces. They accept them and toss them into the recycle or dumpster.

So, in the interest of avoiding a repeat performance, I decided to do some research on the types of things that thrift stores, including Goodwill, will generally not accept as donations.

Now, donation guidelines vary by store but, in general, these are the things that you can and can’t donate. I tried to focus on things that weren’t painfully obvious so I am sure some of these will be surprising to you, even if you donate or thrift on a regular basis!

Quick Guide To What Goodwill Will Not Take As A Donation

If you’re looking for a list, you’re in luck, I have a list.

While it may vary from store to store, these are the items that most chain thrift stores will not be able to accept as donations:

  • Dirty or damaged furniture. This Includes visibly torn or stained items, furniture with pet hair on it, disassmbled furniture, etc.)
  • Box TVs or Non-Digital TVs. After the transition to digital broadcasting most thrift stores have stopped accepting old TVs
  • Large home goods or yard items. Examples of items that will not be accepted include: large rolls of carpet, kiddie pools, slides, swingsets, etc.
  • Building materials. If it’s a “house-piece” they probably won’t take it. This includes doors, sinks, tubs, toilet, showers, dishwashers, fridges, hotwater heaters, concrete, bricks, paint, etc.
  • Large home appliances. Appliances such as washers/dryers, air conditioners, and stoves are off the table.
  • Excessivley stained or damaged clothing items or shoes.
  • Sleeper sofas or beanbag chairs. Because, gross.
  • Firearms/Fireworks
  • Medical equipment. In general, if something requires a perscription, a thrift store will not take it. This includes items such as rehab machines, braces, and CPAP machines.
  • Food or drink items
  • Large auto parts (such as tires or wheels)
  • In short, anything that is damaged, rusty, moldy, flammable, dangerous, or just plain gross will not be accepted at thrift stores.

But, what about everything else?

Most other items will be accepted by thrift stores. However, a good portion of it will never hit the sales floor. Items that are accepted but not worth selling often are donated to other centers (such as the Goodwill Outlets) or thrown into a dumpster.

So let’s take a look at the nuances and see some more about the ‘whats” and the why’s of what thrift stores will and will not accept.

Common Items You Can/Can’t Donate To Goodwill & Other Thrift Stores

1. Furniture

In general, thrift stores will accept couches, chairs, tables, cabinets, and most other types of finished furniture.

Even if they don’t really want to. Furniture isn’t a beloved item by thrift stores because they don’t bring in much money when compared to the space they take up, they are difficult to move/store, and they can’t end up not selling for way too long.

As such, most furniture is priced at fire-sale prices simply to get it gone.

There are exceptions, however, and most thrift stores will not take furniture that is:

  • Broken. It’s simply not worth their trouble to fix it and they don’t want to be liable for selling broken, possibly dangerous, items.
  • Covered in cat/animal hair. Not only is it gross, having a bunch of cat hair floating around the store pollutes it for everyone who may have allergies (or just an aversion to other people’s pet fluff).
  • Visibly stained. Furniture with visible stains or tears are typically sent straight to the dumpster. Is it a pee stain? Nobody knows! So in the interest of hygenic safety, obviously stained furniture is a no-go.
  • Dissasembled. Furniture that is in pieces will typically be accepted (or will be thrown away). It’s simply not worth the employee’s time to try and make sure it’s all there and they don’t want people going through it in the store trying to count pieces. If the item is in the original box you might get away with the donation.
  • Possibly harboring creepy crawlies. Items such as sleeper sofas and beanbag chairs are not accepted by most thrift stores.

If a thrift store won’t take your furniture your best bet (if you live in a populated area) is to wipe it off/vacuum it and stick it on the curb for free. Every time we’ve done this it’s been gone within a day or two. And if it’s not? Then, unfortunately, it’s off to the dump.

2. Old TVs

Goodwill taking old box tv

In general, old TVs are easy to get rid of. You just stick them on Facebook Marketplace for $10 and someone will be at your door in minutes.

But what if you really want to donate your old TV to Goodwill or another thrift store? Do they take box TVs? Flat Screen TVs?

In general, the answer is yes, to all.

Many chain thrift stores will not accept box TVs or TVs made before 2009 as they were made before the transition to digital TV. All thrift stores will accept newer TVs in working condition and smaller privately-owned thrift stores often accept old TVs without issue.

Vintage TVs that are smaller (such as portable units) are typically accepted at thrift stores of all kinds as they do not take up much space.

3. Car Parts

The main factor that dictates whether or not a thrift store will accept auto parts is the size, cleanliness, and safety of the items in question.

In general, thrift stores will not accept large car parts such as bumpers, body panels, seats, tires, or potentially dangerous/flammable liquids such as oil, cleaners, windshield washer fluid, etc. Smaller items typically cannot be too greasy or dirty and may be accepted on a case-by-case basis.

Your best bet for selling larger items is a pawnshop or local marketplace such as Craigslist.

4. Kids’ Stuff

When you consider donating kids’ items to a thrift store you have to imagine things from their end. Their motivation is to avoid liability by selling items that could be dangerous.

As such, they typically won’t accept items that are potentially expired or have been generally recalled. For example, very few thrift stores will accept drop-side cribs, car seats, or bike helmets.

Likewise, items such as strollers will be dependent on the location.

You will have more luck donating such items as smaller church-owned thrift stores or charitable shops but you should check before donating that your item hasn’t been recalled for anything.

Kids’ clothing, shoes, and most toys are acceptable if they are in usable condition.

5. Food

I’m not the first person (and I’m sure I won’t be the last…) to find food on thrift store shelves. It’s typically in a gift basket, or fancy chocolate box, or something similar. Surprisingly, I’ve never been hungry enough to buy anything I’ve found. Never shop on an empty stomach, ya know.

No thrift stores will take food as a donation, even canned foods that are sealed. Food items that aren’t expired can typically be donated to food pantries or shelters instead.

If you have food that is technically expired but still good you can try Facebook. When my wife and I cleaned out our pantry a couple of years ago we found a bunch of weird things we had bought at a clearance store and would never get around to eating. We put it all in a box and posted about it on Facebook. It was gone in about 10 minutes.

6. Clothing

Clothing is the bread and butter of thrift store donations and sales. So much so that thousands of people (us included) make a living by flipping thrift store clothing on eBay, Mercari, and Poshmark. So, yet, you can donate clothing to thrift stores.

However, not every wearable item will be taken by Goodwill or other thrift stores.

In general, Goodwill and other thrift stores will accept clothing and shoes that are in clean and wearable condition. This includes gently used socks, bras, and swimsuits. Some items with holes that are still wearable (such as jackets or jeans) may still be accepted and offered for sale.

I would encourage you to donate all you to do one of two things with your used clothing: donate it to a thrift store or sell it at a yard sale. Even if you think an item of clothing it not worth donating most thrift stores will recycle the item instead of simply sending it to a landfill.

7. Mattresses, Pillows, & Bedding Items

Used mattresses are one of the main items that people are concerned about buying used. Well, guess what, every time you go to a hotel you sleep on a “used” mattress. It’s much less gross to have one that you have actually seen and cleaned yourself.

In other words, I will defend buying used mattresses until I die!

Donating them, however, is a different proposition entirely.

Whether or not you can donate a mattress is entirely dependent on the thrift store.

The main reason that many thrift stores don’t accept mattresses is because of bed bugs and other sanitation concerns. Goodwill, for example, will not accept any used mattresses. Other second-hand stores such as Salvation Army or Habitat For Humanity will accept used mattresses in good condition.

Just be sure to call the store you’re planning on donating to before you strap your mattresses to the top of your car!

Bedding items that can be cleaned, such as comforters and sheets are typically accepted by thrift stores. Non-decorative pillows, on the hand, are typically not accepted unless they are brand new.

If you have pillows or bedding items that can’t be donated to a thrift store, consider talking to local animal shelters as they will often use them for bedding.

8. Home Goods & Appliances

Most home goods are appliances are fair game when it comes to thrift store donations.

Because there are so many options in this category I’ll just hit a few of the ones that you’re probably conflicted about.

In general, thrift stores will not accept coat hangers, washers/dryers, empty boxes, or large amounts of out-of-season decorations. Most thrift stores however will accept exercise equipment, knives, pots/pans, dinnerware, and other home goods.

As thrift stores are generally thought of as the source for second-hand home goods they refuse very few home items and, when they do, they have a good reason for doing so.

As long as your items are in good working condition (and don’t take up too much space) there is no reason that Goodwill won’t take them.

9. Books

Most thrift stores readily accept old books and magazines of any sort. They may choose to recycle many of them instead of putting them on the sales floor but they will at least be able to avoid the garbage.

10. Media

Nearly every thrift store will accept and sell media of all varieties.

Feel free to drop off your old CD collection, video games, 8-tracks, and even your black diamond Disney VHS tapes which failed to sell on eBay.

Just be sure not to check any media that you never opened as some of the most valuable Goodwill finds were actually sealed video games and media!

11. Building Supplies

In general, there are “regular” thrift stores that specialize in home goods and clothes, and then there are industrial strength thrift stores that have second-hand building supplies, tools, etc.

There really isn’t much cross-over.

Habitat for Humanity or the “ReStore” will typically accept a wide variety of building supplies from lumber, to sheetrock, to nails.

Goodwill and other run-of-the-mill thrift stores will not take building supplies as donations. While there may be exceptions for something like a sink or ceiling fan that is still in the box they simply don’t have the manpower or expertise to test such items or the space to sell them.

Things You Probably Shouldn’t Donate To Goodwill

While you can get thrift stores to take most things, there is a handful of stuff that, in general, I would not recommend donating:

  • Old electronics devices you can’t turn on. If you can’t start something up to see if it has personal information on it, pass on donating it. I’ve thrifted old laptops and computers before and once I started them, discovered that the old owners files and history is still easily visible and not password protected.
  • Items you could sell easily. If you can easily sell something instead of donating it, do! Don’t be intimidated by online selling platforms as they are very user friendly. The only eception to this is if you are donating items for a tax write off.
  • Items you can donate/give to someone personally. Every time you donate something to a thrfit store there’s a chance that it will end up in the dumpster. Sometimes thrift store employees will dispose of perfctly good items simply because they don’t have sufficient space. Short-circut that process and donate your items direclty to someone that could use them.

Do not take any of those reasons as justification for not donating your unused items. I’ve known people that have literally thrown items in the garbage (items like clothing) because they never really considered donating them.

Let this be your wake-up call, donate all the things! The worst that can happen is that the Goodwill employees will tell you that they don’t take something. Then you can throw it away anyway.

At least you will have improved the world a bit by saving a few items from a landfill.