Dumpster Diving Tips: Secrets Used by the Professionals

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The first time I went dumpster diving I wasn’t sure what to expect.

In all honesty, I was constantly worried someone would approach me or that I would maybe get attacked by a gang of possums or something. Scary stuff.

All the worry was for no reason though as I always had good luck on my dumpster diving adventures. However, I did learn a few things along the way and I would love to share these dumpster diving tips with you to help you on your treasure-seeking journey.

You never know what you might find when you start searching through dumpsters in your area. As the saying goes, one person’s trash is another person’s treasure!

So without further ado, let’s dive right in! 

Dumpster Diving Tips

Ready to go dumpster diving for the first time?


Here are some of the best dumpster diving tips I follow every time I go hunting for treasure.

Most Helpful Advice

  • Have a first-aid kit nearby
  • Don’t leave a mess behind
  • Check your local and state laws
  • Keep a stepladder in your vehicle
  • Bring hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes
  • Try to be quick when searching through a dumpster
  • Try to avoid being seen, but also don’t be suspicious 
  • Always check for animals such as raccoons and possums
  • Use Google Maps to scout for the best dumpster locations
  • Have a plan on what to say if you’re confronted by someone
  • Wear work clothing and a high-vis safety vest to make yourself look official
  • Avoid dumpsters surrounded by a fence or with a “No Trespassing” sign nearby

While the last dumpster diving tip may not help much with safety, it will help if you get confronted by a manager or security personnel who doesn’t want you there. My response always varies depending on their demeanor and what they say when they confront me. 

If they’re nice and ask me to leave then I simply say something along the lines of “oh I’m sorry, I’ll remember this one is off-limits from now on”. And then I’ll usually follow it up with “times have been tough lately and I’m just trying to save some money when I can”. 

As long as you’re sincere with your response they will typically respond nicely and probably just ask you to leave. Sometimes they’ll even let you continue what you are doing. Just make sure to avoid telling anyone that you’re looking for goods to sell to make money. For some reason, some people hate the idea of someone else profiting off their trash. 

What NOT to Do When Dumpster Diving

Dumpster diving can be a lot of fun when you’re finding cool gadgets and gizmos to use or sell, but it can also be highly dangerous as well. Here are some of the most important safety tips to follow when digging around through dumpsters.

Safety Tips

  • Wear puncture-resistant gloves
  • NEVER reach into a trash compactor
  • Don’t try to break into a locked dumpster
  • Bring a reacher grabber tool for hard to reach items
  • Wear steel-toed boots with a thick rubber sole
  • Wear thick pants or jeans and a long sleeve shirt
  • Use wet wipes and hand sanitizer to clean yourself

The most important safety tip for dumpster diving is to avoid trash compactors! These extremely dangerous contraptions may have some great treasures hidden inside, but please do not ever try to reach inside of one. It’s simply not worth it as a compactor can easily crush you with over 2,000 pounds of pressure per square inch. 

And trust me, that will not be good. Far too many people have been killed, crushed, and/or paralyzed from compactor accidents at work. 

What to Look for When Dumpster Diving

Many people find food by digging through dumpsters, but this I wouldn’t recommend. At least not for perishable foods such as frozen or refrigerated goods. 

If you’ve ever suffered from food poisoning before then you know first-hand how extremely awful the experience can be. I will avoid that experience at all costs.

Here are some of the best items to look for when dumpster diving.

  • Toys
  • Books
  • Lumber
  • Clothing
  • Furniture
  • Footwear
  • Electronics
  • Appliances
  • Decorations
  • Sealed food
  • Beauty products
  • Household items

Make sure to bring some totes or storage bins along so you can easily carry all of your new goods without dirtying up your vehicle. However, if you have a truck then you won’t have to worry about the dirt. The totes or storage bins will still be helpful though.

Best Places to Dumpster Dive

The most exciting part about my dumpster diving adventures was all the cool places I learned to check for dumpsters. You would be surprised by the difference of success you can have when you start searching for dumpsters in certain locations.

Here are the best locations to dumpster dive.

  1. Swap Meets
  2. College Dorms
  3. Furniture Stores
  4. Electronic Stores
  5. Construction Sites
  6. Processing Plants
  7. Department Stores
  8. Apartment Complexes 
  9. Affluent Neighborhoods
  10. Malls, Strip Malls, and Retail Stores
  11. Restaurants, Bakeries, and Grocery Stores

Remember, there will always be more dumpsters to rummage through. If there’s a fence around the dumpster or a “No Trespassing” sign nearby then it’s best to avoid that dumpster and head on to the next. 

After all, it’s always best to live to fight another day! 

Or, in this case, to dumpster dive another day. Just as good though!

What’s the Best Time to Dumpster Dive?

It’s true, choosing the right dumpster to search through is important. However, choosing the right time to go dumpster diving is even more important.

So what’s the best time to dumpster dive?

The most optimal time for dumpster diving is early in the morning, the closer to sunrise the better. At this time of day, not as many employees working and most people are still not fully awake yet so they’re less likely to bother you.

As the day goes on and people get more agitated they may be more likely to confront you. 

Another great time to go dumpster diving is early at night when most business have just closed down. The dumpsters will typically be full at this time, but it may be more dangerous and you could also attract more attention if you’re using a flashlight. 

Is It Illegal to Dumpster Dive?

You will need to check your local and state laws to see if dumpster diving is legal or illegal in your area. Fortunately, where I live (in Florida) it’s perfectly legal to dumpster dive. 

As long as there are no fences around the dumpster or any “No Trespassing” signs nearby then you’re good to go. Of course, this doesn’t mean that a manager or Security Personnel won’t tell you otherwise.

In these situations, you’re best off leaving and finding another dumpster where someone won’t bother you. Remember, there will always be more dumpsters to choose from!