9 Things You Need to Know Before Donating Clothes

Box labeled donations next to household items

The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

Americans are very generous people. When disasters strike our communities, and even communities around the world so far away, we want to help. We open our hearts, and some people open their wallets to send money or reach into their pantries to provide food and water. Other donors create handmade blankets or caps and scarves to fill a specific need while others simply empty their closets to donate clothes.

But are we really helping?

According to a report on the CBS news program, Sunday Morning, emergency and relief agencies often receive so many donated articles that the goods become a burden rather than a benefit. When literally tons of clothes arrive at a local disaster site or are shipped to overseas disaster areas, there is nowhere to store them, no one to move the goods to a proper area, not enough people to help sort the clothing into usable categories, and no distribution system to actually get them to those in need.

When valuable resources, both monetary and human, must be allocated to deal with too many or inappropriate items, critical needs often suffer. The most valued donation during a disaster: money. The relief organizations can then buy specific items and services that are the most needed.

But I Want to Donate to Charity

Of course, providing small amounts of financial assistance, food, and clothing, can help can change lives. This is especially true when there is a crisis within a community. However, it also takes a lot of work and resources to deal with inappropriate donations.

For every clothing item that comes through the door, someone must evaluate it for its state of repair, cleanliness, and seasonal appropriateness. Then the item must be sized and folded or hung for the clients. Finally, if the item is out-of-season, space must be found to store it until the appropriate time of year.

All of that takes a great deal of manpower and a great deal of space in the facility to store all the goods. Those items that are not usable must then be disposed of or passed along to another agency. There are commercial companies that buy these unusable donated clothes and household items and sell them for a profit or the items end up in a landfill.

By following these tips, your donation of clothes and linens should always be warmly accepted to benefit others and not as a burden.

Brown purse emptied out with coins and pen by stack of folded clothes

The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

Tips for Donating Clothing, Linens, and Accessories

  • Call or visit the charitable organization before you donate to ask what is specifically requested or needed by the agency. Ask about their distribution schedule. This is particularly important before beginning a collection drive of shoes or coats or prom dresses.
  • No fabric items like bedding, towels, or clothes should be donated unless they have been cleaned. Dry clean or wash everything and treat any stains before donating. If possible, use fragrance-free laundry detergent and skip scent enhancers and fabric softener to protect possible recipients who are sensitive to perfumes. 
  • Every clothing item or piece of linen should be inspected for rips or tears, missing buttons, broken zippers, and stains. Charities do not have seamstresses to do repairs and those in need may not have the resources to do repairs.
  • For sheets and towels that are permanently stained or badly worn, wash and give to animal shelters who can always use them. 
  • Check all the pockets, especially in purses and wallets. Charities find personal information, money, credit cards, and even jewelry.
  • Since most charities do not have large storage areas, donate clothing that can be distributed during that season. Giving a wool blazer during July is inappropriate. Hold onto it and donate it during the autumn or winter season.
  • Many organizations will not accept used undergarments and bathing suits. Always ask before donating these items.
  • Shoes should be in good condition, clean, and given in pairs.
  • If you have collected a large number of specific items like coats or children's clothing, consider separating the donation by size and labeling each container. That will save countless volunteer or staff hours and get the items to those in need much more quickly.
Winter clothing packed in plastic container to be donated

The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. ​Best Intentions: When Disaster Relief Brings Anything but Relief. CBS News.