The craziest things people have returned to Costco

Costco is known for having just about the most lenient return policy on the planet. Don't believe it? You've undoubtedly heard those outlandish tales of broken, half-eaten, neglected, and/or ancient merchandise being successfully returned to the warehouse store — but they couldn't possibly be true, could they? Oh, but they could. A 10-year-old refrigerator that stopped working? Returned. One of three jars from a pack of honey? Returned. A used toilet? You guessed it… returned.

The company promotes a "risk-free 100 percent satisfaction guarantee" when it comes to their merchandise, though the return policy does note a few exceptions to that satisfaction guarantee, like electronics (after 90 days), diamonds (over one carat), cigarettes and alcohol (depending on state law), and "products with a limited useful life expectancy, such as tires and batteries." As you'll see though, those rules are apparently made to be broken.

From moldy strawberries to Christmas trees in January, these are the craziest things people have returned to Costco.

A 3-year-old rug that reeks

The Costco forums of Reddit are equal parts informative and astounding, and really drive home the fact that yes, you really can return just about anything to the warehouse store. 

Take this customer, for instance, who explained why they choose to return a several-year-old rug that was in less-than-stellar condition. "I returned a living room rug a few years ago — and it was 3 years old. I bought it during one of those 'special show' times in the store, really liked it. But then it started to stink (about 2 years after having it). I tried everything to get rid of that smell and finally found a website that explained that the rubber backing was deteriorating. At first only I could smell it, then my friends started commenting on the funny smell in my house… When I rolled it in on a cart, one of the return people wrinkled her nose and said, 'What's that terrible smell?' Haha… And yes, I had the receipt."  

Oh, well, at least they had the receipt. That makes it totally fine to return stinky, falling apart merchandise that you used for years.

A bag of cat food WITHOUT the bag

We've all been there — you have a product you need to return, but you lost the receipt. Thankfully, Costco can easily look up the purchase via your membership card, and do the return in a breeze. But what if you don't have the the actual package the product came in? What if that product is dry cat food, and all you have is loose kibbles? Will Costco really take that back? 

This ballsy Redditor explained her predicament, saying, "A few weeks ago, I bought a huge bag of Kirkland dry cat food for $15. After I started feeding it to my cat, she began to eat less and less to the point where she will not touch it anymore… I plan on trying to return the opened dry cat food to Costco later today, but here's the kicker: I threw out the bag it came in! I have an airtight cat food storage bin that I put all the food in, so I had no reason to save the bag. Does anyone think Costco will accept the return if I bring them loose cat food?" 

The answer? Yes, Costco will, astoundingly, accept loose cat food. OP updated the thread, saying, "I was able to return the cat food with no problems at all. I told them I was sorry for returning the product under such strange circumstances, and they said it isn't even close to the strangest things people have returned."

Meat, or at least what was left of it

If you want to really test the limits of Costco's famous return policy, why not buy some meat, eat it, and then return the leftover scraps for a full refund? Yes, according to two different Costco employees on Reddit, that really did happen.

One Redditor relayed this mind-boggling story: "Someone bought a ribeye bone in cryovac around 200 dollars during the holidays and returned a cooked container of bones and fat. Yes, they were completely reimbursed for returning literally .13 cents worth of fat and bones." 

Another Redditor explained a similar situation, saying, "We once had a gentleman purchase a rotisserie chicken, sit in the indoor food court and eat just about all of it. Then he took the rest over to the return desk and said that it 'wasn't as good as he thought it should be.' We ended up refunding his money."

Now, we can't vouch for the beef, but we all know that Costco's rotisserie chickens are better (and cheaper) than any other chicken on the planet, so we call B.S. on this particular reason for wanting a refund. 

A dead Christmas tree... in January

You know that part of the Costco return policy that excludes "products with a limited useful life expectancy"? Apparently that does not always extend to dead Christmas trees in January, and one woman in Southern California took full advantage of the store's lax rules.

The story went viral in January 2018 when a Costco shopper angrily ranted on his Facebook page about the situation he saw unfold. "I can't make this stuff up," Scott Bentley posted. "Woman in line at Costco, totally nonchalant, to return her Christmas tree 'because it is dead' on January 4." Bentley recapped the whole transaction, saying that the woman was given a full refund, though "not happily," and was "shamed to a small degree." 

Before you get any big ideas about saving a few bucks on your holiday decorations next year though, take heed of the advice from this Redditor who apparently works at Costco. "Don't count on [returning a dead tree in January]. We receive a memo every year explicitly instructing us not to accept returns on live trees after Christmas. We've posted signs every year for years now, and we still get at least one schmuck who tries, gets bent out of shape about being denied, then goes on a pity parade every…single…year." In other words, just because you can, doesn't mean you should. 

A twig, no tree attached

If you thought returning a dead Christmas tree in January was out of line, wait until you hear this one…

When the question was posed on Reddit, "Costco Employees, what are the worst returns you have seen at Costco?" one former employee had a seriously unbelievable tale. "When I was a supervisor a few years ago someone returned a twig from a tree," they explained. "No pot, no tree. Just a twig. Honestly could've been a twig they found walking into the store for all I know. My manager approved of it. $50 and the real tree is probably in that guy's backyard."

While some garden centers like Home Depot do have a policy guaranteeing their perennials, shrubs, and trees for at least a year, we're guessing that in order to take advantage of said policy you'd need to produce, you know, an actual tree attached to that twig. That doesn't sound so unreasonable, does it?

Photographs that didn't come out

Once upon a time, before the dawn of the digital camera, you actually had to get your film developed. Opening that envelope of prints was always nerve-racking — would the images be blurry, was your fat finger accidentally covering the lens, would everyone have their eyes closed? Whether or not every picture was destined for the garbage didn't matter, you had already paid for them. If you got them developed at Costco though, it turns out that you could have saved a whole lot of money on all those bad prints.

That's what one former Costco employee said, anyway. Apparently photo returns really were a thing. "Use to work the return line… Worst I've seen is photo, people would return photo that was printed that they took and didn't like them," they explained on Reddit. "This is all when they still had the drop box for film. Some would return hundred of black, out of focus, red eye, and best yet doesn't fit their frame cause they choose 5x7 instead of the 4x6." Thankfully, these days our smartphones relieve us of having to make that embarrassing return.

Less-than-fresh fruit

Maybe you avoid buying produce at Costco because chances are slim that you're actually going to be able to eat a 24-pack of peaches before they spoil. Then again, maybe you should start making those purchases with peace of mind, because it turns out, apparently, that it's perfectly okay to bring back moldy, rotten, ant-covered produce and get a full refund. That's what these customers did, anyway, and returning fruit that's past its prime seems commonplace based on the stories these Redditors told:

"This was probably February or March of [2017]. Lady returned strawberries from July of 2016. Told me it tasted 'off.' The strawberries were so moldy, you couldn't see them," one employee explained. That wasn't their only returned fruit story, either… they continued, saying, "Lady bought apples. Returned them for whatever reasons. She brought them back with an entire ant colony all over it that she brought from her kitchen. Absolutely. Disgusting."

And another employee describes perhaps the most stupefying return of all: "Liquified watermelon in a big black garbage bag. Had to bag it again to keep it from leaking…" Why? Just why?

A 4-year-old broken AC

As a Costco customer, you probably feel a little bit embarrassed walking up to the return counter with an ancient product that no longer works, but hey, money is money, so you swallow your pride and request the return anyway. Imagine if you actually worked at the warehouse store, though. Could you make that return? One employee accidentally did, and felt the shame.

"We bought a window unit air conditioner toward the end of the season one year, and something went wrong with it at the very beginning of the next season (so technically only got a month or two use out of it)," the Costco worker explained on Reddit. "So, my husband takes it in to return it… we didn't have the receipt anymore so they looked it up… turns out this AC was actually like 4 years old, and I guess we just got mixed up about when we had bought which units. They gave him cash back though, haha. I work there, and after he told me the story I refused to make eye contact with anyone in membership during my next week of shifts."

Returning a 4-year-old air conditioner is pretty crazy, but at least this turned out to be a case of mistaken identity. The even crazier thing is, Costco still took the unit back.

A U-Haul full of merchandise

If you're making an out-of-state move, the logistics can be overwhelming. You have to make the decision to schlep a houseful of stuff across the country, or have a massive garage sale and start fresh in your new state. Or, option three, if you're this guy, is to just return it all to Costco.

Sounds unbelievable, right? One Costco employee says they witnessed it with their own eyes, recalling on Reddit, "… a guy brought a uhaul full of his possessions he bought throughout the years at Costco. He had beds, furniture, throw carpets, bikes, fridges, and everything else he could fit in that truck. Hahaha he even returned his garden hose! I asked him why is he returning everything and he told me straight up he's moving to New York and he'll just rebuy everything there and it'll be new and clean. What a guy!"

 Okay, maybe we could get behind returning the fridge and the furniture, but a garden hose?? C'mon now.

Used pet products

Anyone with cats knows that they can be the most finicky animals on the face of the earth. They can go from happily eating the same food for years to one day deciding that there's nothing they hate more. Or maybe they decide they're just not going to use a particular litter box anymore. Yes, it definitely happens. But would you cut your losses, or would you return used pet products?

These customers made the returns…

One Costco employee on Reddit described the worst return they'd ever seen, saying, "[It was a] cat litter box. With cat litter in it. They didn't even have the decency to clean it before returning and it stank up the baler area for days afterwards." Seriously, people?

Then there's this customer, who actually admitted that they returned "a can of cat food (she decided by the last can it wasn't her taste)." Now, if the cat turned up her nose at can number one, fine, make the return. But this is Costco, and presumably this case of cat food was sizable, so you got your money's worth on… what, 11 cans? This one might take the cake when it comes to unbelievable returns.

Dirty, smelly pillows

Be honest — your pillow probably isn't the pristine white it started out as, right? Most of us would be downright embarrassed if anyone else saw the dingy, drool-stained situation going on under our pillowcases. But not this guy… This guy would just return those dirty, smelly pillows to Costco.

One Redditor dished on the worst return they'd ever seen at the warehouse store, and frankly, we're gagging just reading it. "Guy brought in pillows that had their item number on the tags. Only purchase in history was from 11 YEARS AGO. They were dark brown and smelled horrible. I actually gagged and he laughed it off and said 'yeah it's been bugging me too.'"

In case you're curious, the National Sleep Foundation says that you should replace your pillows every one to two years. Why? Because in that time, the pillow will "absorb body oil, dead skin cells, and hair," which can make the pillow smell, and also provide a cozy environment for dust mites. You can probably imagine what 11 years worth of face oil, skin cells, and greasy hair would do to a pillow, but the real question is: Can you imagine actually returning that nasty pillow to the store?

13-year-old frozen fish

Three-year-old rugs, 4-year-old air conditioners, and even 11-year-old pillows have nothing on this unbelievable return, which was unearthed from the depths of a woman's freezer.

Now, to be fair, we've all lost control of our freezers. At some point, you come across a package of mystery meat that's covered in so much ice you can't even begin to guess what it actually is. Even if it still had a label, and even if there was an outside chance that you could get your money back, 99 percent of us would simply throw that mystery meat in the garbage. But this customer, says one Costco employee on Reddit who described the worst return they'd ever seen, decided to go for broke instead. "13-year-old fish. Lady left it in her freezer and forgot about it. Wanted to return it and when we said no she threatened calling corporate and all that jazz. If I remember correctly they let her return it." Now that takes guts. 

Be careful though... too many returns could get you booted

Before you rent a U-Haul of your own and start loading it up in preparation for the world's biggest Costco return, you should know that one too many trips to the return desk could get your membership revoked. 

A spokesperson for Costco told Business Insider that "memberships may be canceled due to abuse of the Member Privileges and Conditions" and that the "decision is made on a case-by-case basis and is at the discretion of each location manager." That's exactly what happened to one member at a Virginia-area Costco when she tried to return her printer — make that her 8-year-old printer — in 2018. Maryam Nicksolat told Business Insider that when she attempted the transaction, the manager refused and referred to a list he was holding, saying that she had made too many returns. Nicksolat ultimately received a letter from Costco stating, "It is apparent from a review of your membership account that you are not happy with the products you have purchased from Costco, and we are unable to satisfy you as a member," and that although her membership was canceled, she would be refunded for the annual fee, the printer, and ink.

So, apparently, Costco does have a limit, though it's unclear how many returns are too many returns. Maybe hold off on the return of the moldy fruit and the stained pillows, just to be safe.