Graphic image of light bulb above conveyor belt

Illustrations By LeeAndra Cianci

Can I donate my mattress? 8 things charities don’t need

Some donated items are inconvenient or even a potential liability; others are surprisingly useful. Do you know the difference?

We’ve all been there. After a Marie Kondo–level purge, you’re wondering what to do with used items you no longer need. Donating to charities is often our first instinct; diverting stuff from landfills and helping others in the process seems like a win-win. And usually, it is. But no matter how well-intentioned the donation, there are some things charities don’t need and won’t accept—and donating them anyways is actually creating more work for organizations, cutting into their ability to help others.

Each charity has its own rules and a wish list that changes with the seasons—or if a specific ask has been met. For example, Toronto’s Sistering, a United Way–funded support hub and drop-in space for women and trans folk, has a system in place to categorize donations. “Green items are things we often take,” says fund development officer Kathryn Glancy. “Yellow definitely falls under ‘contact the organization,’ so that could be household appliances. Red items are things that are never taken—for example, clothing that’s too worn, used underwear or things that are tarnished or stained.”

If you’re not sure whether you can donate an item, your best bet is to check first, says Judy Leroux, director of philanthropy and engagement at Youth Without Shelter, a United Way–supported agency. “Phone ahead before you drop off,” she says. “The charity will be able to give you context on if they can use the item. If we can’t take something, we will do our best to direct people.”

Read on for some broad guidelines on what organizations will and won’t take.

Graphic image of light bulb over mattress and other items

Can I donate my mattress?

Even if you know that your mattress is clean, comfy and bug-free, it’s too risky for a shelter to take on. Beyond the potential health risks, many places simply don’t have space to store larger items. But don’t curb it just yet. If your mattress is clean and only gently used with no tears or stains, The Furniture Bank, a United Way–supported agency, may be able to find it a home.

Can I donate my kid’s crib, stroller or change table?

This answer isn’t simple. Some organizations will accept things like gently used strollers and cribs, but due to ever-changing safety standards and liability issues, many charities aren’t able to accept them. Drop-side cribs and change tables are almost always a hard “no.” But if you have baby monitors or a new package of diapers, wipes or formula, call your local women’s shelter to see if you can pass them along.

Can I donate my kid’s car seat or booster seat?

No. Just like food, car seats have expiration dates and because of the liability, charities can’t accept these items.

Can I donate mouthwash and hand sanitizer?

Unfortunately, no. Due to the alcohol content in mouthwash and disinfectants like rubbing alcohol and hand sanitizer, most charities aren’t able to take them. On the other hand, says Glancy, “First-aid items are high priority because it’s not something that gets donated a lot.” So feel free to pass along packaged, non-expired gauze pads, bandages and ointments.

Can I donate my fridge?

It depends. Even though many shelters help people find and settle into new homes, most apartments are already equipped with large appliances. There is an exception here: Habitat for Humanity Restore will take these items.

Graphic image of lightbulb above stroller microwave

Can I donate my couch?

Just as with mattresses, most fabric-covered furniture is a no-go for shelters due to storage limitations and the risk of grime, stains, smells and bugs. But again, spots like Habitat for Humanity and The Furniture Bank can save items in good condition from the landfill. Occasionally a shelter or community centre may be looking for particular piece of furniture, so it doesn’t hurt to call and ask.

Can I donate my old bedding and linens?

“This would be a yellow light [at Sistering],” says Glancy. “The reason would be bedbug concern, and it’s also dependent on if we have the staff capacity to inspect it and if there’s a need for it.” The Furniture Bank does take linens, but they need to be in good condition with no rips, stains or tears.

Can I donate my microwave?

By Glancy’s standards, your neglected microwave gets a yellow light depending on the quality and need. But if a shelter says no thanks, The Furniture Bank and Habitat for Humanity Restore may take it if it’s still in good working order.

Bonus: Can I donate luggage?

This one gets a green light. In fact, many shelters are actively seeking good-condition suitcases, backpacks, duffel bags and cloth totes. These are considered dignity items. “Instead of distributing items in plastic bags, it’s much more respectful to receive in a backpack, suitcase or tote,” says Glancy. “Participants really appreciate it.”

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