Introduction: Dumpster Diving: the Right Way

Picture of Dumpster Diving: the Right Way

Let me start out with this -- the only reason I'm sharing my tried and true method of dumpster diving is because it hasn't been shared on this site before and the likelihood of one of YOU encroaching on my dumpster diving territory is highly unlikely.

Dumpster diving is a not so popular way to get free stuff.  It's easy to see why most people turn their noses up at the thought of dumpster diving.  Dumpsters evoke nastiness, slime, rotten food, bad smell, flies, and used toilet paper.  And why would there be anything of value in the dumpster?  Somebody threw that out for a reason.  Why risk your health and respectability for someones trash?

While these are valid arguments, and often apply, it IS possible to circumvent the grossness, while pulling in a massive amount of loot including clothes, school supplies, and electronics.  This, however, requires careful planning, knowledge, and a little bit of shamelessness.

So when you're ready, I will show you the RIGHT way to go about dumpster diving.

Step 1: Oh Ye of Little Faith

If you are already sold, this is not for you

If you're beginning to think its not worth it, take a look at the cover picture.  It is the very real result of one day's worth of dumpster diving.  It's just too bad it couldn't all fit within the camera's field of view.  Still not convinced?  Because of dumpster diving I have spent next to nothing on school supplies the last 2 years.

Dumpster Diving is an issue of civic responsibility.  There are Salvation Army bins throughout the dorms for giving away gently used clothing and shoes.  Why then are there shoes in the dumpster with the tissue paper still inside them?  By dumpster diving, I am saving landfill space and not buying a pair of shoes that I don't need.

Step 2: The Secret: Where/When to Dumpster Dive

Picture of The Secret: Where/When to Dumpster Dive

This is the secret to my successful dumpster diving.

Go to college dorm dumpsters when the students are moving out.

There, that's it.

Every college has a required move out date.  However, no student has enough room to pack all of the "dorm stuff" they've accrued into their mom's Suburban.  An unholy amount of perfectly good stuff goes into the dumpster SIMPLY BECAUSE THE STUDENTS DON'T HAVE ROOM TO TAKE IT HOME.  They don't just throw out gross stuff they don't want.  Although some of the dumpsters have actual garbage in them, the bulk of it is good stuff that didn't fit into Dad's trunk.  That means all the unused school supplies, lightly used electronics, and lightly worn clothes are up for grabs!

Unfortunately this method of diving gives you a VERY small window to succeed in.  Careful planning is needed.
To put things into perspective, 3 days after the enormous haul in the intro picture, the dumpsters were stripped of everything useful.  Timing is everything.

First, find a college near you.  If you want to get fancy choose the one with the highest tuition/living expenses.  This was easy for me because I live on campus at UCI (my family works there).

Second, find the move-out date.  Call the campus or poke around the college's webpage, it'll be there.  Choosing the day is tricky, and you might want to go on multiple consecutive days.  Choose a day before the actual move out date (the Friday/Saturday before is usually a good bet).  If you have time, go to the dorms, and look around.  If there are parents/students packing their cars, you have picked the right day.  Dive ahead.

Third, scout the dumpsters you plan to raid.  Keep in mind, dumpsters have to be accessible from the road (for the garbage truck).  Google Maps is a good tool, but it can be tricky to spot dumpsters/dumpster houses without knowing what you are looking for.  Some form of scouting, virtual or physical, is a good idea.

Step 3: Prepare Yourself: What to Bring

Picture of Prepare Yourself: What to Bring

Your loadout can be pretty simple.

The only things you NEED are long pants and closed toed shoes, for safety and hygiene reasons.

Keeping the following on you can be helpful:
   >> A Folding Knife -- (for slashing open trash bags)
   >> A Poker -- (for rooting through dumpsters, you can always find one though)
   >> A Screwdriver -- (for parts scavenging eg. speakers, circuits, computer parts)
   >> Pliers/Multitool -- (for parts scavenging)
   >> Transportation -- (you don't want to be walking home with all the booty you're going to find.  Best thing is to bring a car.  However, my first time, I did it with a bike and a backpack, but if you have a car why limit yourself?)

I ought to say -- dumpster diving can be dangerous.  I've never gotten hurt, but say someone throws out a bed frame or a couch.  There could be nails/staples/screws sticking out, so just be cautious.  A dumpster is a bad place to get cut up.  I had to stay home from school for 3 weeks because I skinned my elbow in a nasty parking lot and got cellulitis.  The same could happen in a dumpster.  If you get cut, give it medical attention.

Step 4: Legality

Picture of Legality

Dumpster Diving has been a grey area for a long time.  There have been cases of people being arrested/detained for dumpster diving.  Don't act/dress suspiciously.  From a legal standpoint, the previous owner has relinquished ownership of whatever you take once they throw it away.  So you should be fine.  If you are told to leave, then leave.  Play it safe.

I have encountered policemen while I was actually in a dumpster: he didn't care at all.  Maybe it was because me and my buddy looked like college students throwing stuff away instead of scavengers.  Maybe it was because he is a diver himself.  The point is, if you are approached by a cop, be straight.  Tell him or her what you are doing, and submit to his or her judgement.

Step 5: What to Look For

Picture of What to Look For

Every dumpster is different.  Don't go diving looking for something, because you won't find it.  Keep an open mind, thinking of potentially useful things such as:

   >> Clothing (jackets)
   >> Shoes
   >> TVs, DVD Players, Speakers, Printers
   >> Sealed Food
   >> Useful cables
   >> Presents for other people  (seriously, diving with other people in mind can be a whole other experience)
   >> Furniture
   >> Decorations
   >> Office Supplies
   >> Lumber

School Supplies:
This is a GREAT time to stock up on stuff for the next school year!  There are clothes, school supplies (pencils, pens, notebooks), printers, TVs etc.

   >> Anything wet
   >> Toilet trash bags
   >> Unsealed food
   >> Glass (This is important.  Some dumpsters can have a lot of potentially broken glass in them eg. liquor bottles.  Stay away from them)

Some people leave working items outside the dumpster when they throw it away, but in most cases, you'll have to do a little bit of digging to get to the good stuff.  You really don't need gloves, just start moving things around.

You may need to actually get in, and walk on top of some trash.  It's not a big deal, and you don't sink into garbage or anything.  Its easy to find solid places to put your feet.  That way you stay on top of the trash while being able to search for the good stuff.

Step 6: My Best Finds

Picture of My Best Finds

These are the best of my finds from one day at the UCI dumpsters with a buddy and his minivan.  If this doesn't fire you up, nothing will.

There are 2 dumpster diving sayings of the day.
   1. Why would someone throw this away?
   2. We should wash this..

Here is the complete list of the items we found that day (in the intro picture)

   >> 3 Jackets
   >> Striped dress shirt
   >> Purple tie
   >> Jeans
   >> 5 pairs of shoes (in my size)
   >> 2 Sweaters
   >> A set of scrubs
   >> Beatles t-shirt
   >> Pair of suspenders
   >> ~10of Rockstar trucker hats
   >> The Pokemon hat that Ash wears
   >> 3 Handbags
   >> 2 pairs of sandals
   >> 2 belts
   >> 2 cowboy hats
   >> Orange bandana
   >> Red wool winter hat
   >> 2 pairs of sunglasses
   >> Red Fez

FOOD:    (all sealed)
   >> 3 packages of Chocolate bars
   >> Assorted Ghirardelli chocolates
   >> 3 pack of gum
   >> Pink Lemonade
   >> 48 pack of Top Ramen

Electronics: (all working unless otherwise indicated)
   >> HP Pavillion dv6 Laptop
   >> Electric Violin
   >> iPod Classic 32gb
   >> Broken Megaphone
   >> Electric piano sustain pedal (still in box!)
   >> Spore for PC (unopened)
   >> Smashed PS3

   >> Pair of crutches
   >> Bicycle helmet
   >> Post-it booklet
   >> A Civilians Guide to the US Military
   >> Caution tape
   >> Inappropriate Calendar
   >> Bouncy ball
   >> Box of resume paper
   >> Umbrella
   >> LA Lakers licence plate rim

Thanks for reading!  Now start planning your next diving adventure next June.


MelissaB298 (author)2017-08-28

To all my fellow and new dumpster treasure seekers. Even if your city doesn't have a university I have 3 tips I 100% guarantee will lead you to dumpsters Treasures. # 1 GO TO APARTMENT COMPLEXES. #2 Go to complexes that are expensive to rent but not ritzy ones. Good example (google laurelwood apartments pic) go to similar types. #3 find out the wkly trash day and go the night before. If there is any evictions that's usually when they put in dumpster due to the amount of things it will be.) In a eviction All items from apt will be in dumpster because tenant wasn't out or there day of eviction so literally I've found apartment of stuff in trash COUNTLESS times. sad but if i can get from trash they could of too. I always get items specifically to donate and to non profit places or to people in need. Never to Good Will. They received stuff free so why so high i mean 1 pair. Jeans 12.50. If you donate things PLEASE find a non profit i promise that donation will help someone that needs it and not be an item bought and never wore used ect.
Under United States Law unless prohibited by state or if the dumpster is locked or you see a no trespassing sign (Private owned land) when a person throws something out, that item is now the public domain. So unless the noise results in a call for disturbing the peace it is completely legal and you do not have to leave.

Jennifr1966 (author)2015-11-07

Three questions: what do you say if someone does stop you (most important question, so please at least answer this)? And does it matter WHO? I read on Yahoo Answers this guy who said he Tells people to leave when he sees then, because it's dangerous, and stores are liable if anyone gets sick. I man, those Are valid concerns! Is it worth it? More importantly, which places are safest both from people messing with you and from getting ill?

I assume you're diving in the US, and if so laws are as follows:

Federal- Thrown out trash is considered a public entity due to a court ruling (California v. Greenwood)

State/City- as far as I have found there has been no changes to this ruling

County- Some counties have made laws against it so you'll have to do a bit of research there.

WARNING: Do not dive in areas that say no trespassing or private property.

Cali vs Greenwood applies only to residential trash recepticals not commercial ....

JacobC93 (author)Jennifr19662016-05-27

Simple if some one is with you just put it all in bags and close em and say we moveing together and the best place to go is a half price book store and GameStop mostly do not go in a no trespassing space the laws vary like we're I live if even a cop good in a no trespassing space without permission that can shoot em so be careful

zombie101 (author)2013-08-19

I have made $1000 this year off of dumpster diving. I found gold, silver, and a lot of turbotax software. I posted some of my other finds on here too!

HollyA1 (author)zombie1012016-12-13

I made $700 in one week dumpster diving. I usually don't make over $1000 in a month...but I don't work right now....I just walk the hell out of my dogs and we scout out dumpsters in the area. I've got it down to a science.

AxelsM (author)2016-11-10

I recommend to go behind gamestop or other electronic store, they can throw out fully working games, gadgets or perhaps display computers. if not behind a department store they can have neet stuff too

ToriH (author)2016-06-02

You forgot to add to the packing list First Aid kit and a Duffle Bag or roomy backpack. Try not to use a black duffle bag 'cause that looks suspicious. I also recommend bringing steel toed shoes, heavily stitched jeans (like, for factory workers), and heavy duty gloves.

You never know what can happen and what you will find.

badams18 (author)2015-12-16

dumpser dived pllenty of time found 100$S in items that i either sold used or gave away to friends family less fortuneite never have they aske if it came from the TRASH being everything from shoes clothers -to tablets phones gps EVEN CAKES AND SNACKS TO FEED MY Family still in date perfectly fine iv done recalls checks and everything ... AMERICA THE WASTEFUL

EthanP6 (author)2015-04-16

I once found 48 bags of Barkley dark chocolate chocolate, each with 48 smaller chocolates
1/3 mint 1/3 almond 1/3 plain
Still didnt finish eating it

scarlet.moore.10 (author)2015-03-03

I would also include to your "bring with you" list: A FLASHLIGHT. I prefer diving under the cover of darkness ;). I have found countless clothing items, a brand new office desk still in the box. Toys, lots of baby items, furniture, queen pillowtop mattress, bedding, pictures, books. I love your pointers! I will check out the college dumpster here. Ok, so I have come across 2 scary things! A used shot needle (luckily it had the cap on) but that gave me a good scare. And last but not least: a person as in living human being! Sleeping in the dumpster!!! I thought it was a doll so I pulled the hair hard trying to get it out of said dumpster and it screamed. oops! Moving day-first of the month at any apartment dumpsters , thrift store dumpster rejects-always good. recycle bin goodies left out in boxes, also the craigslist free section. holy cow, i have brought home many many items from craigslist free section and resold them!

DavidT16 (author)2015-01-16

I remain unconvinced
that restricting the trade in genuine antiques will have any
meaningful impact on the poaching that is going on today. When you
start to think of it not as being about "dealers"
"trafficking" in ivory objects for personal profit, but
about museums being unable to borrow and lend historical objects that
happen to have ivory elements, about musicians unable to travel with
their instrument, or unable to get their instrument repaired or
replaced. И have found over the years dealers throughout the United
Kingdom have been ignored and I hope with the development of that we can make aware to the rest of the world
that we are in existence and are very knowledgeable.

SimonB7 (author)2014-12-18

I dumpster dived for a cask of old goon once from behind a bottle oh... Best night ever!

DanikJ (author)2014-11-18

I am more interested in computer things. Good thing in my town we have several locations where people drop off unneeded electronics. I have found entire desktops as young as 2010 and a 30 inch flatscreen television (that works perfectly).

darkath (author)2014-05-24

great this is awesome, and im so gonna use this.

BTW, is my picture any good?

I_StarkGuy (author)2014-03-19


Hipster-Ninja (author)2013-09-02

How did you NOT list the pokemon hat as a favorite find. I mean holy damn I'd dive for weeks just to find that thing~

mastermakoko (author)2013-08-09

You found a copy of spore and a a dumpster?

whoever threw that out must be some pretty rich dude....

stealthsilent (author)2013-07-09

Bruce, the world on the internet is not as big as you think. I'm your new uci dumpster diving buddy. ahhahaha. Yea like in another year or so. But yea, this is what I love to do. scouting and just, man, thinking your way to good items. You know?

thanrose (author)2013-06-10

One spectacular site to prospect is the dumpster behind thrift stores on weekends or just Sundays or Mondays very early. People donate at week's end, but the thrift can't really do an intake assessment so they'll toss boxes and bags full of stuff. Insane. Furniture, electronics, art, books, clothing. I've gotten a leather bomber jacket, silver and gold jewelry, brass lamps. Lots more. Learn when the stores close for weekend, and learn when the dumpster is emptied. Leave the area clean or cleaner than it was, and do not argue with anyone who tells you to leave.

jbaker22 (author)2012-09-11

Do I see a laptop and a violin?

brucedamoose16 (author)jbaker222012-10-13

Yes you do. And the laptop had Windows 7 and Microsoft Office 2010 installed (big improvement since I'm still running 2004 on my home computer and my laptop doesn't even have Office!)

jbaker22 (author)brucedamoose162013-02-14

Have you ever gone dumpster diving and found a bag with a bunch of stuff with puke on it? When people drink too much they puke and through out the mess when the are sober.

goodforcatfish (author)2013-01-22

I have been diving for quite sometime, also a great place to check is in mall and large retailers (not walmart) dumpsters, when a store has inventory they cannot sell they throw it away, rather than sell it to someone for less than its worth. Stupid of them I know, but it's true.

valkgurl (author)2012-09-06

If you can't get to the actual school to dive try this: Right around move out day or before long vacations ie Christmas and sometime AFTER Christmas keep a close eye on the Salvation Army and other "public access' donation sorta places in the area nearest the high price school. We live near several of these and altho I have not made this amount of a "haul" I HAVE gotten very good deals on high end handbags and shoes--if you don't want them others surely do and that is why there is an ebay.

High end shoes. High end clothing. High end bedding.

Since you will be spending a few bucks on these items make sure you EDUCATE yourself on what is and is not fake here. A $3 Coach bag is a $3 mistake if it's fake. Unless you love it that is in which case it is a bag you saved a lot of money on!

Another good "source" for free or cheap better quality stuff--more first apartment than dorms maybe--is to locate the local church or community volunteer thrift store in a retirement area--a high end one if possible. People are forever insisting on dying in those places and because they were living in a HOUSE the heirs--most of who will have little time or patience to have a sale or pick thru all of Grannys old sheets--will DONATE this stuff. Now again you might have to spend a bit on this stuff but they almost ALL have a FREE BOX somewhere and I have picked up rather astonishing things that way---bulky items like snow board boots and tennis rackets and electronics and books turn up there. And on the shelves---How about Ralph Lauren linens for $4? A king sized comforter that retailed for $700.

And last but certainly not least---if you live anywhere near an area that gets "seasonal" livers like a lake or ski areas. People tend to bring NEW things into the area on MEMORIAL DAY and leave the OLD stuff out for trash. And then they make a sweep thru their place when closing it up on LABOR DAY or around then depending on weather. For ski places you might need to keep scouting it out.

ANd of course there is always Big Trash Day. I miss big trash day way out here in the country, Miss the Dump too for that matter! Recycling centers are just NOT the same where we live altho I cannot understand why each and every one of them does NOT have a "re-use" area. The last "clean out your basement" day around here was a long while ago but I rescued a large room size Oriental rug from under an entire house worth of roofing shingles; got a new de-humidifier that needed a 25 cent hose clamp and ran for 10 years; kids toys kids clothes wood and many electric items. A friend with a pick up truck made hundreds carting off old furniture to "antiques" dealers who couldn't get out to scavenge. And the things I saw that I COULDN'T TAKE!!!!! Broke my little black heart. Never be without a truck or a trailer again!!!!

rimar2000 (author)2012-08-15

I'm biting my nails with envy. At my city, the most valuable thing I can find in the trash is a 12 V electric motor, pieces of wire, pipes and stuff.

Congratulations for being a recycler.

You're luckier than I am!
I live in a little halfway developed neighborhood, on the outskirts of Dover (Delaware).
There really isn't much to pick from in the way of dumpsters, though
I have gotten some good things form along the road.
Including a road sign (just says Right on one side and Left on the other side) that was left behind after some road work, I also once found of DVD (of which had a questionable "movie" on it...) Other than the random bit of metal or wood, I haven't had much luck though. Maybe once college starts in a few weeks I can try their dumpsters. I do though, however make good use of the local Goodwill and the local antique/re-sale shops.

Sit tight until next June, then take a drive to the nearest college campus dorm. You wont be disappointed!

About This Instructable




Bio: I'm from California. I like free stuff, and making apps, music, and music apps.
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