The Midwesternist: On the Legality of Mailing Feces

Jan 5, 2024 at 9:34 am
Can you mail poop?
Can you mail poop?

I mailed a box of my own poop to a lab in Wisconsin. Before I sent it, I made the mistake of setting the box down ever so briefly in our living room, fully sealed and inconspicuous. I am an unfailingly honest parent. So when my seven-year-old asked “what’s in the box?” I had no choice but to tell her.

“It’s daddy’s doo doo, honey.”


“Yes, really.”

She narrows her eyes to suspicious slits. “Why?”

“Well, they have to test my DNA.”


“To see if I’m a cat.”

To see if you’re…a cat? What? Why would anyone think you were a cat?”

“Oh, because I crap in boxes, sweetheart.”

Unfailing honesty isn’t the same as candor, so I didn’t tell her that this is part of the new normal for being in your late 40s, that someday you, too, will likely have to lay a dookie in a Tupperware container affixed to your toilet seat, dump chemicals on said dookie, and ship it off to be tested for proteins associated with colon cancer, which, by the way, people keep dying of at alarmingly young ages due to the unyielding horror of the American diet, nor did I tell her that the smell of your own scat outside a toilet will convince you that you are, in fact, rotting from the inside, and that if it’s not cancer, you’ve by-god got something in there that is going to kill you.

Then my oldest, a ten-year-old who is fascinated with cults, Japan, and cross examination, chimes in: “hold on, how is it even legal to mail a box of your own poop to someone?”

Now there’s a proper question. Taking an educated guess at an answer, I expected there to be a blanket prohibition on the shipping of excrement, with a carve-out somewhere for legitimate medical purposes. I was wrong.

Attorney Brett Snider, who has written an astounding 1183 articles for, has covered this topic in a post called “Is it illegal to mail poop?” So far as I know, Snider’s brief analysis presents the definitive treatise on the matter. He explains that it’s okay to ship the occasional brown dragon so long as you don’t intend to “harass” the recipient. When prosecutors go after poop mailers (or poopetrators, to borrow the term from a recent case), they generally do so under state harassment statutes.

Makes sense. And yet, it seems like this is more complex. Snider cites a service called as an example of a “gag gift” that would fall outside the legal definition of harassment. But it seems to me that the entire PoopSenders business model is explicitly pro harassment. Their website promises “SWEET revenge at its Finest” and suggests that the product be sent to “your ex” or “the teacher that gave your son/daughter a poor grade.” Despite the site’s disclaimer, the target audience is obviously people who intend to cause harm.

So okay, you can mail poop so long as it’s not done with the intent to harass, and even if it’s explicitly done for the purpose of harassment, that apparently doesn’t matter. Never mind all that. Here’s what I’m stuck on: The only recourse for the recipient is a catch-all state statute? I’m deeply skeptical. The feds have a crime for everything. They especially have a lot to say about regulation of the mail. Political candidates who place unwanted mailers in someone’s mailbox, for example, can be fined up to $5,000.00 (though it’s perfectly fine to mail the same unwanted mailers directly to the same mailbox). Based on everything I know about overcriminalization in the U.S., it seems wrong to assume a baseline rule of “sending a box of coprolite is permissible” and apply exceptions. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Shouldn’t it be presumptively, you know, wrong to mail your crap to anyone other than a lab that is checking it for cancer?

I only found one statute that could make mailing fecal matter a federal crime. 18 U.S.C. § 1716 provides that a person may be prosecuted for sending certain “nonmailable” and “injurious” items. The cases interpreting this statute tend to deal with bombs, poison, switchblades, and the occasional tarantula. The statute forbids the mailing of “germs and scabs,” but poop and other bodily waste isn’t specifically prohibited. Nor does the statute contemplate an exception for people who have a legitimate medical purposes for mailing doody (though there is an entire paragraph that creates an exception for, uh, lab scorpions).

The only case I could find where someone was actually punished under 18 U.S.C. § 1716 for mailing crap to someone is a Texas federal decision called Hilmers v. Khoshdel. That one involves an incarcerated plaintiff who claimed to have gotten an abusive rectal exam from a prison doctor. The plaintiff mailed the court “a large flat box containing blood and feces on toilet paper to serve as DNA evidence.” No court seems to have applied it to, say, suburbanite incel goblins sending spiteful bags of gorilla dung to women who block them on X.

I think the moral of this story is: 1) you simply cannot make any assumptions about what is a crime and what is not, and 2) you can shit in a box and mail it to someone with only minimal possibility of getting fined or tossed in jail. Still: don’t. Unless you need to get checked for colon cancer. Which you do.