When you’re shopping for a bargain, sometimes the dollar store is a great place to snag deals. In fact, you might be tempted to spring for items that aren’t on your shopping list simply because they cost only a dollar or so.
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But maybe you will want to think twice before buying some items. Dollar stores have been under scrutiny since the mid-2010s, with studies questioning the quality of items sold. Environmental groups have been looking into potential health hazards, and their studies have shown that while some house-label products have improved quality over the past handful of years, others still contain “chemicals of concern,” according to a 2021 report from Campaign for Healthier Solutions.
The fact is, some dollar store deals can be a terrible buy if you don’t know what you’re getting into. You may be compromising on quality or safety, and even $1 might not be the best deal for what you get. Read on to see which dollar store items you’re better off without.
1. Dollar Store Electronics
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.”
Extension cords and USB cables from dollar stores previously were flagged for high chlorine levels in a dollar store safety report released by nonprofit organization the Ecology Center and Campaign for Healthier Solutions. That indicated the cords were made of polyvinyl chloride plastic, or PVC. And the research suggested this is a cancer-causing chemical.
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2. Dollar Store Hand Sanitizer
Some dollar store hand sanitizers have been found to contain methanol (alternatively called wood alcohol), which can have dangerous side effects, including cancer, the Food and Drug Administration said. Substantial exposure to methanol can cause conditions that include headaches, blurred vision, seizures and even permanent blindness, comas and death.
3. Dollar Store 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 to 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, a component in brominated flame retardants, also known as BFRs, which have been linked to cancer, obesity and diabetes, according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Consider saving your dollars and buying higher-quality stainless steel cooking utensils.
4. Dollar Store Toys
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 dollar store toys are made in China and are rarely tested by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, Woroch said. “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.”
5. Dollar Store Tools
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 website of home-repair guru Bob Vila recommends against tools from the dollar store because of the possibility of poor manufacturing and the chance they could break, causing injury. Instead, the website recommends buying a higher-quality kit that offers a warranty.
6. Dollar Store Knives
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, Woroch said.
“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.
7. Dollar Store Batteries
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 another 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. Dollar Store 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, you could beat the $1 price if you wait for back-to-school sales at big-box stores or shop the specials at office supply stores like Staples and Office Max. You’ll likely get a better bulk value, as well as quality, for comparable items.
9. Dollar Store Pet Food or Treats
When it comes to your four-legged family members, 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,” Woroch said.
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. Dollar Store 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.
In November 2019, the FDA sent a warning letter to a dollar store chain that outlined “multiple violations of current food manufacturing practices” at the places where house brands of drugs and certain cosmetics items were made.
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Jami Farkas contributed to the reporting for this article.