Dumpster Diving Tips from a Pro

Dumpster Diving Tips - from a Pro!! Everything you need to know to get great free stuff!

Yes, you read that right.

These are tips from an actual pro dumpster diver!  

I’ll bet you didn’t know they existed but they do and Karen from Redoux is the CEO of dumpster diving divas (she’s even been known to do it while wearing heels).

She’s sharing her tips on how to score amazing finds for free! 

I’m taking notes!


Take it away Karen.


Le Comprehensive Guide to Dumpster Diving, Part “Un”

I love to restore and refurbish furniture.

If I am lucky enough, I even use pieces I find on the side of the road, Craig’s list Free, or my favorite….DUMPSTERS!

Dumpster Diving Tips - from a Pro!! Everything you need to know to get great free stuff!
Dumpsters, my friends are not just repositories for stinky garbage and dirty diapers.
They are treasure troves of Architectural Elements, trim, cool moulding, old boards. They are often the secret place people go to get rid of broken chairs, ugly old mirrors, oil Paintings by Aunt Bertha, and any number of salvageable furniture items that may have a scratch, dent, or just be plain ugly. These items end up in various dumpsters because of one reason. People are lazy and don’t want to haul their stuff to the dump and pay the fee.
What is a cheater’s misdeeds can be your gain if you follow these simple rules:

In order to yield the best results from a dumpster dive, you need to keep these rules in mind.

1. Bring work gloves and a flashlight. You might have to dig around a bit for something good, and you don’t know what you might encounter in the process. (sidebar, I have NEVER encountered a live animal, i.e. mouse or rat)

Dumpster Diving Tips - from a Pro!! Everything you need to know to get great free stuff!Dumpster Diving Tips - from a Pro!! Everything you need to know to get great free stuff!
2. Wear old clothes, this goes without saying. (overalls are my personal favorite)
Dumpster Diving Tips - from a Pro!! Everything you need to know to get great free stuff!
3. Go in the early morning hours, before the garbage trucks come and people start arriving at work for the day. It is slightly embarrassing to explain to people that the nice looking mom in the van is diving for garbage.
Dumpster Diving Tips - from a Pro!! Everything you need to know to get great free stuff! My dream to dumpster dive here someday….


4. Bring a large vehicle. My van has seats that fold and stow, and it doubles as a pick up truck. You don’t want to discover an amazing collection of chairs, only to realize they won’t fit in your economy sized car.
Dumpster Diving Tips - from a Pro!! Everything you need to know to get great free stuff!
(not my actual car, mine is far yukkier)


***If you don’t know where to begin a good dumpster dive, here are some suggestions. Take a tour around your city. Stick to the Mom and Pop type stores, independent furniture stores, flooring stores, etc. Don’t bother looking behind strip malls. Dumpsters here are always locked and most stores have industrial sized trash compactors that immediately destroy any goods you would hope to score.
Dumpster Diving Tips - from a Pro!! Everything you need to know to get great free stuff!
5. Look for smaller groupings of businesses that are not necessarily on busy roads. These dumpsters are not locked. This is where people will go to throw out their almost perfectly good items. If there is an unlocked dumpster in your town, and it is in a secluded area, trust me, the trash rule breakers know about it and put their goods there. Often, the good stuff is not just in the dumpster, it is often behind, and next to the dumpster.


Dumpster Diving Tips - from a Pro!! Everything you need to know to get great free stuff!
6. When running your daily errands, scan the roads, esp. residential neighborhoods for “reno” dumpsters. I have even trained my children to keep their eyes open for these. Reno dumpsters are gold mines for Architectural Salvaged pieces, old doors, cool mouldings and trims. And, if you are lucky, furniture! I always try to find the owner of the dumpster first before beginning my raid. Just to be on the safe side.
Dumpster Diving Tips - from a Pro!! Everything you need to know to get great free stuff!
7. Once you have made your plans and pinpointed your dumpster locations, head out early. If you live in a city, I recommend you go with a friend. I live in a small city with a low crime rate. I feel comfortable diving on my own. However, I once encountered a man in a dumpster. I pulled up to a dumpster and heard noises. I paused in my car for a moment, and lo and behold a man popped out and waved at me. When coming upon a dumpster in the dark, I highly recommend giving a quick tap to your car horn to alert anyone that might be there of your presence. I don’t recommend joining them in the dump dive. Just say a few angry words under your breath and come back in a few days.
Dumpster Diving Tips - from a Pro!! Everything you need to know to get great free stuff!
Thanks Karen from Redoux for sharing your tricks of the trade!


Did I mention Karen turns her finds into fabulousness …

like this privacy screen made from old garage doors.

Upcycled Screen from Salvage!

Check out Karen’s Dumpster Diving Tips Part 2 and Dumpster Diving Tips Part 3 to learn even more tips and tricks.

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  1. Wow, you definitely are dedicated to dumpster diving! As for your dumpster diving in Paris dream, I have to say that most of the dumpsters in Europe are a lot smaller, and the recycling laws are a lot stricter, so it is virtually impossible to score good stuff here. Occassionally there are garbage collection days for old furniture that people put out on that day, so this is where you get the good stuff!

  2. Good information, but I don’t think I would have the nerve to actually get inside a dumpster. I like to find stuff beside or behind dumpsters. Thanks for sharing.
    Audrey Z. @ Timeless Treasures

  3. Thanks for sharing my tips Kelly! Thank you for the sweet comments from your readers. Once you take the plunge inside the dumpster, it is really easy the 2nd, 3rd and 30th time after!

  4. I ain’t too proud, Sista! That would be so fun to tag along. My hubbie would never understand. Lol. But after 30 years of wedded bliss, I think he would not excpect anything less.

  5. I thought I was a dumpster diving pro, but you totally schooled me. Thanks for the lesson. I will be implementing your tips this weekend 😉


    That being said, I must also wonder if it is legal? I know that sounds ridiculous, but I’m still wondering and looking for the answer! The ladies here seem so trash-knowledgeable, I thought I’d ask. Also, please wear good shoes and really good heavy gloves if you do this…. safety should be considered… rusty nails/screws and other metals should be expected in some dumpster situations, as well as other things that can wind up putting you in a hospital w/tetanus shots… NO.FUN. And dumpster diving should be fun! 🙂

  7. Oh Man, Kelly, some of my best decor finds and projects came from the curb or dumpster! Loved reading Karen’s advice. This is one of my favorite pastimes. I can’t believe I’m saying this but I wish I had more time to dig through other peoples trash!!

  8. This is hilarious!! I never thought about looking for reno dumpsters. I did ALMOST stop and ask landscapers if I could have the limbs they were cutting from a bush…just didn’t have enough time to stop. 🙂

  9. Now this is something I’ve never done…but secretly wish I could get up the nerve to! lol Love the tips, guess I’d have to take my husband’s pickup instead of my sedan. Right now, though, I have so much ‘garbage’ to redo…friends keep bringing their junk to me to work with. Saves having to dumpster dive.
    Debbie 🙂

  10. Kelly – thank you for sharing this. Another tip I have learned (not by doing), is if you live in a college community; the best time of year to dive is May and December. I hope this helps.

  11. I look forward to our trash off days where people get rid of all the stuff that have been storing up. I got 4 awesome dining room chairs, a wooden folding chair for my fall decorating and a number of other things the last time.

  12. I have dumpster dived (dove?) at a nearby garden center the past 2 years. And at a Walmart who routinely threw plants away but would let them sit out back for days before compacting them. You wouldn’t believe the perennials in my yard, the annual baskets I have, and the fruits and vegetables we’ve had for free because of it! This country is so wasteful! I call it a “rescue mission” when I pull usable plants out and get them in the ground successfully.

    1. This is exactly what I was wondering about!! I came close to going behind the
      Walmart before…I had seen some of the employees ditching plants in a cart going for the garbage. I couldn’t muster up the courage…I think I will now! I LOVE gardening and I know I can revive most of these. How awesome!!

      1. LOL,.I HAVE DONE THIS TOO! In fact, not only have I scored hundreds of free plants, vegetables and flowers that just need a little tlc, once I went to the seasonal garden center that sets up in the lot of our local grocer and they had carts and carts full of nursery pots full of dead/dying plants and peat moss and those plastic trays they use to stack the pots on shelves. They were going to trash them, so I asked if I could have them to re-use the peat moss. They agreed and my full sized truck bed was overflowing when I left. Some of the plants got revived, some were harvested for seeds, and I used the peat/soil mix in my flower beds. PLUS, I sold all of those nursery pots and trays online for a chunk! OMG, I’ve been throwing those away and recycling them for years, but never again folks. DIVE AWAY, I say. 🙂

    2. Amen, sister! My flower beds are full of great finds that were cast-offs from Lowes and Home Depot. They are discarded if too wilty or turning yellow. Usually an easy fix with proper care. Also, if at end of season, you can even get seeds and bulbs for next year from the brown ones they throw out.

    3. I have been living in a small village in Bavaria and I was going in the cemetery dumpster! People there do change fresh flower and poted flowers usually every few days. I got some very nice plants that are still blooming one year after. I was making nice big flower arragement for the table and was sending pictures to my friends.

  13. These are some great tips that I never thought of.

    My favorite place to find dumpster dives is apartment complexes. The best time to go is the end of the month when people are in such a hurry to move out that they toss some really great pieces. I’ve found FREE Microwave dishes which are great if you break yours but play double duty for plant trays.

    1. apartment complexes are the best. I got a brand new charcoal grill and a bag-less vacuum that was only used once. My husband works at a grocery store and brings home buckets(3-5 gal) for me!

  14. I’m all for dumpster diving, but around here most of them are now locked up. They used to get a lot of street people rummaging through them and just leaving all the garbage outside and around the dumpsters. As you can imagine it became a major problem. So that’s not an option around here, but I do love to go yard-saling and occasionally I find goodies put out by people on the roadside. 🙂

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