16 Things You Should Never Buy at the Dollar Store
A bargain isn't a bargain if it means risking our health or safety. Give these dollar-store buys a hard pass the next time you're out shopping.
Hitting the dollar store to pick up some low-cost items is one way to save money, but what’s the trade-off? Whether because quality is subpar or they’re made with harmful materials, some dollar store products aren’t worth the lower price tags. Why buy stuff that could adversely affect your health, or end up in the trash tomorrow? On your next trip to the dollar store, give these items a hard pass.
Good chef’s knives don’t come cheap, so you might be tempted to pick up a blade or two at the dollar store. The reason good knives are expensive is that you’re paying for quality—typically, hefty high-carbon stainless steel blades—something dollar store knives are not known for.
Safety is also an issue: Knife lacerations account for hundreds of thousands of emergency department visits a year, and kitchen knives account for about a third of the cuts. Dull knives are more dangerous than sharp ones because it takes more force to cut with a dull-edged implement. You’re better off investing in a sharp knife that will last a lifetime.
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2. Plastic Kitchen Utensils
Anything that touches your food should be safe and nontoxic. While the plastic cooking utensils you buy from the dollar store might look okay, they could contain chemicals like brominated flame retardants, which have been linked to serious health issues. You’re better off purchasing metal, bamboo, or BPA-free plastic spatulas and spoons from a trusted retailer.
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3. Medicine and Vitamins
If something is too good to be true, then it probably is. Case in point: cheap, generic medicine and vitamins from the dollar store. These over-the-counter drugs haven’t necessarily been subjected to the same testing and regulations as name-brand products and may not even have any active ingredients. There’s no real way of knowing what’s in them. The FDA has been known to send warning letters to dollar store companies for selling over-the-counter drugs from foreign manufacturers. If you aren’t confident in a product’s integrity or provenance, skip it.
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4. Pet Food
Pet food is another dollar store item that may not contain all the ingredients you think it does. Sure, it’s cheaper, but do you really want to compromise your beloved pet’s health for a couple of dollars in savings? Storage is another potential problem. More than 100 dog foods and treats, and 80 cat food items sold in Southern dollar stores were recalled in 2022 because of contamination from rodent infestations.
Instead, watch circulars and apps for local pet or grocery stores to spot deals and coupons for better brands and talk to your pet’s veterinarian about brands they recommend.
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As with a number of the items on this list, there’s something mysterious about what’s actually in beauty products. Cosmetics and other personal care product claims are not regulated. A label that touts ingredients as clean or nontoxic is no guarantee of safety and quality. Label clues to look for include dibutyl phthalate, propylparaben, formaldehyde, and hydroquinone, which all sound as scary as they can be for consumers and the environment. Some states are beginning to regulate use of synthetic chemicals (per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS) in cosmetics and other products.
Even if a generic beauty product uses the same ingredients as a brand-name item, it may be using cheaper versions of those ingredients, which can be a problem for those with sensitive skin. Stay away from these products and stick to reputable brands.
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Sunscreen isn’t something to mess around with. Its SPF strength can diminish with time and those dollar store sunscreen bottles might have been sitting on the shelf long enough to lose some of their protective powers. The FDA requires that the products remain at their original strength for 3 years; the agency also runs an import program to oversee products made in other countries. The agency does not require an expiration date on the label, however.
In addition, improper storage of sunscreen and other products led to voluntary recalls by a dollar store chain in 2022 because they had not been stored at proper temperatures. Sunscreen is another product that can include harmful “forever” chemicals, which is why sticking with well-known brands just makes good sense.
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Cheap toys are made with cheap materials. Some budget toys may not be guaranteed to be toxin-free, and others may simply break with normal wear and tear, making them a safety hazard for young children who might then pop them harmful objects in their mouths. Cheap, off-brand toys also could contain forever chemicals or other toxins. An October 2022 report found lead in toy rings sold at discount stores around the country, leading to a recall of the items.
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Batteries from a dollar store usually aren’t as effective as those bought at other retailers for a couple of reasons: First, dollar store batteries are often older than the ones you’ll find in other retail stores. Secondly, generic batteries are typically made from carbon zinc, which doesn’t last as long as lithium, the preferred ingredient. Cheap batteries also are more likely to leak, which can damage the gadget it’s charging.
If you’re replacing cheap batteries more often than you might otherwise, you’re not really saving as much in the long run as you may think. You’re probably better off spending a few dollars more on good batteries rather than hoping for the best with the off-brand versions.
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9. Electronic Accessories
There’s a reason you’re able to find inexpensive electronic accessories in dollar stores: They are junk! Accessories such as extension cords and phone chargers don’t meet the same standards as the gadgets made by the companies we’re all familiar with. Dollar store electronic accessories break quickly, and can end up damaging your phone, computer, television, and other gear. Spend a little extra money on a trusted brand that is UL listed rather than risk a gadget disaster.
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10. Oven Mitt
Oven mitts have one job: to protect your hands from being burned. Unfortunately, many dollar store varieties are made of thin, cheap material that can’t shield your fingers from hot cookware. To be effective, the mitts should be thick enough to protect a cook’s hands from 400-degree temperatures for 10 seconds. In 2021, Health Canada recalled oven mitts sold at a Canadian discount chain because of reports of the products melting and catching on fire. If you can’t resist picking up a cute seasonal pair of oven mitts, consider using them as decorative items in the kitchen rather than as your go-to kitchen helpers.
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Tools should be sturdy and durable enough to stand up to tough work. The best tool kits are made of high-quality materials and usually come with a warranty, so even if something breaks on the job, you can replace it at little or no cost. Do you think you’ll get that same peace of mind from no-brand tools you bought at the dollar store?
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Those who live in a wet climate know the value of investing in a quality umbrella and unfortunately, you won’t find these in a bargain bin. Dollar store umbrellas are often flimsy, too small, and not designed with an ergonomic handle.
Poor-quality umbrellas often have unstable frames that won’t withstand wind, making them more of a hazard than temporary shelter from a storm. A cheap umbrella is more frustrating than it’s worth, as the ribs break easily, causing the canopy to become askew. These umbrellas are a short-lived purchase, and often end up in a landfill with more than 1 billion other umbrellas each year around the world.
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Green residue from earrings, rings, bracelets, and necklaces is the least of your worries from dollar store jewelry. Budget jewelry may contain cadmium, a cheap metal used to make low-cost baubles. Even small amounts of cadmium can cause adverse health effects, including lung damage, cancer, and harm to the reproductive system. Many states don’t have regulations on cadmium usage in jewelry, so you may find it in the jewelry sold at your neighborhood dollar store.
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14. Baby Products
Having a baby means buying many baby products, including pacifiers and bottles. It might be tempting to pick these items up from the dollar store, but saving a few dollars could come at a cost. To make these types of baby products cheaper, manufacturers use ingredients with toxins such as bisphenol A (BPA). Plastic containers with the number 7 on the bottom usually contain BPA and should be avoided.
When shopping for other baby products, beware of baby shampoos containing formaldehyde, personal care products with parabens, and synthetic fragrances.
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15. Paper Products
Shopping for toilet paper or paper towels on the cheap is super tempting. After all, as the prices of goods keep rising, you may consider compromising the quality of single-use products. However, you may not actually be saving money on these items.
We’re not saying that name-brand toilet paper products can’t be found at the dollar store sometimes—the problem is that the rolls may not go as far as standard rolls from other stores. According to Michael Bonebright, former senior editor at Dealnews.com, dollar stores may stock brand-name items in smaller quantities than other stores. Though you may get several more rolls at a lower cost, you’ll have fewer sheets per roll from the dollar store, so you’ll go through it much faster.
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16. Windshield Washer Fluid
Like several other items on the shelf at the dollar store, the quality of cheap windshield washer fluid may not be up to snuff. Though you may be able to use this lesser-quality recipe on your windshield without issue, it can result in problems for you or your car.
Many windshield washer fluids contain an anti-freezing element, such as methanol. When the temperature dips below freezing, it prevents the fluid from becoming ice on your windshield or in the tank. Dollar store washer fluid may be cheaper because it does not have an anti-freezing element, which could lead to a hazardous drive if you cannot see out your windshield.