How to Avoid Bed Bugs When Shopping for Clothing & Furniture at Thrift Stores

September 24th, 2010


Move over, Mr. Cocky Cockroach. There’s a new bug in town — and he’s as tiny [or tinier] than a tick, nocturnal, can live days without food but when he wants some goes straight for your blood. He’s the size of an apple seed yet even exterminators shy away from these poison apples/; We’ll just call him Mr. Brazen Bed Bug … because brazen he most certainly is, entering the homes, stores, and offices of this city’s 5 boroughs and striking fear in the beds of even the most urban elite.

Yup, it’s been a rough week for New York City. Why? Because bed-bug-apocalypse seems to be upon the Big Apple, with stores like Abercrombie & Fitch and Niketown, along with magazine office Elle and even the Empire State Building being infested with the blood-sucking, bed burrowing and clothing loving critters.

When most people think of bed bugs, they think of a.) beds and b.) places where beds would be, like your single and multi-family housing, hotel and motels, and of course, those ubiquitous used mattresses found on the side of the road.

But what doesn’t come to mind of most people when thinking about bed bugs is the fact that these critters like to hide in clothing. And where can you find mass amounts of used clothing taken from places where there were beds? You guessed it — shopping thrift stores.

So not only has this week been a tough one for us New Yorkers in general, but for the vintage and thrift loving population of the country who frequent thrift stores for their hobby, passion or job.

Since the news about the epidemic first struck, I’ve been feeling pretty low about the chance that after shopping at my local Goodwill, I could unknowingly carry a bed bug from the clothing in my bag into my apartment, into my bed … and well, you can guess the rest.  I realize that it’s a huge liability to continue to visit thrift stores, but I don’t want to completely stop doing something I love.

So, like the true vintage lover that I am, I did some research to see how I could still shop thrift but not shop bed bugs. My 10 top tips are below — and I’m taking new ones from those in the vintage and thrift industry who are more informed than me! Please send any thrift-away-bed-bug-tips my way at Sammy@sammydvintage.com

Don’t forget to check out my 34 Tips on: How to Thrift Store Shop

xx, SD


Tip #1: Confirm Safety of a Store Using an Online Bed Bug Registry

Use The Bed Bug Registry to plug in the address of the thrift store you are visiting. If there’s been a report of bed bugs in that store, be warned!

Tip #2: Give Each Piece You Want to Buy a Thorough Inspection

A rule of thumb for anyone shopping thrift is to give each piece you are considering buying what I like to call the “360.” This means checking seams, cuffs, collars, pockets and anything else not in full-frontal-view to make sure that the piece is damage, stain and of course, bed-bug free.

Cuffs and pockets are a particularly sought after hiding place for bed bugs in clothing. Unfold cuffs and turn pockets inside out before trying on or taking anything home.

Tip #3: Do Not Buy Thrift Store Furniture Without Inspecting it First

Don’t bring bed bugs into your home after purchasing second-hand furniture like this family in Indiana did. Thankfully Goodwill picked up the exterminator tab, but you may not be so lucky if you buy yourself an awesome couch with an awful aftermath.

How to tell if the furniture has bed bugs? They leave brownish, blackish droppings that look like ink marks. If you see those on the inside of the cushions or anywhere on the furniture at all, don’t buy it. Seriously, don’t even touch it.

Tip #4: Avoid Buying Second-Hand Furniture That is Porous

True story: I previously owned an entire set of white wicker furniture in my New York City apartment. When I learned that bed bugs love hiding in the cracks between the wicker, seeking shelter by day and emerging at night to crawl from your bed stand onto your bed? Well, you guessed it — that furniture was on the curb faster than you can scream “Bed Bug!”

If the furniture is “porous” — meaning you could compare it to a sponge, loofah or just anything weaved — it’s not worth your time even buying it new, for risk that if you are ever infested, those bed bugs have prime breeding ground.

Tip #5: Shake Out Bags, Purses and Wallets

Bed bugs like to hide in warm, dark places. Bags, purses and wallets are about as warm and dark as they get — and are literally a free ride for those critters to leave the thrift store, enter your car and then enter your home or worse yet, the homes of others you happen to visit.

I’d advise against buying bags at thrift stores at all, but if you must have that vintage 80s clutch, I totally understand — but advise shaking it out upside down and checking any pockets, crevices and corners for signs of bed bug burrow.

Tip #6: Bag Your Finds in a Plastic Bag and Double Knot it Shut

Most thrift stores bag in plastic. Ask your register associate to tie the plastic bag shut and double it knot it so that no air can leave or enter the bag. If you’re not sure whether the store bags in plastic, bring a few from your home to use in the event that you’re stuck with paper.

Tying your plastic bag shut ensures that any hiding bed bugs are trapped shut, only to be washed to death when you wash and dry your thrift store finds — see the next tip for this very important and highly-advised suggestion!


Tip #7: Put the Bag into the Trunk of Your Car

Call me paranoid, but in the event that a bed bug does manage to crawl its way out of your plastic way, at least you’ve confined it to your trunk where it will hopefully die. The issue remains, however, that bed bugs can lay eggs before dying themselves. And bed bugs can live without food for days on end or when hibernating, don’t need to eat at all. And guess what? They can hibernate for up to a year and a half.

The point? When thrifting, vacuum your car frequently to kill bugs dead, alive, or yet to hatch.

Tip #8: Wash Everything You Buy Immediately

Read this and weep, because this is the most important step of all: Wash and dry your thrift store clothes immediately after buying them. The hot water and hot air will kill all bugs and their unborn children. I recommend keeping the clothing in the trunk of your car until you can take it immediately into your washer.

Do not bring the bag into your home with the intent to wash the clothing “a few hours later.” Do it right away, and do it the right way to keep your home happy and bed bug free.

Tip #9: Put Non-Washable Items in the Dryer on High Heat

I love shopping the evening wear section at a thrift store because I can find fabulous dresses, jumpers and even old wedding gowns for a fraction of the cost. The flipside? I have to dry clean them if they’re dirty.

The downside in this situation? If you want to de-buggify any of your dry-clean only finds without actually getting them dry cleaned, you must dry the piece at high heat for at about 20 minutes. The high heat should kill the bugs and at the very least, guarantee that when you do take the piece to a dry cleaner for a professional clean, that you’re not risking the reputation of your friendly local dry cleaner by affecting the entire neighborhood.

Tip #10: Check Your Body Before You Leave

Before exiting the thrift store, walk to an aisle mirror and give your body a solid once over. Flip your shirt inside out, check exposed skin, open your bag and examine the seams, pockets and openings. Do whatever it takes to ensure that you are not walking out with a bed bug chilling on you. Sounds gross, right? Well, I didn’t name the bed bug “Mr. Brazen” without due reason. He’s not cocky like the cockroach, but he takes risks. Don’t let his risks be your worst nightmare. Take whatever safety precautions you can when saving money or finding fashion when shopping thrift and second-hand.

Click here to read some other helpful tips for the thrift-inclined, thanks to Associated Content

MORE THRIFT SHOPPING TIPS

34 Tips on: How to Thrift Store Shop
HEALTH: Why Thrift Shopping is an Addiction
WEALTH: How to Save Money Thrift Shopping
TIPS: 18 Tips for Buying Used Clothes
RISK: 10 Risky Items Not to Buy at a Thrift Store
VIDEO: Thrift Shopping the Goodwill Outlet
PLUS: The Complete Thrift Shopping Dictionary

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24 Comments

  1. sdv fan katie says:

    every sammy davis article is helpful and informative, but this one takes it to another level. Everyone who loves thrifting and “vinting,” take heed and do it the sdv way! I really haven’t seen advice like this anywhere– thank you Sammy for your thorough research on such a relevant issue.

    [Reply]

  2. mark says:

    If you’re so paranoid and obsessed about little bed bugs that you double bag your clothes and throw out your wicker furniture, then don’t go thrift shopping. White people. Sheez.

    [Reply]

    c Reply:

    Racism is so cool when it’s against white people!

    [Reply]

    Kay Reply:

    You two are complete morons! Racism is so cool when it’s against white people? Well then, I guess racism is cool against blacks as well. There is also alot more to be said about you than some white person’s fear of bedbugs.

    [Reply]

    Ivana Reply:

    The POINT people is that this is a place to find VINTAGE. Any home in the country could be infested and guess what? So can a mall. People go to those malls and carry with them little surprises. That’s why no matter where you shop you wash your clothes first, always.

    For the occasional item that may have bed bugs – there is a bed bug killing spray. It is intended for things that cannot go in a washer. Like a mattress.

    ~TrendyPantsVintage

    [Reply]

  3. Cubicle Chic says:

    Excellent post, Sammy! I worry about going thrifting these days with bed bugs being reported everywhere – but this looks like a good way to do it!

    [Reply]

  4. ritu says:

    This is so timely! Well written!

    [Reply]

  5. Judi says:

    Tweeted and FB this great article! Thx!!!

    [Reply]

  6. smcc says:

    Re: Bedbugs
    For items that can’t be put in washer, like bags, shoes, I heard that freezing 48 hrs (inside airtight plastic bag) is very effective

    [Reply]

  7. pj says:

    Hello,

    I have a question regarding the bedbug risks. I too am a thrift store lover but getting more and more leary of shopping at them.

    I have been a ebay seller for a very long time and thrift stores are the best place to find my items. I have a comforter I love, altho I purchased it brand new I now find myself constantly wanting to clean my bed comforter, blankets etc., problem is my comforter won’t fit into a standard washer and dryer. Do you think it is safe to do your laundry in a laundry mat now?

    Any help would be most greatly appreciated.

    Sincerely,

    PJ

    [Reply]

  8. I would avoid buying suspecios wardrobes and old fashioned furniture. The articles abaut bugbad risks in comments above really stunning.

    [Reply]

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  16. kristen says:

    I just bought a trunk from goodwill and Its wooden how am I suppose to clean it to kill the bed bugs ? if there is any bed bugs living in it at all

    [Reply]

    Sammy Reply:

    Kristen, unfortunately there is nothing you can do using home products .. your best bet would be to FREEZE the trunk if you have a freezer large enough!!

    Does the trunk have any dark spots on it?

    [Reply]

  17. Musical Lynn says:

    That’s kind of freaky………..but now I know what to do!!!! :))

    [Reply]

    Sammy Reply:

    Totally! ;-( truth is, it can happen to anyone. Trick is to stay calm and carry on ;-)

    [Reply]

  18. Erin says:

    We used this to great effect in a recent bed bug infestation (that has been vanquished): 115 degrees kills all stages of bed bug life in 7 minutes. If you have a car and you can park it somewhere that will get full sun, the trunk will easily heat up to higher than 115, which is a great way to de-bugify things like vacuum cleaners, shoes, and dry clean only items.

    [Reply]

  19. I am in fact pleased to read this webpage posts which contains tons of useful information, thanks for providing these kinds of
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    [Reply]

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