USPS Shipping Restrictions (What You Can & Can’t Send)

While USPS makes it easy to ship nearly anything to nearly anywhere, there are a few exceptions to what can be shipped.

These exceptions are referred to as restricted and prohibited items- so what’s the difference, and are there circumstances where you can still ship these items?

What Are USPS Shipping Restrictions?

USPS shipping restrictions fall into three categories: restricted, hazardous, and perishable. Each of these categories has different mailability standards and procedures and can still be shipped under certain circumstances. Items that cannot be mailed at all are referred to as prohibited. Prohibited mail includes airbags, ammunition, explosives, gasoline, and marijuana.

There are a lot of intricacies that go into what mail can and can’t be shipped and why something may be restricted, so keep reading to learn more!

What Can You Ship With USPS?

USPS is incredibly well-known for being able to ship nearly anything.

USPS is a great choice for shipping normal pieces of mail, such as online orders, clothing, jewelry, letters, bills, and business advertisements.

You can also use USPS to ship more unusual items such as guitars, disassembled furniture, and more hazardous materials such as dry ice.

When talking about what you can ship with USPS, it’s usually easier to discuss what you can’t ship as that list is much shorter than what you can.

Items that you either can’t ship, or are harder to ship, fall into two main categories: prohibited mail, and restricted mail.

Within the restricted mail category, there are three subcategories: hazardous, perishable, and restricted.

What Is The Difference Between Restricted And Prohibited Mail?

Restricted mail is a category designated by USPS that covers items that are potentially hazardous or don’t ship well.

Restricted mail can still be shipped under special circumstances, provided that the mail is packaged appropriately and receives approval from USPS.

Prohibited mail is mail that cannot be shipped under any circumstances as it is too dangerous to be handled properly and runs the risk of causing harm to employees, handlers, or property while the mail is in transit.

What Are The Restricted Mail Categories?

What Are The Restricted Mail Categories? USPS

Restricted mail falls into three categories: hazardous, restricted, and perishable.

Hazardous mail is defined as an article or substance that is capable of posing an unreasonable risk to health, safety, or property during transportation.

Examples of hazardous mail include dry ice, corrosives, and flammable solids or liquids.

Restricted mail is defined as articles that have restrictions imposed for reasons other than harm to people or property involved in transporting the mail.

Examples of restricted mail include intoxicating liquor, firearms, knives, and cigarettes/smokeless tobacco.

Finally, perishable mail is categorized as any article that can deteriorate in the mail and thereby lose value, create a health hazard, or cause an obnoxious odor, nuisance, or disturbance, under ordinary mailing conditions.

Examples of perishable mail include some live animals, plants, or food matter.

What Is Categorized As Prohibited Mail?

Prohibited mail is a category of mail that cannot be shipped under any circumstance.

Typically these items cannot be shipped because they pose an immediate and unacceptable risk to employees or property while the item is in transit, or because the item is not federally legal.

Things that fall under the prohibited mail category are items like airbags, ammunition, explosives, gasoline, and marijuana, medical or otherwise.

You are allowed to ship certain types of marijuana products, however, such as hemp and CBD, however, these items are still restricted and must be approved through USPS and packaged correctly in order to be shipped.

How Can You Mail Restricted Items?

In order to mail a restricted item, you must verify the mailability with the local postmaster.

To obtain a ruling on the mailability for a perishable or restricted item, you must provide the postmaster with the following:

  • A detailed description of the restricted package
  • Special precautions necessary to permit handling without harm to Postal Service employees or damage to property
  • The proposed method of packaging
  • Explanation of any local, state, or federal regulations that apply to shipping the package
  • Quantity of restricted item per package, the frequency that you will be shipping the restricted item, and the post office from where you will be shipping it.

The requirements for obtaining a ruling on a hazardous material are a bit more in-depth, and include steps like listing the chemical composition by percentage of weight and the toxic properties of the item you’re looking to ship.

To read more about the requirements for obtaining a ruling on any restricted matter for shipping with USPS, you can check out this page.

Once you’ve obtained a mailability ruling, the rest of the shipping process depends largely on what restricted item you’re looking to ship.

If you’re shipping a restricted item, there are a lot of ins and outs that determine mailability and the standards by which it must be packaged and labeled.

You can read more on the different types of restricted items and their mailability by clicking here and finding the subcategory to which your restricted item belongs.

If you’re shipping a perishable item, the most important thing to consider is the way you’re packaging and labeling the item.

When shipping food matter such as vegetables, eggs, etc, you must make sure the item is completely dry with no moisture on the surface or the box to prevent rot, securely packaged per the standards set forth by USPS, and typically must include a method of cooling to prevent rot.

To know more about USPS services, you can also read our related posts on what are USPS shipping zones, if USPS ships to Puerto Rico, and if USPS ships to Canada.


USPS ships nearly anything, and the things they cannot ship or ship with strict limitations are referred to as prohibited or restricted items.

Prohibited items cannot be shipped under any circumstance, whereas restricted items can be shipped after certain requirements are met.

There are three subcategories of restricted items: hazardous, perishable, and restricted.

Each of these three subcategories has different requirements for mailability and safety standards, all of which can be found on the USPS website.

To ship any restricted items, the most important thing to do is obtain a ruling on mailability from a local postmaster.

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