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The Risks of Taking Home Second-Hand Furniture and Thrift Shop Finds

May 03, 2023

By Daniel Baldwin, BCE, CCFS, CP-FS

Thrift store shopping can be a great way to get deals on clothing, housewares, and furniture. Unfortunately, you may get more than you bargained for with some secondhand items. Understanding the risks of pests when buying used items can help you make informed decisions when you hit thrift shops and flea markets.

What are the risks of taking home second-hand furniture and clothing?

The largest risk of buying secondhand is bed bugs. These common pests are skilled jumpers, and they can stow away in upholstered furniture like sofas and chairs and even hide in drawers and around the hardware on tables, cabinets, and dressers. Bed bugs can also travel on clothing, bed linens, and other textiles. If you bring home contaminated items, the pests can take up residence and begin reproducing, leading to an infestation.

You can also find other pests in secondhand items. Clothing and upholstered furniture could harbor clothes moths. If they travel to your home in secondhand finds, moths could go on to damage natural fibers in your home, such as wool rugs and sweaters.

Cockroaches can crawl into furnishings that have dark places to hide, like desks, entertainment centers, and pull-out sleeper sofas. Fleas and even fly eggs and larvae may also be present on thrifted items. Like bed bugs, these tiny pests can go unnoticed and infest your home.

Woman looking through a rack of clothing at a thrift store

Do thrift stores sanitize clothing? 

Sanitization and inspection procedures vary from store to store and can vary from item to item. Some stores may launder clothing at a high temperature before selling it, but many don’t. The same goes for furniture. Some places may clean and treat upholstered furniture pieces, but the only way to know is to ask a sales associate or check the thrift store’s website. 

Either way, it’s important to visually inspect any used items, especially furniture, before deciding to bring it home. (To see the signs of different types of pests, check out our Pest Library.)

Should I buy a bed from a thrift store? 

Even people who routinely buy second-hand clothing and used items may hesitate to purchase thrift store beds due to concerns about bed bugs. Mattresses, box springs, bed frames, headboards, and footboards can all provide hiding places for the pests. 

Because mattresses and box springs could have bed bugs inside, you may wish to avoid buying them second-hand altogether. With headboards and footboards, check carefully for bed bugs, eggs, and casings with a flashlight. Look in all nooks and crannies and check any built-in drawers and storage compartments. Be especially wary of pieces with upholstery, cracks, and loose paint, which could provide difficult-to-inspect hiding places for bed bugs. 

Do thrift stores have bed bugs? 

The likelihood of there being bed bugs in used furniture and clothing depends on where you shop. Some thrift stores have strict pest control prevention policies that involve carefully inspecting and treating items before they hit the sales floor. However, not all stores do. 

And even if a store creates policies, employees may not always follow them or have the knowledge to recognize subtle signs of infestations. To avoid getting bed bugs from used clothing and furniture, ask questions about the store’s cleaning and inspection methods before you buy. 

Carefully examine any items you purchase before buying. If your phone has a flashlight app, use it to check dark or hard-to-see areas of furniture, such as behind drawers in a cabinet or below the base of a sofa. While you’re looking for signs of bed bugs, watch for any dark marks that could be smears from cockroaches, anything that looks like eggs, and of course shed skins.

Collection of second hand furniture in a thrift store

Can you see bed bugs on clothes?

Although bed bugs are small, they’re still visible to the naked eye, so it’s possible to see them on clothing. However, bed bugs could get into areas that are difficult to see, such as the inside of seams, between fabric outers and linings, and beneath collars and cuffs. When visually inspecting clothing for bed bugs, check these areas carefully and be on the lookout for other signs of bed bugs, like sticky white eggs and empty skin casings.

Can you shake bed bugs off clothes?

You can shake bed bugs off of clothing, but if they’re in certain areas like pockets or folds, they may be able to cling to the fabric. If you buy used clothing and linens that are safe to machine wash, you can launder them as soon as you get home to reduce the risk of bed bug infestations. To kill eggs and bed bugs, launder at temperatures above 113 degrees Fahrenheit and put the clothing in the dryer on the high heat setting for at least 30 minutes.

Pest control services 

If you suspect you may have a pest problem, contact a professional pest control company like Hawx. Our licensed pest control technicians can inspect your home carefully for bed bugs, cockroaches, and other pests. If we find signs of an infestation, we have the tools and products needed to address the problem.

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