Dollar stores — discount retailers that sell inexpensive household items — might seem like an ideal place to find bargains. But although many items cost just a dollar, not every product is a steal.
That’s not to say you can’t find worthwhile buys at discount stores, but it’s always important to do your research before you shop so you’re not duped into buying items that either lack quality or are simply not the best deal. Here are 10 items experts say you should never purchase at a dollar store.
At a dollar store, it’s best to skip the electronics aisle, according to consumer savings expert, Andrea Woroch.
“Most electronics that plug in are junk and don’t last long, especially HDMI cords and power strips,” she said. “When dealing with electronics, it’s best to purchase from a legit electronic retailer or an online store like Amazon.com for cheaper prices.”
Furthermore, extension cords and USB cables from dollar stores both tested high in chlorine, according to a dollar store safety report released by nonprofit organizations the Ecology Center and Campaign for Healthier Solutions. This indicates the cords are made with polyvinyl chloride plastic, or PVC. And the research suggested this is a cancer-causing chemical.
2. Plastic Cooking Utensils
The dollar store is a go-to destination when planning a summer block party or a barbecue. But pause before you immediately head for the aisle with the plastic cooking utensils.
Plastic cooking utensils from a dollar store — such as plastic slotted spoons, spatulas and the like — might contain bromine, which is a component in brominated flame retardants, also known as BFRs, according to the Ecology Center report.
BFRs are linked to cancer, birth defects and problems with brain development, according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. So, consider saving your dollars and buying higher-quality stainless steel cooking utensils instead.
3. Canned Goods
Dollar stores’ private-label canned goods are highly likely to have traces of BPA in the linings, according to a report released earlier this year by ToxicFoodCans.org and partner organizations. BPA is said to be harmful to children and disruptive to the reproductive system, according to nonprofit organization Environment and Human Health, Inc.
It’s important to note that some major grocery chains and big-box retailers also carry BPA-coated cans, according to ToxicFoodCans.org. As always, it’s best to do your research to find the safest brands before you buy.
It might be tempting to buy a couple of dollar toys to keep your kids happy. Although a doll or action figure only costs a buck at a dollar store, the toys’ short lifespan might have you recalling the adage, “you get what you pay for.”
“Many of these toys are made in China, and aren’t tested by the [Consumer Product Safety Commission],” said Woroch. “Especially for children under 3, pieces can easily break and get swallowed. A trip to the ER isn’t worth a couple of saved bucks.”
A $1 hammer might sound like a great deal, but it probably won’t be something you’ll have in your toolbox for long.
“The majority of $1 tools are made with poor quality and engineering, so not only will they not last — perhaps for a short project — but they could result in injury, or just poor execution,” said Brent Shelton, a shopping expert for FatWallet.com.
Your best bet is to save your dollars, and purchase tools at stores where they’re guaranteed to be of better quality — and safer, too. For example, Sears Craftsman tools guarantee replacement for life, said Shelton.
When you’re prepping in the kitchen, you’ll want a knife that can get the job done. However, a knife from the dollar store might not live up to its duty, said Woroch.
“Some items in the kitchen section, like food storage containers, are a good buy. However, when it comes to knives, it’s a big no-no, since these won’t be sharp — and dull knives can be very dangerous,” she said. Any way you slice it, a knife from the dollar store might not be a wise investment.
Batteries are one of those things we need but hate to buy because they can be expensive. But you’re better off forking over the dough for batteries from a regular retailer than at a dollar store, as they are usually duds, according to Woroch.
“Cheap batteries may leak and damage your gadgets,” she said. “Save by purchasing these from the warehouse store for the best deal, or use a coupon.”
8. Back-to-School Supplies
Parents rejoice when it’s time for kids to return to school. What they might not be so thrilled about are those laundry lists of school supply requirements.
Although a dollar store might sound like a logical choice, Shelton said you could beat the $1 deals if you wait for back-to-school sales at big-box stores, particularly those like Staples and Office Max. You’ll likely get a better bulk value, as well as quality for comparable items, he said.
9. Pet Food or Treats
When it comes to your four-legged friends, you might want to avoid buying pet food from a dollar store. “Many folks have found that giving cheap food or chewables to the dog means having a violently ill pet,” said Woroch.
For dollar store pet food, pay special attention to expiration dates and the ingredients list, as you would for any food product. Often, sticking to name-brand pet food is your best bet, especially if there are dietary restrictions for your dog or cat. Additionally, you might discover you’ll get more bang for your buck at big-box stores.
10. Makeup, Toiletries and Medicines
Sometimes it’s better to be safe than sorry. Although there might be nothing wrong with some products in these categories, you might want to err on the side of caution.
“I would avoid these products,” said shopping expert Trae Bodge. “You will probably not recognize the brands, and if you do, they may have been sitting on the shelf for a long time.”
Even makeup can become less effective if it’s past its expiration date. Furthermore, off-brand makeup products might also contain harmful chemicals. In one example, the Ecology Center’s dollar store report found a medium level of the carcinogen, antimony, in L.A. Colors eye shadow, when tested.