How to Manage or Donate Unused Medical Supplies

Jun 06, 2024
Fact Checked
What you need to know for donating, selling, disposing of, or recycling medical equipment and supplies.
Written by: Steven Marshall
Medical Reviewer: Christopher Norman
Reviewed by: Kathleen Cameron

Key Takeaways

Wound care, intravenous therapy, nutritional support, and medication administration are available as in-home care options—but how do you manage unused medical supplies? Changing care needs can leave you with an excess of supplies ranging from mattress pads to syringes and even medical furniture. 

Navigating whether to donate, throw away, sell, or recycle certain medical materials can be stressful. We’ll explore how to address unused medical supplies without letting them go to waste. 

Why plan ahead of time for medical supplies?

Planning ahead for managing unused medications, equipment, and supplies requires a bit of time and research. Medical supplies and equipment can add up over time and often create clutter in the home. 

You can rent and return most of the more expensive durable medical equipment (DME) like wheelchairs, power chairs, hospital beds, and intravenous pumps. Throwing away repurposable items creates avoidable waste. 

Disposing sharps and unused medications requires additional care to avoid potential harm to others. Sharps are items intended to puncture or cut the skin, including needles, syringes, lancets, and infusion sets. 

The FDA has established guidelines for medication and sharps disposal. Likewise, the U.S. Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Diversion Control Division provides information for proper drug disposal.

Navigating leftover medical equipment and supplies can be an emotional experience, particularly if your care recipient has died. Having a plan for managing extra equipment in advance can help alleviate your stress and allow you to focus on other needs during a difficult time. 

What to do with prescription medicines

Unfortunately, prescription drug misuse occurs throughout the United States and has been documented in people as young as 12. For this reason, multiple government agencies like the DEA and FDA provide guidance for safely disposing of unused medications. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends the following:

Some types of medication will require special handling for disposal. For example, medical professionals use fentanyl patches to deliver medication through the skin, and they still contain opioid pain medication after use. You should flush these patches after use as per the manufacturer’s instructions. For a more sustainable way of disposal, Christopher Norman, a geriatric nurse practitioner based in New York, noted you can neutralize these patches in cat litter and coffee grounds as well.

“Anytime you’re removing a patch medication, it’s a good idea to wear gloves while doing so,” added Norman. “Albeit unlikely, as these medications are meant to absorb through the skin, they can absorb through your skin, too, when handling them. This is especially true of nitroglycerin, which people might have on their skin to manage chest pain.”

Also, inhalers to treat lung disease can become dangerous if punctured or placed in a fire. You should dispose of inhalers by following the manufacturer’s instructions along with any local regulations. 

Oral chemotherapy has become more common in home care and is considered hazardous to handle. You should follow the prescribing provider’s and manufacturer’s safe handling guidelines to prevent exposure. 

Here are the steps for properly disposing of oral chemotherapy medication:

Do’s and don’ts of medication disposal

We spoke about the importance of proper medication disposal with Kameka Totten, DNP, RN, MBA, MHA, NE-BC, vice president of Nursing West Campus at AuthoraCare Collective in Greensboro, North Carolina. 

“Our RN case managers provide a copy of our organization’s written policies and procedures on the management and disposal of prescription medications to the patients and families upon admission to our services. We ensure that our patients and families receive proper instructions regarding the safe use and disposal of all medications, and we document this education along with the patient and families’ understanding in the patient’s clinical record.” Ask for your home health agency’s policies and procedures on medication disposal if not provided.

Norman added, “Once medications are dispensed to you, they’re officially ‘yours,’ so many organizations will say they’re not obligated to take them back. Many in-home hospice organizations WILL actually dispose of medications for you after a loved one has died while under their care.”

What to do with medical supplies

With long-term care, an abundance of medical supplies may be left over as needs change or the care recipient has died. For example, personal protective equipment (PPE), like gloves, gowns, masks, and adult briefs, can be costly, and you may want to hang on to these items. If you don’t use these items, consider donating them before disposing them. 

When we spoke about medical supplies, Totten said, “Depending upon what type of medical supplies the patients or families have and whether they are unused or unopened, we can accept certain items back. Otherwise, these unused or unopened supplies can be donated if the patient or family would like to do so.”


Many of the organizations we mentioned as options for donating medical equipment will also take medical supplies. Other organizations potentially accepting medical supplies and equipment include :

Carewell provides a list of places to donate incontinence supplies, such as the Simon Foundation for Continence, which accepts donations of adult briefs and pads. 


Dispose of most used or soiled supplies in your regular household trash. In general, wound care dressings and other potentially infectious items should be double-bagged when disposed of. Discard sharps in an FDA-cleared container obtained from your local pharmacy or medical supply store. If you don’t have sharps containers, you can place needles and other supplies in a heavy-duty plastic container like those used for laundry detergents. Once full, put the closed container in the trash. 

Some areas recycle paper medical supplies and oxygen tubing. If unopened and unused, you may be able to return oxygen tubing with rented oxygen equipment. 

What to do with mattresses and bedding

If your care recipient no longer needs a mattress used during in-home medical care, there are a few things to remember before donation or disposal. Mattresses are typically not considered safe or hygienic to donate or give away, but the next best option is recycling, which is required by law in Connecticut, California, and Rhode Island. Many mattresses can be recycled, and a quick online search shows easy-to-utilize options for mattress recycling. In all states, it is illegal to dump mattresses. If you can’t locate a recycling option, look into large item pick-up or junk removal services in your area. 

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Tip: If you’re looking for a new mattress for pain or support issues, the safest option is to purchase a new one. Please see our guide on the best mattress for back pain for more information. If you are replacing your mattress to meet a specific need, many companies will pick up an old mattress at delivery.

Bedding can be washed before donating to a thrift store or local shelter. Like mattresses, pillows are better recycled than given away. Since it’s challenging to find local recycling centers that take used pillows, and mail-in recycling programs often charge the donor for recycling services, disposal in your home trash might be your only option for used pillows. Specialty bedding items, like incontinence protection and pressure ulcer dressings, can be donated if unused and unopened. You can dispose of used incontinence protection and pressure ulcer dressing in your trash, but the general recommendation is double bagging each item before throwing them away.

What to do with major medical equipment

Durable medical equipment (DME) includes oxygen machines, home dialysis machines, wheelchairs, canes, walkers, hospital beds, pressure-reducing mattresses, and patient lifting devices. You can rent and return many of these items when you no longer need them. 

According to Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) guidelines, if you rent some equipment and complete 13 rental payments, you may own the equipment. Be sure to check with the rental agency to see if this option is available. When you purchase the equipment, you may be able to return, donate, resell, or recycle the items. 


Some manufacturers allow you to return equipment through the original store to refurbish and resell the items. In general, any equipment you rent should be returned as soon as possible to avoid additional charges.


You may donate medical equipment through several nonprofit organizations or local charities. For help finding the organizations that provide this service in your community, contact local home care and nursing facilities. For example, donations may be accepted at local churches, hospitals, assisted living facilities, and doctor’s offices. Many community-based long-term care programs will also accept DME donations. You can find one through the National Pace Association. Here are some other organizations accepting equipment donations:

Local churches and assisted-living facilities may also accept wheelchairs and other equipment donations. You may also want to consider neighbors or friends with older adult parents. 


Organizations like All States M.E.D. purchase used medical equipment to refurbish and resell throughout the organization’s different locations. Online shopping portals are also a good place to list medical equipment for sale. Websites like Craigslist, eBay, LetGo, and Facebook marketplace have categories specific to medical equipment and supplies. You can also look for Buy Nothing groups on Facebook, which accept donations.

Recycling/throwing away

If you decide to discard any medical equipment, check to see if the equipment has any recyclable components. For example, many areas have options for mattress recycling and may pick these up free of charge. 

Canes or walkers may be made of aluminum, commonly recycled and often paid for by the pound. If your area has a medical equipment recycling center, they can clarify what you can and can’t recycle. 

For power wheelchairs, you must remove the battery and dispose of these following your local laws and regulations. In fact, most municipal waste management services won’t take batteries or bulky items. Companies specializing in cleanup and disposal could be an option to come and remove all of the medical equipment for a fee. An average starting fee of $100 for large equipment removal was quoted from some local companies in the Piedmont Triad region of North Carolina. Additional fees could apply based on the distance and the amount of equipment or supplies to be removed. 

As a last resort, simply throwing the equipment away is a solution for disposal. Leaving items at the curb for trash day pickup may also be an option. Contact your waste management service to ensure you are in compliance with the equipment you decide to throw away. 

Medical equipment can cost several thousand dollars, particularly with power wheelchairs and patient lifts. Donations of these items may carry some liability if someone is injured using the equipment. Before donating, check for any inspection or maintenance requirements. If in doubt, recycling or disposal may be better options for these items. 

What to do with other personal items

Whether your care recipient is no longer ill or has passed away, families may find themselves responsible for removing a number of personal items from the home. It’s understandable if this feels like an overwhelming task. Here are some of the most common personal items associated with home health care and the best means of disposal for each item:

Bottom line

Deciding what to do with leftover medical supplies can be stressful. Programs are available to help you donate or recycle unused items. In addition, selling medical equipment can be a way to recoup some of the cost.

Proper disposal of medications can prevent unauthorized or accidental use, potentially resulting in illness or death. Medical equipment often contains recyclable materials and batteries, requiring additional consideration when disposing. Of course, donating medical supplies like protective equipment (PPE), wound care, and other items can lessen the cost burden for others. Ultimately, donating, selling, recycling, or disposing unused equipment and supplies is your responsibility. We hope following this guide will help you decide about which steps to take in this process.

Have questions about this article? Email us at


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  11. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). Medicare Claims Processing Manual Chapter 20 – Durable Medical Equipment, Prosthetics, Orthotics, and Supplies (DMEPOS). May 2, 2023. Found on the internet at
  12. MedlinePlus. Surgical Wound Care – Open. Feb. 28, 2022. Found on the internet at
Steve Marshall has more than 35 years of clinical and leadership experience in health care. He has worked in various settings, including emergency departments, intensive care units, air and ground transport, oncology, infectious disease, and infusion services.  He founded See Doc Nurse Write LLC in 2023 to expand the reach of his clinical knowledge and expertise.
Christopher Norman Headshot
Christopher Norman Medical Reviewer
Christopher Norman is a Board-Certified Geriatric Nurse Practitioner and Holistic Nurse. As a nurse’s aide, registered nurse and now nurse practitioner, he has loved working with older adults since 2004.
Kathleen Cameron
Kathleen Cameron Reviewer
Kathleen Cameron, BSPharm, MPH, has more than 25 years of experience in the health care field as a pharmacist, researcher, and program director focusing on falls prevention, geriatric pharmacotherapy, mental health, long-term services and supports, and caregiving. Cameron is Senior Director of the NCOA Center for Healthy Aging, where she provides subject matter expertise on health care programmatic and policy related issues and oversees the Modernizing Senior Center Resource Center.
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