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8 Surprising Things You Shouldn’t Send in the Mail

Before you head to the post office, see if your item is on the list


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SDI Productions/Getty Images

The United States Postal Service is an integral part of our daily lives. A whopping 421.4 million pieces of mail, on average, are processed each day. Despite the massive volume, not everything that’s mailed is on the approved list.

That’s because safety is a prime concern. The USPS doesn’t want its employees or customers getting hurt by an explosive device or poisonous gas. And if someone does because you sent something you shouldn’t have, get ready for some ramifications. ​

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“Anyone who mails, or causes to be mailed, a nonmailable or improperly packaged hazardous material can be subject to legal penalties,” says USPS spokesman David Coleman. “The Postal Service is committed to the safety and security of its employees, its customers, and its transportation networks and will remain vigilant in safeguarding the mail stream against any article that might pose a hazard to health, safety, property, or the environment.”

So what constitutes a risk to the mail system? Turns out, a lot of things, including the following eight.​

1. Alcohol 

Gifting a bottle of wine, liquor or beer can be a nice way to show gratitude, but don’t try to send it through the mail. Any taxable intoxicating liquors with an alcoholic content of 0.5 percent or more are banned.

The same goes for FedEx and UPS. Unless you’re a licensed shipper with a signed contract with UPS or FedEx, you can’t ship spirits. Instead, purchase from a physical or online retailer, or join a beer and wine club, and have your gift shipped by the business to your loved one. 

Did You Know …

The idea of shipping a person through the mail may seem downright ridiculous, but that wasn’t always the case. In July 1915, letter carrier Charles Hayes of Tarkio, Missouri, carried a child by postal mail to her grandmother’s house on the same route. The cost for this precious cargo back then: 10 cents. Five years later, postal officials barred the delivery of human cargo.

2. Pets

Dogs, cats and certain other domesticated pets can’t be shipped via the mail, for obvious reasons: They would need to be tended to, including given food and water, during transit. Snakes, turtles and poisonous reptiles are also on the do-not-mail list. The post office will let you send other small cold-blooded animals that are deemed harmless, such as baby alligators, frogs and lizards. Chickens, ducks and other poultry are also allowed, as are bees, worms and goldfish, though you need to follow specific rules to ship them. Though UPS and FedEx won’t ship your furry friend either, there are shipping and transportation companies that specialize in getting your pet to its destination via road or air transport. ​ ​

spinner image a blank check with a pen next to it
YINYANG/GETTY IMAGES

Think Twice Before Mailing a Check 

With fraud on the rise, your paper check may not be safe.

The Postal Service doesn’t bar you from sending checks in the mail, but as mail fraud cases rise, you may want to think twice before doing so. 

Last year, banks identified 680,000 reports of check fraud, up from 350,000 in 2021. Meanwhile, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service reported that about 300,000 mail theft complaints were made in 2021, more than double the complaints in 2020. That’s happening even as the number of paper checks in circulation has declined dramatically, to roughly 3.4 billion checks in 2022.

Bad actors are fishing through the mail in U.S. postal boxes and mailboxes, looking for envelopes that contain bill payments or checks. Once they have the checks in hand, they engage in “check washing,” changing the name of the payee as well as the amount. Some criminals use that information to steal people’s identities and open fake bank accounts.  

As a result of all the fraud, banks and the USPS are warning customers to avoid mailing checks, if possible. Otherwise, use a secure mail drop inside your local post office or at your place of business, or hand your mail to the letter carrier. When making out a check, be sure to write out the amount, which makes it more difficult to alter. Use permanent ink and never make checks out to cash. The USPS also urges people to sign up for its Informed Delivery service, which sends you daily emails that preview the mail and packages scheduled to arrive. 

Alternatives to mailing checks include using cash transfer apps like Zelle, the online bill payment feature offered by your bank, or a credit card, which has a lot of consumer protections. 

3. Fresh fruits and vegetables

You can ship fresh fruits and vegetables if you keep them dry and prevent them from spoiling in transit. But if it can leak, smells bad or will otherwise cause a mess, the post office won’t ship it. You can use dry ice in the packaging to prevent spoiling, but that requires more money and effort to ship.

4. Marijuana

You’re prohibited from sending marijuana through the mail even if it’s legal in your state. Hemp products can be mailed, including CBD if the THC content is 0.3 percent or less. 

5. Thermometers

Older-style thermometers, blood pressure gauges and barometers that contain liquid mercury can’t be mailed. They can be damaged or broken in the shipping process, which could put people at risk. Liquid mercury is hazardous and can produce toxic vapors if exposed to the air. 

6. Cash

The USPS won’t stop you from mailing cash, but it advises you not to do it. There’s no guarantee the cash will make it to the recipient, and you lose out if it’s lost or stolen in transit.

7. Nail polish

The Postal Service will let you mail nail polish if it’s not flammable and doesn’t pose a safety hazard. The problem is you have to know the flash point — the point at which it can burst into flames. If your package gets flagged, you could face fines. Other rules pertain to packaging the nail polish and how it’s shipped. An easier option is to purchase nail polish online and have it shipped to the recipient through the retailer. 

8. Perfume

Perfume, if it contains alcohol, falls into the do-not-mail-by-air or internationally category. You can ship it domestically using ground transportation, but you have to take care to package it correctly. 

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