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10 Need-to-Know Dumpster Diving Tips

10 Need-to-Know Dumpster Diving Tips

These 10 dumpster diving tips can help you make more money in less time – and stay safe while you’re doing it. Although we’ve already established that dumpster diving is legal, it’s not always lucrative. Use these tips to make the most of your next (or first ever) diving experience!

The internet is full of tales of brave divers who have scored huge finds. Just this week, I saw a post in a Facebook group from someone who retrieved 1,200 pounds of dog food with a retail value of $3,800.

It’s less common to hear about the experiences of persistent divers who retrieve little to nothing for their work. It happens, but it’s less fun to share so those stories get less attention.

Since I’m fascinated by these stories of uber-successful divers, I wanted to know what makes their scores so successful. Let’s talk about some of the best practices, as relayed by the pros.

Think about what you want to find.

Not all dumpsters are created equal. You’re going to get a much different haul from a pet store than a bakery. Carefully consider what is likely to be inside the dumpster before you make the effort to comb through it.

Before you trip, take a moment to think about what you want to find. Are you looking for food? Furniture? Pet supplies? Something valuable that you can sell?

The answer to this question should influence where you choose to dive.

Try the best stores first.

Of all the dumpster diving tips we’ve found, this one is the most important. Obviously, skilled divers want to keep their best places a secret… but experienced dumpster divers on Quora, Facebook and Reddit have revealed that the best stores to dumpster dive are:

  • Aldi
  • Bakeries
  • Bath & Body Works
  • Burlington
  • Costco
  • CVS
  • Dollar General
  • Dollar Tree
  • Gamestop
  • Gas stations
  • Office supply stores
  • Petco
  • REI
  • Trader Joe’s
  • Ulta
  • Walgreens

Small-town stores can have great finds as well. Many divers also recommend visiting storage units, college dorms or apartment complexes on move-out day (and within 10-15 days thereafter) because many people will dump things as they are moving. If an eviction happens, you can often find a lot of things in the dumpsters as well.

Sometimes, driving to a higher-income area can be worth the drive. When I was looking for thrift finds to sell, I often drove 20 minutes out of my way to a Goodwill in a ritzier neighborhood. It was always worth it because they usually had more valuable items than I could find at my local store. The same is true for dumpsters!

After some trial and error, my secret to dumpster diving is to focus on dumpsters in middle- and upper-income areas. These houses generate significantly more trash than homes in lower-income neighborhoods, which tips the scale in favor of finding more valuable items. 

It’s not just about getting free items, though; it’s about timing where different bags are at a particular disposal site to ensure you don’t miss out on any potential goodies!

Haya Subhan, General Manager, Sheffield First Aid Courses

Generally, most dumpster divers recommend staying away from thrift stores, medical centers, hospitals and restaurants. The dumpsters are more likely to be contaminated with unwanted pests or hazards, such as bed bugs, maggots, rodents, or hazardous waste.

You’ll also want to avoid stores that destroy their products. This is a lesson that you may have to learn as you go. Some stores choose to use trash compactors to destroy their unsold products. Others may resort to other forms of damage, such as burning, cutting, tearing, or soaking their unsold goods with gasoline, glue, or other substances that will render them unusable.

Experienced dumpster divers have reported that the following stores typically use trash compactors or other methods for soiling their products:

  • Best Buy
  • Kohls
  • Petsmart
  • Malls
  • Michaels
  • TJ Maxx

Bear in mind that this is a general list. Not all locations use trash compactors or other destruction methods. After all, some people love to dumpster dive at Petsmart locations and some users have posted that they destroy products. For the large chain stores, it looks like each location can set their own policies.

Park near the dumpster.

Although it’s natural for first-timers to want to be discreet and park a distance away from the dumpster, it’s actually more dangerous. You’ll have to carry products farther and you may be confused for a burglar. After all, if a passerby sees you loading items into your car they may assume that you took them from the store instead of the dumpster.

Experienced divers recommend parking close to the dumpster so that you can load your vehicle quickly and leave. This was easily the most surprising of the dumpster diving tips I found!

Bring protection and cleaning supplies.

Wear old clothing. Many experienced dumpster divers don’t bother with gloves or tools, but you may choose to use those things. Carefully think about what you may encounter and make sure you bring whatever you may need with you.

Think about cleaning up after you’re out as well. Soap and water, or even simply hand sanitizer, will help you clean up after you’ve been in or around the dumpster.

Be careful what you take.

Although social media abounds with people who have found treasure troves of pre-packaged foods, expensive merchandise and other hauls, a lot of what you’ll find in dumpsters is, well, garbage. Often, what’s been tossed away has been tossed away for a reason.

Be careful with what you take. Evaluate whether or not it’s something you really want to keep. Be especially careful with furniture, which can hide bed bugs or other pests.

Back when I was in college, we used to shop at what we called the “Alley-Mart.” We didn’t have any cash, so we’d hit the alleys in our neighborhood to find old furniture and housewares. One time, while sofa hunting, we found a really nice pull-out couch in an alley. The couch looked great. 

The fabric was in good shape and the cushions had a lot of life left in them. We sat on it for a few seconds, then without testing the pull-out feature, we tossed it in the back of the truck. Once home, when we opened up the couch to see the bed, there was a dead opossum in it. 

It was the most disgusting thing I’d ever seen, so take my advice. When you are dumpster diving, take the extra couple of minutes to fully try stuff before you take it.

John Ross, CEO, Test Prep Insight

Don’t make a mess.

Messy divers ruin this hobby for everyone else. If you leave a mess around a dumpster, the owner is more likely to lock it up, gate it off, and post signs preventing other people from diving at that location. You must be mindful of your impact when you are dumpster diving, or your actions could ruin it for yourself and everyone else.

When you’re done, clean up the area and close the lid. Don’t leave any trace that you were there, so that nobody has any reason to complain.

If you make a mess in the course of your activities, this could make up illegal littering, as well as being distressing and potentially hazardous to passersby, and leaving you liable for the consequences. Also, be aware of trespassing regulations. Be conscious of the impact your actions could have on others and remain respectful at all times.

Allan M. Siegel, Partner and Attorney, Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata Siegel, Personal Injury

Never go alone.

Always bring someone with you when you’re dumpster diving. Having multiple people with you can help you stay safe in dangerous conditions. Besides, you may need someone to help you retrieve heavy items, load your vehicle, or watch for hazards.

Of course, this may mean that you need to decide how to share valuable finds. Always talk your plan through with your buddy before you spot a big-ticket treasure, just to minimize conflicts and protect your friendships.

Taking a friend or companion when you are going dumpster diving is a fun and practical tip. A companion can help you plan and execute the task better. 

You can go through the dumpster quicker with an extra pair of hands and eyes. They can also help you identify whether the things are worth taking. They can help with any other manual labor required, like carrying bags or boxes after they finish the task. 

Having a companion will also help ease your mind in case you experience an unwanted situation. So, for your next dumpster diving session, pair up.

Janie Doyle, Marketing Director, SC Vehicle Hire

Don’t argue with employees or police.

Sometimes employees will confront dumpster divers. Security or police offers may also confront you. No matter who approaches you, it never pays to argue. Even if you are convinced that you are right, the best thing you can do is be polite, apologize, and leave.

Even though dumpster diving is legal on public property, there are other ordinances that you could be breaking. I consulted with several attorneys in the process of preparing this article, and several warned that there are countless other laws that could be broken in the course of diving.

Strictly speaking, dumpster diving isn’t illegal. However, its associated actions can be. That’s why it’s important to consider your environment. 

In certain circumstances, dumpster diving could be disorderly conduct. If someone feels threatened, intimidated, or harmed because of your behavior, they could make a complaint that warrants legal action.

Allan M. Siegel, Partner and Attorney, Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata Siegel, Personal Injury

Accept the risks.

Anytime you jump into a dumpster, you are putting yourself at risk. You don’t know what’s in there. Some divers on social media have reported finding blood, feces, dead animals and other disgusting things in the course of their search.

Remember, this is a dumpster we’re talking about. It’s used to dispose of things that people don’t want. It could contain broken glass, spoiled food, or other items that could hurt you. If you make the choice to look through it, you need to accept the risks that go along with that choice.

Be mindful of the risks associated with this activity. You could injure yourself during the process of diving, hurt yourself interacting with salvaged items, or become unwell after eating found food.

Many business owners are resistant to dumpster diving as issues of liability arise in these cases. You can consider litigation if this occurs, but this could leave you vulnerable to prosecution, especially if you’ve violated local laws. Do your research and know your rights, responsibilities, and risks before dumpster diving.

Martin Gasparian, Attorney/Owner, Maison Law

Fear of liability is one of the main reasons why businesses do not want to allow people to dumpster dive. It is important to make sure that you fully understand the risks before you participate.

Clean and re-sell your items.

Although many dumpster divers choose to donate their excess items to others in need, there may be times that you find valuable items that you would like to sell for profit. This is a great way to help pay your bills.

If you find something that you would like to sell, make sure to clean it off before you present it to potential buyers. A clean item will always fetch a higher price.

You can also use online marketplaces to determine a fair value for your item. Look for successful eBay sales and other items that have sold online. Sometimes, people will post things for ridiculous prices so it’s important to make sure you’re looking at successful sales and not current listings for your comparisons.

I have supported my family re-selling found items, so be sure to check out this guide if this is something you’d like to try.

Nicole is the owner and lead researcher for Low Income Relief. She has over 20 years of professional research and writing experience, and she has been solely dedicated to investigating low income topics for the last 10 years. Nicole started Low Income Relief after a personal experience with poverty. When her husband was medically discharged from the US Army, their family experienced tremendous financial hardship. Nicole was able to gather help from multiple community agencies and move into a nearby low income housing unit in just two weeks! Since then, Nicole has been dedicated to helping low income families in crisis. She regularly spends hundreds of hours combing through countless resources to make sure that Low Income Relief has the most comprehensive and complete resource directories on the internet today. Prior to starting Low Income Relief, Nicole worked as a novelist, journalist, ghostwriter and content creator. Her work has been featured in various print and online publications, including USA Today, The Daily Herald, The Chronicle and more. Her work has also been featured by Google for Publishers and other leading industry publications.