Who doesn’t love a good trip to the dollar store? You walk in with 10 bucks and walk out with bags full of stuff. But sometimes the merchandise found in dollar stores is less expensive because it’s made from lesser-quality materials, by a foreign manufacturer, or marketed by similar brands.
Still, these low prices often tempt shoppers to abandon all common sense and impulse buy like there’s no tomorrow. This “throw all caution to the wind” mentality could be dangerous if you don’t know which red flags to hunt for when shopping at the discount store.
What are some warning signs that a cheap dollar store purchase could actually be harmful? Here are eight signs you must watch out for if you care to make responsible purchases for you and your family.
1. The toothpaste is a foreign brand
A Dallas-based news affiliate station uncovered a report advising consumers to be cautious about their dollar store toothpaste purchases. Shoppers may find toothpaste intended for foreign markets on the shelves that don’t meet the same government regulations U.S. manufacturers abide by.
When tested, a few brands had fluoride levels up to 10 times higher than American-made products and Chinese toothpaste contained poisonous chemicals harmful to your health. The report warns consumers to double-check the cheap dollar store label for expiration dates and the ingredient list to fend off this danger.
Next: Why anything with a plug should be a red flag at the dollar store.
2. Appliances are missing a UL mark
Not only are discounted electronics from the dollar store often unsafe and contaminated with PVC, they’re also at a higher risk of being counterfeit. Items such as hairdryers and toasters commonly have fake UL labels (the safety seal Underwriters Laboratories places on their products), which means nothing is up to code.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) warns consumers that small counterfeit electrical products can be deadly. Fake labels on items with a plug are a big red flag and could lead to fire and electrical shock hazards.
Next: Why you must be skeptical about heavier toys
3. Toys are unnaturally heavy
If you’re ever worried about the presence of lead in an item, try picking up the product and assessing its weight. Items made with a high percentage of lead are often too heavy for their size.
Dollar store toys and jewelry have the most potential for this and should be bought with caution. You can also rub an item against white paper and check for a grey mark left behind. Those that aren’t coated — and thus, not protected — will leave a mark.
Next: The dangers of bargain beauty products
4. The make-up is cheap
Shoppers often flock to dollar stores for cheap beauty products, but experts suggest you err on the side of caution when purchasing these products. If the price seems too good to be true, then it probably is. Some bargain skin products contain harmful chemicals such as lead, bacteria, and arsenic. Others are likely counterfeit.
Not all dollar stores are certified beauty product retailers. Do a quick Google search brand-by-brand to determine where you’ll actually get what you pay for and where you’re just wasting money on subpar products.
Next: Speaking of “too good to be true…”
5. The price is too good to be true
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but you might want to resist the urge to bargain buy at the dollar store in general. In some cases, cheaper items like batteries and shampoo are sold in fewer quantities at the dollar store than they would be elsewhere — meaning they’re not really a good buy.
Brad Shelton of FatWallet.com tells Kiplinger, “Pay attention to sizes and quantities, as often items get repackaged with [fewer] items per package in the dollar store, or the pricing structure is different for the different-size bottles.” If the packaging seems different, consider buying in bulk at Walmart or Target for the best deal.
Next: Products made with this material are potentially dangerous
6. The item is plastic
Be wary around household items from the dollar store that contain plastic materials. An Ecocenter study tested countless products and found that most contained vinyl plastic, which houses toxic phthalates way above the regulated limit for children’s products.
These harmful chemicals could be present in products such as floor runners, pencil pouches, Silly Straws, and bathtub toys and should be treated as serious purchasing red flags. Toxic exposure experts suggest opting for glass storage containers or stainless steel products instead.
Next: A common red flag that’s easily ignored
7. The expiration date has come and gone
This may seem like a “duh!” statement, but most shoppers hardly think to look at a product’s expiration date before tossing it in their cart. How can a store sell an expired product anyway?
Dollar stores have been known to purchase old products manufacturers want to get rid of then sell expired medications, make-up, and even dog food to shoppers — all of which can be extremely dangerous to your health. Always search for an expiration date on every product you buy. If it’s nonexistent or past due, you should move on.
Next: Cheap isn’t always healthy
8. The product is bruised, dented, or misshapen
In an effort to cut costs and sell cheaper products, dollar stores will buy old and outdated merchandise from various manufacturers. In some cases, this strategy will have no harmful effect on the things you buy. But when it comes to produce, meats, or canned goods, dented and bruised merchandise could be a sign of expired or damaged food.
Examine these goods with a critical eye. Telltale signs of damage mean you’re less likely to track down where that item came from, how long it rolled around in a delivery truck, or whether the product is still good enough to consume.
Follow Lauren on Twitter @la_hamer.
Check out The Cheat Sheet on Facebook!