How to Avoid Bed Bugs While Thrift Shopping

I recently stumbled across a social media post regarding thrift stores and bed bugs. The thread went back and forth for a bit, as social media posts tend to do. Some people argued that buying clothing or furniture from thrift shops was perfectly safe because everything is cleaned and sanitized before it hits the shelves. Other posters, naturally, argued the opposite.

The thread made me think it might be a good time to revisit the topic of thrift shopping and bed bugs. We’ve covered it before, but it never hurts to have a quick refresher. First, we need to address the elephant in the thrift shop room:

Do Thrift Shops Wash and Sanitize Donations?

The short answer is “yes”. The longer answer is “yes and no”. Some states actually do require thrift shops to clean any donations that will end up on the sales floor. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that everything is sanitized, or that it is inspected and treated for pests.

So let’s look at a common scenario:

Your local thrift shop sorts through a sizable donation of household items. There’s clothing, furniture, and maybe even some electronics. They’ll typically wash the clothes before putting them on the racks. That’s standard practice. They’ll probably wipe down and generally clean up everything else before moving it to the showroom. Unfortunately, they probably won’t inspect everything for bed bugs. Let alone treat every item.

Bed bugs that have been hiding in a couch or a desk will ultimately end up sharing space with everything else on the shop’s sales floor. That gives them the opportunity to migrate to any ‘clean’ merchandise. Any item you purchase may, indeed, have been washed before being put out for sale – but that doesn’t mean it has remained bed bug free.

You still need to take steps to avoid bringing any bed bugs home with you from a thrifting spree.

Thrift Shop Clothing and Linens

Thrifting can bring you some great deals on clothes and linens. It’s a great way to save money and maybe even indulge in some retro fashion. But if you’re careless it can also lead to bed bug problems down the line.

When buying clothes from a second-hand shop carefully examine the items before making your purchase. Check the seams, pockets and lining. If possible turn the item inside out and check for any signs of bed bugs. Thrift shops may wash the clothing they sell but that doesn’t mean bed bugs won’t sneak onto the merchandise after it’s put out for sale.

The same holds true for towels, blankets, and linens. Bed bugs like to cling to linens and hide in the folds. Inspect each item thoroughly and give it a vigorous shaking out. Unfold it completely and look for any signs of bed bug infestation. The time you take checking out your thrift shop purchases can help you avoid a major pest headache down the line.

Thrift Shop Furniture

Buying furniture from Goodwill or other second-hand shops is a good way to save money and outfit your home. But as great as the deals are you need to take care with your purchases. Bed bugs like to hide in tight, out of the way spaces. The nooks and crannies in a dresser, desk, or bed frame can be hiding some hungry bed bugs and their eggs.

Before purchasing second-hand furniture inspect it carefully. Look beyond the surface. If you’re considering buying a chair or couch give extra attention to the bottom of the piece as well as to the seams and edges. Lift the cushions and, if possible, strip the covers and shake them out.

Hard wood or metal furnishings should be similarly inspected. Look beyond the surface and check out the insides of the unit. Bed bugs like to hide in cracks and crevices so look into the darker recesses to check for bed bug activity. If possible have a flash light handy that you can use to illuminate any dark corners that need inspecting.

Bringing Your Purchases Home

Finally, when you’ve made a purchase there are a couple of things to consider before you bring anything into your home. Clothing and linens should be washed thoroughly. Wash everything you can in hot water and dry at the highest settings. Items that can’t be machine washed should be avoided or immediately sent out to be dry cleaned.

Furniture and electronics are slightly more difficult to handle. Obviously, you can’t toss them in a hot wash. But you should still take preventative measures. Before taking anything into your home give it another close inspection. A good place to do this is on a carport or sidewalk. Strip the furniture down as much as possible and really get into the nooks and crannies. A good tip is to bring a handheld hair dryer to bear on edges and crevices to drive out any bed bugs.

Once you’re sure your purchases are clear you can move them into your home.

Thrift Store Savings

Thrifting is a great way to save money and I wouldn’t want to give the impression that Goodwills and other second-hand shops don’t provide good value for money. But they can only do so much to protect their customers from bed bugs and other pests. In order to avoid potentially bringing bed bugs home with your purchases you need to learn to shop smart. Inspect the merchandise carefully and take steps to minimize your risks.

Published by Scott Palatnik

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