8 Things You Shouldn't Keep in Your Basement or Garage

Storing these items in your basement or garage could cause them to get damaged or pose a safety risk.

By Devon Thorsby, Editor, Real Estate |Jan. 22, 2018, at 11:59 a.m.

8 Things You Shouldn't Keep in Your Basement or Garage

Slideshow

Take a second look at what you keep in your garage or basement.

miscellaneous stuff stored in home workshop

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For many homes in the U.S., a basement or garage tends to be the catch-all for seasonal or forgotten items that may be useful at some point down the line. Nearly 1 in 4 Americans can’t even fit their car in the garage due to clutter, according to a 2015 survey by Gladiator GarageWorks, a garage storage and organization company. But before you let this sometimes-forgotten space become the final resting place of just about anything and everything, consider the items that shouldn’t find their way to these parts of your house because they may get damaged, attract pests or potentially be a safety or health hazard. Here are eight things you shouldn’t store in your basement or garage.

Propane tanks

Propane tanks

Valve on propane canister

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An extra propane tank for your gas grill can be convenient to have on hand, but never leave it in an enclosed space. If the tank were to leak, gas in the air that's near your car, a furnace or an electric panel could be disastrous. In addition, should a fire break out in either space, the indoor location of a propane tank could lead to an explosion. “It could cause damage to the home, it could cause damage to other property and worst of all, of course, is that it could present risk of injury to people in the house,” says Jim Taylor, head of claims compliance, quality and customer experience at Farmers Insurance. A propane tank should be stored outdoors on a flat, stable surface and far from open flames, like a fire pit.

Natural fabrics

Natural fabrics

T-shirts in several colours

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Storing your winter and summer clothes during the off-seasons is a great idea to save space in your closet, but the basement or garage may not be the best place to keep bins of clothes. Humidity levels tend to be higher in the basement, since it's underground, and garage, which typically isn’t heated or cooled like the rest of the house. When dealing with fabrics, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention point to the Smithsonian’s Museum Conservation Institute, which notes that cotton and linen fabrics can begin growing mold at 80 percent humidity and 92 percent humidity for wool and silk. Store your clothes in a linen closet or under your bed in boxes.

Furniture

Furniture

Old chair outside

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Wood furniture will warp in humid conditions, and upholstered furniture can mold when the humidity is high. Not to mention, a cushioned couch or chair that no one’s paying attention to can become the perfect spot for rodents to build a nest. If it’s a piece of furniture you hope to use again, it’s best to keep it in a location where it’s least likely to suffer damage. For any item you’re planning to store in your basement or garage, Taylor recommends considering: "What could potentially happen to that item and the consequence if it does [get damaged].” If you don't care what happens to it, the furniture is better served being donated, given away or sold online.

Refrigerator

Refrigerator

Female hand opening white refrigerator door on gray background

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A second fridge makes sense in the basement, but keeping it in the garage could cause issues. Refrigerators, unless made for outdoor use, can’t handle extreme hot or cold temperatures and can break down in the peak of summer or winter. To keep a refrigerator in your garage, you’ll need a refrigerator garage kit, which prevents the freezer portion of your fridge from thawing out, or you can purchase a specially designed fridge for extreme temperatures. Frigidaire and Summit Appliance both make fridges that are designed to last through cold winters and hot summers in a garage. The right fridge can be as cheap as $350 for a small model or beyond $1,500 for a full-size outdoor model.

Important papers and photos

Important papers and photos

Stock photo showing a hand holding a vintage photograph of parents and grandparent couple.

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Items like your birth certificate, passport, marriage license, medical records and family photos are best stored in a secure location, like a safe, to keep them from getting into the hands of nosy visitors or burglars. In addition, these important items should also be kept where the chance of water damage is as small as possible. While replacement of your personal documents may be covered in your homeowners insurance policy, it can be hard to protect your identity if the original copies get into the wrong hands.

Leftover paint and cleaning products

Leftover paint and cleaning products

Paint cans, paint roller, and brushes on the old wooden background.

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The garage or basement may seem like the perfect place to keep the extra paint from when you redid the kids’ bedrooms, but it can potentially be another fire hazard when stored in the areas that hold anything that runs on gas. Should your dryer or electric panel start a fire, the flammable chemicals could easily cause the fire to spread faster. “I would absolutely encourage people never to store flammable materials in a basement or garage,” Taylor says. To get rid of chemicals you don't have room to store, search online for the nearest hazardous waste location or inquire about the next neighborhood waste collection event.

Extra firewood

Extra firewood

A pile of chopped wood material - general, flat view

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Woodpiles are a natural haven for rodents, insects and spiders, which is why you should always store extra firewood away from the exterior of your home. But bringing firewood into the basement or garage won’t just invite pests to hitch a ride indoors. Higher humidity levels in those spaces may also make it more difficult for the wood to properly dry out to be ready to use in the fireplace. Wood kept in a humid spot is useless for a fire until it’s able to dry out. Keep your wood pile toward the back of your property, away from any structures. A tarp on top will keep the rain off, but leave the sides exposed for air to flow through the pile and allow the wood to dry.

Candles, wine and other temperature-sensitive items

Candles, wine and other temperature-sensitive items

Row of wine bottles. Low depth of field.

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The temperature fluctuations from season to season have a greater effect on places in your home that don’t have the same climate control as the rest of the house. While you may not spend enough time in the garage to notice how hot it is in summer, some of your items stored there will. Wine, electronics and candles can be affected when they endure extreme temperature changes. Taylor recalls how he and his wife left a box of candles in the garage after moving to Arizona. By the time they went to unpack the box, “It was basically a big ball of wax,” he says. He also notes that most homeowners insurance policies do not cover damage to items from temperature fluctuation.

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Devon Thorsby is the Real Estate editor at U.S. News & World Report, where she writes consumer-focused articles about the homebuying and selling process, home improvement, tenant rights and the state of the housing market.

She has appeared in media interviews across the U.S. including National Public Radio, WTOP (Washington, D.C.) and KOH (Reno, Nevada) and various print publications, as well as having served on panels discussing real estate development, city planning policy and homebuilding.

Previously, she served as a researcher of commercial real estate transactions and information, and is currently a member of the National Association of Real Estate Editors. Thorsby studied Political Science at the University of Michigan, where she also served as a news reporter and editor for the student newspaper The Michigan Daily. Follow her on Twitter or write to her at dthorsby@usnews.com.