Reader Question: What to do with partially used toiletries

Unclutterer reader Joan sent us an email with this question:

What should I do with toiletries and similar items that were tried but we do not use? I have a number of products I purchased but did not care for. Also, I was an cosmetics rep for over 20 years, and that was many years ago. I have a large number of products stored in my basement and I would like to find them a new home.

This is such a great question. There are many reasons why we may have unused or partly used toiletries lying about, including:

  • You purchased an item and it does not work for your hair/skin type.
  • Guests (including children who have gone off to college) left items at your place.
  • You are moving and the moving company will not take any liquids.
  • You received items as a gift and will never use them.

The first step is to check if the products are expired. Some cosmetics/toiletry company websites will allow you to look up the lot number and see how old the product is. You can also inquire by email or use the website’s contact form. Two great independent websites for checking products are Check Fresh and Check Cosmetic. Both of these sites list lot numbers and expiry dates of most major brands.

If the product has expired unfortunately, the only thing you can do is dispose of the product and recycle the container. It seems like a waste but when the products degrade, they may do more harm than good. They may be contaminated with bacteria, as they breakdown they could irritate your skin/hair. Some products (specifically sunscreen) are no longer effective past their expiry date.

For products that have not yet expired, here are some uncluttering options:

  • Contact local charities and ask if they accept partial bottles as donations. Do not be surprised if they say no. Due to health/sanitary concerns, many charities will only take new, unopened products.
  • Have an Uncluttering Party and invite your friends or neighbours in for a “swap meet.” You might be able to unclutter your items and get items you would actually use.
  • If your workplace allows, leave items in a common area for fellow co-workers. (Always check with your human resources department first!)
  • List your items on Freecycle, craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, or other type of online classified ad site.
  • Offer items in your neighbourhood groups such as Nextdoor, or Facebook neighbourhood groups if you belong to any. My neighbourhood has a ‘Buy Nothing’ Facebook group that has been very successful in helping people get rid of what they don’t want while helping others get what they do want.

Thanks for your great question Joan. We hope that this post gives you the information you’re looking for.

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11 Comments for “Reader Question: What to do with partially used toiletries”

  1. posted by Angela Rines on

    As someone who has helped with disaster assistance and particularly with truck loads of donations, please do not donate toiletries that have already been used or all those hotel samples. We received so much of this and threw almost all of it away. This puts a burden on relief workers and a burden on the community to dispose of it. Even in the midst of total destruction from a tornado, people still want nice things. The rule of thumb is if you wouldn’t take it yourself, don’t donate it.

  2. posted by Kathy W on

    I work in a hospital psychiatric ward, and love having the hotel size toiletries for our patients…they’re usually better quality than the hospital soap/shampoo/conditioner/lotion, and the patients are always so happy to have them…Please consider donating hotel and other sample size things to community mental health organizations or hospitals with a mental health unit….

  3. posted by Elaine Healy on

    That was such a good question and the two replies were very helpful. I will save hotel samples for the appropriate facilities.

  4. posted by Heather Gerbyshak on

    It’s possible to use some old toiletries for other purposes. For example, you can use old shampoo for washing delicate laundry. I hear that, since it’s formulated to remove body oils, it works well for hand washing laundry.

  5. posted by SkiptheBS on

    Somewhere in all that stuff is a basket. You may have a ribbon or scarf. Take the unexpired goodies, place in basket, tie the textile in a bow, and mark one off your gift list.

  6. posted by Cat B on

    I appreciate people wanting to be helpful, frugal, and environmentally sensitive. That being said, used or opened toiletries from strangers as a concept is really kind of yucky. I don’t enjoy seeing people’s leftover stuff in the office bathroom, and I’ve not ever noticed it getting used. It may just be becoming someone else’s clutter in the process. Just a thought.

  7. posted by Valerie on

    I had a bottle of lotion that was just used a couple times. It was on the slightly expensive side. The fragrance bothered me, so I didn’t want to keep it but I also didn’t just want to throw it away. I ended up leaving it in the bathroom at my church. I checked on it after a couple weeks and it looks like the bottle is now about half way gone. So, maybe that would be an option for some people.

  8. posted by Sherlynn on

    I work in a nursing home, where some residents don’t have family members who can bring nice things to the. Yes, they use the supplies at the homes, but they are not always the best. So staff who care for them, bring in their stash of toiles as long its not expired. Word of caution-check with you administration as there may be a policy against it based on rules and regulations set by Medicare and the State. Some staff store them in their lockers to only use on their shift for their residents.

  9. posted by RT on

    In the past, I’ve donated to Project BeautyShare – they collect personal hygiene and cosmetic items and redistribute them to women’s shelters and other organizations. They have drop-off locations in the Spokane, WA area, but I’ve successfully mailed a few boxes to them over the years.

    They’re the only organization I know that accepts opened makeup and certain toiletries (like perfume). Some items they accept must be brand new, and there are some cosmetics that they don’t accept for hygienic reasons, but the full list of what they accept/do not accept can be found on their website — projectbeautyshare.org.

  10. posted by Walt Anderson on

    Cat B I understand where you’re coming from but I think if the toiletry is only VERY lightly used then it might be ok. For example if someone wanted to give me a free bottle of shampoo that had only been used once, I don’t think I’d say no.

  11. posted by Aspiring Organizer on

    I throw them in my gym bag or my “go bag” (otherwise known as a “bug out bag”). This is a packed suitcase that I keep in my car at all times in case I’m ever stranded somewhere or need to evacuate in a hurry (fire, flood, etc.). Just be sure to keep them in sealed food storage bags to protect against leaks.

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