Image of two kids playing outside with toys

How to get rid of toys (without throwing them away).

Last Updated: January 14, 2022

Throwing away once-beloved, though now unused, toys just feels wrong. So, how do you ensure those toys find a new home that isn’t a landfill? Let us help you with that.

You have an attic, or closets, or basement storage full of toys that your own tot hasn’t played with in ages. But you’ve seen all four Toy Story movies, and you don’t want to feel like a Disney villain and throw those toys away!

If you aren’t up to the monumental task of having a garage sale (And who could blame you?), what can you do to clear your limited space of these unused toys? Surely, there is a way to dispose of toys that benefits more than just your storage areas?

Luckily, there are several! Read on to find out what you can do to get rid of unused toys, without throwing them away (unless absolutely necessary.)

At what point does a toy become unsalvageable?

Illustration of two arrows in a circle

If a toy is broken, missing key parts, or impossible to get clean, it’s probably not an acceptable toy to donate. Would you want someone to gift your child a stuffed dog covered in unidentifiable red stains? Or a puzzlingly armless Barbie?

Fortunately, you can dispose of old plastic toys—even broken ones—by sending them back to Mattel via their PlayBack program or other toy brands that offer similar programs. The program accepts Barbie, Matchbox, and MEGA toys in the U.S. and Canada and aims to recycle the materials in these old toys into the production of new ones. All you need to do is fill out a form, and they will send you a prepaid shipping label.

How do I prep toys for donation?

First things first: Wash and sanitize all toys before donating them.

Washing machine illustration

How to prep stuffed animals for donation

Stuffed animals (hello, Teddy!) usually have cleaning instructions on their tags.

If they are machine washable, pop ‘em in a pillowcase, tie it closed, and wash on a gentle cycle in cold watercold water. You can dry them in the pillowcase on low, too, or pamper them with a hair dryer!

If Paddington can’t go in the washing machine, you can spot clean him with a cloth dipped in sudsy water mixed with natural dish soap or natural laundry detergent.

Illustration of blue spray bottle

How to prep electronic toys for donation

Electronic toys can only be surface-cleaned.

Wipe them with a wet cloth to get rid of anything sticky first, and then sanitize with disinfecting wipes or a microfiber cloth dipped in vinegar and water.

If you really want to do the new buyer a solid, replace old batteries (and maybe make a note of that on a piece of masking tape over the battery compartment). Don’t forget to clean up any leaked battery corrosion too.

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Where can I donate used toys?

Used puzzles and games

You probably already know that you can donate used toys, like puzzles and games, (and other items) to your local Goodwill or Salvation Army. Not only will these types of donated toys get a second life and avoid the landfill, but they will also contribute to the organization’s mission and have a positive impact, however indirectly, on your community.

Used stuffed animals, clothes, and books

Stuffed Animals for Emergencies (SAFE) is a volunteer-run institution that takes in donations of (gently) used stuffed animals, children’s clothes, and books. They will clean each item and get it to an organization that works with children in traumatic situations.

Used learning toys and materials

Local daycares will often accept toy donations, especially learning toys, as will churches or community groups who offer childcare. Though their specific needs or requirements may differ from location to location, these establishments often prefer toys that are durable and easy-to-clean.

All used toys in good condition

Another convenient option is Donation Town, a donation service pick-up directory. All you need to do is plug in your zip code, and the site will return a list of local charities who would be happy to save you a trip and pick up your donation directly from your home. You can even schedule the pick-up on the website and save yourself a phone call!

Hospitals and orphanages tend to accept new items, rather than gently-used, so those may not be your best options for donating used toys. Though Toys for Tots will sometimes take gently-used toys, they also prefer new ones (especially around the holiday season.)

A couple more FAQs about donating used toys

How do I dispose of electronic toys or battery-operated toys that are broken?

If your local recycling municipality offers battery recycling, it is best to utilize this service for the batteries. You can also look for an electronic recycling facility in your area. They are usually free; you just need to make an appointment for your drop off. Some workplaces or office buildings also offer a yearly offering of e-recycling services too.

Just like we mentioned above, toy brands may offer toy recycling, like Hasbro and Mattel’s Playback program.

If I can’t donate an old stuffed animal, is there a way to recycle it?

There really isn’t a great way to recycle an old stuffed animal that isn’t in good enough condition to donate.

You can try and take used stuffed animals to a local animal shelter. They’ll use donated toys and blankets for the dogs and other animals in the shelter.

How used is “gently-used” when it comes to donating toys?

When it comes to gently-used toys, there are a couple factors to remember:

  • The toy still functions properly
  • The toy is not broken or drawn on
  • The toy has all its components or pieces
  • The toy is in clean condition
  • It’s a toy you wouldn’t mind being gifted

What is a “toy library” and is it a good place for my child’s old toys?

Some local libraries have toy libraries where you can take out toys just as you would a library book. Not all branches offer toy libraries, so look up your town’s library and see where and if they have one.

You’ll also need to call the main branch to see if they accept toy donations for their toy libraries and what types of toys they accept.

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