/ Sustainability

How do you get rid of your used bulky furniture?

Donate it? Drive it back to the shop? Deposit it by the roadside? How do you dispose of your used furniture?

It’s hard to get rid of the items that help make our space a home, especially when it’s still in working order.

It’s harder still when that item is physically larger than you. Not only do you have to pivot, twist, rotate and maneuver the item out of your home, you then have the logistical challenge of actually getting it to a new home and keeping it out of landfill.

I recently went through this when I purchased a new sofa. Our older sofa had been handed down between family members for long enough that it was practically an heirloom, and unfortunately we were the end of the line, so we’d have to find another option – and fast.

Given the size of a sofa’s carbon footprint – roughly 90kg, according to the Furniture Industry Research Association – and that my furniture still had years of life in it yet, I was determined for it not to end up in the bulky waste collection. So what’s the best way to give your furniture more life?

Donating or reselling

My usual avenue of getting rid of reusable items is via a local charity shop – especially useful if they’re able to collect it from me. Some of these, like the Reuse Network, Emmaus, or Recover, aim to actively repair and reuse the donated furniture, in some cases helping to employ and empower people in the process.

With some items I’ve also found it useful to resell online for local collection, or even give away via Freecycle.

I’d also been intrigued by IKEA’s furniture buyback scheme, where you can return fully-assembled furniture to IKEA for vouchers, with the item being resold in the bargain area. While my sofa wouldn’t be eligible, it may help rehome my older BILLYs and EXPEDITs.

Those were the usual options, but unfortunately it was an unusual time. The coronavirus restrictions in place at the time meant that each of these options would need to wait.

What options work for you?

In the end my neighbour ended up helping me out. It turns out their son had moved out to his first flat and was struggling to get furniture delivered for the same reason I was struggling to get rid of mine, so they ended up taking it off my hands later that day.

I’d be interested in hearing, if you’ve been in this situation, how do you get rid of your older bulky furniture? Are you happy for it to go in a waste collection, or will you go out of your way to repair, reuse, and rehome it somewhere else?

How do you normally get rid of old furniture still in good condition?
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What other organisations do you know of that would take and reuse/repair/resell furniture?

Let’s have a chat in the comments.


If it’s unfit to donate take it apart; burn what can be burnt and re-cycle/discard what’s left.

I suspect the proofing used on those will produce a lot of toxic smoke.

By law, councils are allowed to charge for “non-household waste”. But this does not mean trade waste; it includes such things as bathroom and kitchen items, doors, windows pallets and….. fence panels £3.10 and fence posts £3.10 each. It is understandable as the council has to then pay for their disposal but, the downside, it encourages people to just burn these rather than cough up what could be quite a bit of money. Not good for the environment. Or worse, dispose of them through a dodgy waste collector.

As Ian has said, burning treated wood can produce toxic fumes. Our council says not to burn painted or treated wood and I understand that care is taken to avoid putting household waste into public bonfires.

I asked during my household waste recycling training what happens to treated wood, which as others have pointed out, must not be burnt domestically due to toxic chemicals being released.

Apparently, the contents of the wood skips at household waste recycling centres are burnt, but in industrial facilities where the heat energy can be recovered. The ratio of treated and untreated woods, along with the higher temperatures reached and better combustion, ensures that the toxic release is reduced to “safe” levels.

Probably better than other methods, including letting it slowly rot down, which just releases those same chemicals into the garden soil and eventually into the ground water.

We seem to get by disposing of big items whenever we have work done that involves having a skip. My other half came with a brown sofa he insisted was green and I took great delight in skipping it when it accidentally (honest) got damaged.

When I cleared my parents’ home, furniture went mainly to family and friends and the remainder either went to charity or was scrapped. Apart from replacement of mattresses when necessary I tend to hold on to furniture. I’m a rotten consumer and if products are still doing their job I tend to hold on to them.

Steven Crome says:
12 November 2021

When we cleared both my parents and mother-in-law’s houses we were surprised and disappointed by how difficult it was to recycle everything from large items if furniture to crockery and cutlery. It seems nobody wants second hand any more. We live in a throw away society.

I agree, Steven. One problem nowadays is that many people’s first home tends to be very compact and they have no room for three-seater settees, dining tables and six chairs, or traditional wardrobes so even modern furniture in good condition is not wanted.

They tend not to want old fashioned brown furniture either. My mother had a lot of good quality antique stuff but nobody wanted it. Another problem is fire safety regulations (thank you Which?) I have some Ercol dining chairs which are illegal to sell because the seats have been re-covered.

I had a couple of chairs that I kept when I was clearing my parents’ house. I remember using them as a child. The seat pads were becoming tatty but an old chap that I know through a charity he suggested a local restorer who did a good job of restoring them. The chairs are not worth anything, especially with just two, but are serviceable and part of my past.

We did the same recently @wavechange, my partner didn’t have the heart to recycle a small rocking chair she used when she was little. So we took it home from the grandparents, cleaned it up and now my little one uses it at her desk. Nice to see it being passed down to be honest 🙂

That’s encouraging, Chirag. Anything that can reduce waste.

When I bought the new fridge/freezer I had to part with a very solid wood fold away kitchen table to make room for it.
I left it outside the garage together with an antique bookcase in perfect condition. Both had disappeared by the following day. Hopefully they went to someone that really needed them. It saved me paying the council to dispose of them.

We’ve done that a few times; unfortunately it doesn’t happen with mattresses. It cost £50 to have the council take away a king-size mattress and two other things. The other things had gone by the time the council lorry turned up. Nevertheless, it was worth it. The king-size bed frame went to a charity that helps the homeless but it will cost them a lot to put a mattress on it.

It would be good to see unwanted furniture going to distribution centres that would help those with very limited means setting up home.

If furniture cannot be disposed of to be reused then we could recover the timber. Much furniture, particularly older, can contain decent hardwoods that someone could reuse. Even softwood is useful. If anyone has bought new timber, particularly lately, they will know how expensive it is and, particularly with softwood, how quality can be pretty low.

The local authority provides a bulky item collection service of up to five items for £33. Where I used to live, the city council provided one free collection of five items each year, and still does.

I agree with Malcolm about recovering wood if furniture cannot be reused. Colin Veitch makes a good point about fire safety below.

A word of warning about reusing old furniture and/or old timber, beware of the dreaded woodworm! They’re only tiny but extremely destructive, I’ve seen them destroy a dirty great timber beam 3 inch by 9 inch, and they’ve ruined several floorboards in my attic. I’ve no idea how they got there but I now keep poison and a military standard gas mask and a poison sprayer ready for action. One thing I do know is they’re all too easily introduced into someone’s property and then they can go on an extremely destructive rampage. And another thing is dry rot fungus, I’ve had some of that in my place too. So reusing old timber can be a lot easier said than done, as it should be THOROUGHLY checked over for any kind of infestation and if it needs treating it’s a lot of work, and one treatment is not always enough, it can need three to kill the bugs and the poison is expensive at nearly £30 for a 5 litre can and of course it gives off deadly fumes until it’s dry which can take hours and hours as some woods take longer than others to dry after treatment. And you need the full strength stuff, not the watered down stuff they sell at some places. And of course they can and do also infest some old collectable electronic goods like old radios and TV’s, and old tape recorders and record players, and radiograms and old gramophones etc. which are often untreatable due to their coatings like varnish and stains and also old vintage plywood was often used for such old appliances which is also untreatable. And you can’t properly examine such things without a thorough strip down which needs skill and experience, and of course it needs doing in somewhere that’s safe against the wretched bugs which very few places are, like an all concrete garage, ideally such a place would need to be specially built. And of course the poison spray is not very environmentally friendly.

Crusader is clearly quite right to point out the precautions when recovering wood, including furniture. The glue in old ply seems particularly palatable to woodworm.

When on holiday, visiting Truro, my children decided to buy a didgeridoo from an ethnic shop, as you doo. Inevitably the novelty wore off and it lay undisturbed in the house for a year or two. In a clear up I discovered it to be full of holes with a lot of dust. Goodness knows what foreign beasts had been imported but, if any were left, they were cremated. Fortunately the house suffered no ill effects.

However, much older furniture does contain valuable wood that can be reused, and it can come from less likely places. I had some large drawing boards that turned out to be made of high quality oak. The timber recovered and used in some furniture would, at today’s prices, have cost me over £300 for each board, plus VAT.

Having done some serious downsizing we had this problem and found it frustrating. We particularly wanted a quick turn-round which is a particular constraint on the options available.

We gave a lot of surplus stuff [not furniture] to a couple of charities but I was convinced in both cases there had been some irregularities because the yields from the Gift Aid scheme bore no relation to the material donated and, despite my persistent enquiries to their chief executives, they could not satisfactorily account for the consignments collected and taken to their warehouses. Their inventories did not reconcile with the lists I had made of the garments and housewares handed over, meaning that their charitable beneficiaries were effectively short-changed while some people within the organisations were possibly enriched.

With furniture and large items we explored local auctions, sites like Gumtree, and local dealers but realised the returns were derisory unless the goods were antiques or special in other ways, so we gave most of it to the British Heart Foundation who fettle it up and put it on sale in their major outlets.

For various small bits and pieces and odds and ends we have done car boot sales. This has been good fun and we gave the proceeds to a local community and environmental organisation.

We had to pay the council to take away some mattresses and certain other things which was done quite efficiently.

Has anyone else tried Olio? It was set up to pass food on bit they have a non food section as well. I’ve passed on a few things that way recently. The community there seems to be less, how do I put this nicely, agressive than the local freecycle/Facebook groups.

Richard says:
14 November 2021

Small rooted tree planted in the garden.

After my return from boat living last year, the furniture arrived back and much of it went into the new garage. The Heart Foundation said thanks but no thanks and so I contacted the local auctioneer. He cleared the garage for £250. The fridge and the freezer went to the scouts. Many of the new items were expensive new. The hammer came down on a five hundred pound air conditioner at forty pounds, some good china went at about £6, and the only thing to reach a realistic price was my ten year old dish washer which fetched sixty pounds. Fifty or so Cd’s went for £6 and the seventy eights for four pounds. The upshot is that this week I received a cheque from the auctioneer for one hundred and ninety nine pounds. His selling commission had been 40 percent. Since the garage space was more important than what I lost in not selling things privately, I am not complaining, but if there had been a more obvious method of getting rid of everything I couldn’t find it locally. If this is a typical sellers premium, I’m not going to auction with anything else. Using E bay meant transporting stuff and dealing with strangers, a lot of work photographing stuff and being in for phone calls. Doing what I did, I was saved trips to the skip and charges for bulky items like the double bed. I wonder who is sleeping on that now?

Unfortunately, used electrical goods are rarely worth much, Vynor. They have to be PAT tested before sale and at one time many charities would decline them. It’s easy to inspect the condition of furniture but there is no way of knowing if electrical goods might fail soon after purchase.

A friend who is in his 70s buys and reconditions some of the earliest CD players – high quality separates that were expensive in their day. Certain models are highly sought after and worth a lot of money.

I’m told you can’t sell or giveaway furniture that doesn’t have a fabric fire certificate, so last week I cut up an old Parker Knowl settee into car boot size pieces and hauled to the council community skip site where it went into general waste, a shame.

Philip Galloway says:
26 November 2021

For giving bulky stuff away, there’s also Ferris (https://ferrisapp.co). A lot more user-friendly than the incombent freecycling platforms

David says:
16 January 2022

If I think the item is saleable, it goes to the local British Heart foundation furniture shop for them to sell, but as I keep furniture until it is no longer good, my sofas are from 1997 and in VGC, giving it away is not common. I only buy furniture on the basis of 20+ year life & recyclable as best as possible.

My parents had a sofa bed that was at life end. I broke it apart, burnt the wood to heat the house, put the metal work in metal recycling and sponge cushions in general waste. I burn all my old furniture for heating which works as I never buy chipboard furniture which you cannot burn.

Old furniture makes good kindling to light a log fire.

I do know that burning stuff isn’t the future due to particles, we continue to learn!

Ann O'Brien says:
16 January 2022

The charities won’t take sofas and chairs unless they have a label showing they are fire resistant and some good, older sofas don’t, so you just have to throw them out at the tip. I had a bad experience recently trying to get rid of furniture. I had a beautiful, polished table that was too big for my current house but I didn’t want to part with it. As it was a table that came apart in the middle, I had the two parts separated and decided I’d keep one part and give the other to charity. Three charities rejected it because it had an unvarnished edge where it had been unhinged in the middle. I’m using the half but it seems the other (identical) half isn’t good enough for clients of the charities. I eventually gave it to a local charity setting up a house for asylum seekers.

Jack says:
16 January 2022

If it hasn’t got a fire safety certificate or label, charties won’t take it.
It will cost you to get a reputable disposal firm to take it away.

We had lost the fire “sticker” off an old, ripped sofa and I offered it to one of our local fire stations – the thinking being they must house house simulators where they sit fire to furniture as part of their training. It could’ve happened but I just didn’t have the necessary transport to get it there – and they didn’t do collections.

Alarmingly [but not surprisingly], I have noticed that fire safety labels are available on-line. Who knows how many unsafe items of furniture have been garnished with one of these and sold in the second-hand market?

Unfortunately, you can obtain fake anything these days John.

Our local tip has a sales office for anything that might have further use.

They accept small pieces of furniture and were happy to take a small cabinet that I bought in an auction for temporary use some years ago now. Perhaps it will find yet another home.

We arranged for our local council to collect as they only charged £15 for up to five items.