Jul 24, 2023

Everything you don’t pay sales tax on in Pennsylvania, from books to utilities

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Ed note: This article was originally published in 2015 and has been updated with the latest info.

What do vitamins, chef hats, pony rides, silos, candy apples, shoulder pads, cable TV, and hemp diapers all have in common?

In Pennsylvania, they’re exempt from the state’s sales tax.

Purchases in the Keystone State are generally subject to a 6% sales tax on top of the cost of whatever you’re buying (it’s the most common rate among U.S. states right now). Some localities add their own municipal sales tax on top of that — in Philadelphia, you pay an additional 2%.

But what’s actually taxed and what’s not can get complicated. For instance, pet cremation services are non-taxable, but pet caskets are taxed. Sunburn treatments are tax-free, but preventative sunblock isn’t. And pumpkins escape sales tax, but only if they’re used for food and not decoration.

Here’s an overview of many of the hundreds of things in Pennsylvania that aren’t subject to sales tax, according to a list from the Pa. Department of Revenue.

In general, clothing isn’t usually taxed in Pa., but there are some exceptions, including formalwear, many furs (both real and synthetic), costumes, and specialized sports wear (e.g. helmets, baseball gloves, etc.).

Here are some examples of untaxed clothing items, as provided by the Dept. of Revenue:

The overarching rule: shoes meant for typical, everyday wear are tax-exempt. But footwear for special occasions or for specific sports — think bowling shoes or swimming shoes — are taxable.

Some examples of non-taxable shoes and shoe supplies include:

The overarching principle in Pa.’s tax laws when it comes to craft and sewing supplies is that things that are eventually going to become part of everyday clothing (i.e. the nontaxable kind) aren’t taxable. But the equipment used for sewing can be taxable, and any craft/sewing materials used to make non-clothing items are taxable too.

Some examples of nontaxable craft/sewing supplies:

Generally, CBD and hemp products are taxable unless they fall into another sales tax-exempt category. Below are some examples of non-taxable CBD products, according to the Pa. Dept. of Revenue.

Note: Something appearing on this list is not a “representation as to the legality of the products,” per the department. Regulations and guidance around CBD products in Pa. have been somewhat confusing in recent years.

If you’re eating food from somewhere that specializes in ready-to-eat food or drinks — for example, a restaurant, cafeteria, food truck, amusement park, hotel, or stadium — then you’re going to pay sales tax on most items. The handful of excepted items are:

Per the Department of Revenue, food is not generally taxed when it’s sold from a grocery store, farmer’s market, deli, bakery, etc. There are some notable exceptions though, like soft drinks, sports drinks, flavored water, breath mints, sandwiches, and hot food items or prepared meals that don’t require additional prep — you’ll have to pay the typical sales tax on those.

Here’s a list of things that are indeed nontaxable in Pennsylvania:

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Anna Orso was a reporter/curator at Billy Penn from 2014 to 2017. More by Anna Orso

Asha Prihar is a general assignment reporter at Billy Penn. She has previously written for several daily newspapers across the Midwest, and she covered Pennsylvania state government and politics for The... More by Asha Prihar

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