Thrift Store Shopping: 10 Risky Things Not to Buy

January 15th, 2012


things not to buy at thrift store

Shopping thrift stores shouldn’t be scary — but the reality is that even the savviest of thrift shoppers could unknowingly purchase unsafe and potentially dangerous items at thrift stores. Thrift store shopping can save you a few bucks on expensive necessities but without you even knowing it at time of purchase, eventually cost you big on the safety scale.

These 10 items you shouldn’t buy at a thrift store each carry their own unique “risk.” According to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, a few specific items on this list should never be purchased or sold at a thrift store because they carry the risk of having been recalled by the manufacturer or previously damaged by the former owner or expired over time.

While not a safety risk, there are still other items that when bought used defeat the purpose of buying the item at all. Plus, I personally believe that still other things shouldn’t be shopped at thrift stores because of their high “ick” risk of having been previously used in ways that make you go “ew!”

I love shopping thrift stores for the best selection of quality clothing brands at a fraction of their original cost. But when it comes to shopping the other departments of thrift stores, keep this important checklist in mind so that you don’t accidentally invest in a thrift store score that compromises your safety or state of well-being!

Whether you’re shopping at a thrift store, yard sale or on a site like Ebay or free/swap/trade sites like Freecycle and Craigslist, avoid buying these 10 items to keep your safety AND savings in check.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this checklist of risky items you should never thrift store shop. Let me know if I should add another “risk item” to the list by leaving a comment below the post.

Plus, I’d love to know things that while tempting, you ultimately decided not to buy at the thrift store. We can’t buy everything all the time!

Or say hi on Twitter, Facebook or email!

xx, SD



don't buy helmets at thrift storesCredit: Creative Commons on Flickr

DON’T BUY THEM BECAUSE: Once a helmet receives impact, its ability to protect the head from future impact has decreased. Actually, if your helmet has received significant impact from crash, collision or fall then you should technically buy a new helmet to sustain future injury.

THE RISK YOU TAKE: Buying safety equipment like helmets from thrift stores seems harmless, but all you know about that helmet is what you’re looking at and not what it’s actually experienced. The potential risk you take is that the helmet could have withstood impact and was donated to the thrift store after being replaced by its former owner with a new and therefore safer helmet.

The former owners of safety equipment usually won’t remember that their equipment has been used and abused and is therefore not safe to donate, which is why the chances of finding helmets for sale secondhand remains likely despite a general understanding of their average lifespan.

WHY IT’S WORTH THE FULL COST: When it comes to safety equipment don’t cut corners to save a few bucks on used equipment. Sure, there’s a chance the helmet may never have been worn at all. Heck, it could even look brand new!

But like taking the chance of not buckling up in the car or forgetting to look both ways before you cross the street, the cost of that “small chance” becoming reality will cost you BIG loss in the end. Fork over the price-in-full for new safety equipment to ensure both health and wealth.



don't buy matresses and bedding at thrift stores Credit: Creative Commons on Flickr

DON’T BUY THEM BECAUSE: Mattresses are the number one “homes” to that little epidemic we like to call bed bugs. Bed bugs are microscopic, nocturnal critters that can hibernate in the far corners of our mattresses for months without feeding. That means a mattress or bed frame may be in a thrift store for months and soon after purchase and placed in a home of people, the bed bugs awaken because they sense the warmth of bodies sleeping above them. Gross, I know — but ’tis the truth!

THE RISK YOU TAKE: While cities like New York City have laws guaranteeing a renters’ right for free extermination of bed bugs, a homeowner will have to spend a few thousand dollars for the full extermination process once the bed bugs are discovered. Not to mention the frustrating process of washing and drying clothing if the bed bugs have moved into your closet and drawers.

WHY IT’S WORTH THE FULL COST: I speak from personal experience, having endured living with bed bugs in my New York City apartment for approximately two months in 2010. I threw away all of my furniture and covered my mattress with a cover, washed and dried all of my clothing twice and had a visit from Barry the exterminator three times. It was a difficult situation to deal with and one which I stress no one should ever risk experiencing themselves when shopping in thrift stores.



dont buy makeup at thrift storesCredit: Creative Commons on Flickr

DON’T BUY THEM BECAUSE: Makeup have expiration and best-used-by dates which are not legally required to be marked on the bottles. Since we can’t find an expiration date on our makeup containers, we only know that it’s expired if we remember the approximate date of original purchase.

THE RISK YOU TAKE: The general rule of thumb is to throw away unopened makeup after a “few years” — but only if it’s remained at stable room temperature. Whose to say those bottles of Cover Girl foundation being sold for $1 each at your local Goodwill weren’t boiling in the summer’s heat while being transported to the store? The opportunity for cheap makeup deals is appealing at thrift stores, but you take the chance that you’re purchasing expired makeup that will run off your face or even worse, have a reaction with your skin since the formula has weakened over time and harsh conditions.

WHY IT’S WORTH THE FULL COST: If shopped correctly, you can still get makeup at discounted prices. When purchasing discounted makeup at a major retail chain, you probably are buying unopened makeup that’s been on the shelf a tad too long than the store wants. But at a thrift store, the shelf life is indefinite since it’s less likely a thrift store employee is going to mind the makeup inventory like a drugstore would. Watch for sales at your local CVS or Rite Aid instead!



dont buy cribs at thrift storesCredit: Creative Commons on Flickr

DON’T BUY THEM BECAUSE: Children’s cribs, strollers, swings and car seats are carefully regulated to meet the highest safety criteria of the moment. When one of the above is found NOT to meet the government’s closely monitored standards, that item is recalled and therefore legally forced to be taken off the shelves of stores and returned to the manufacturer for recycling.

THE RISK YOU TAKE: If you own a crib that has been recalled, a public service announcement is made through the news and you are asked to send it back to the manufacturer so that it’s no longer used by you and so that it doesn’t accidentally fall into the secondhand sales industry. However, we cannot hold everyone accountable for awareness of each and every recall, which is why there is always a risk that the toy, sporting equipment, kitchen appliance and yes, even baby crib has been recalled but the previous owner donated it to the local thrift store unaware that they were passing on a safety risk to an unknowing potential buyer.

Some reasons old baby cribs are unsafe is because they collapse or because the space between the bars is too wide and can harm small children up to the point of suffocation. According to government regulations set by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, no thrift store is supposed to sell donated baby cribs, strollers, baby seats, swings and more. But the true responsibility rests in the consumer and that is why we must be discerning of our secondhand purchases for children.

WHY IT’S WORTH THE FULL COST: Purchasing a baby crib new means you’re investing in something that has not been recalled, since it remains on the shelves of a mass market retail store. This doesn’t mean that it won’t be recalled in the near future, but the chances of you hearing about that recall is likely. Old recalls are not repeatedly announced via public service announcements in the news, so you may buy a baby crib at a thrift store that was recalled two years ago and you’ll never hear about it.



dont buy stuffed animals at thrift storeCredit: Creative Commons on Flickr

DON’T BUY THEM BECAUSE: Next to diapers, stuffed animals are probably the most disposable items owned by children . This is because stuffed animals are more likely to be slobbered on, mixed with food, eaten up by pets and yes … even the proud absorbing wipe of a pee-pee or poo-poo!

Secondly and far more important than their gross factors, stuffed animals are made with materials to resemble human and animal hair which can become the happy homes of lice. Ick!

THE RISK YOU TAKE: Since stuffed animals are machine washable, you can take the risk of acquiring icky remnants of past lives or current pests and simply wash the stuffed critters immediately upon arriving home from thrift shopping. Washing thrift store purchases immediately is a regular practice for most thrifters anyway. Just make sure your 8-year-old daughter doesn’t start playing with her new stuffed doggie before he gets a dose of Tide detergent!

WHY IT’S WORTH THE FULL COST: Like buying lingerie & underwear, some things are just meant to be bought new. Stuffed animals may cost one-quarter of their full price at the thrift store, but do you really want to take that stuffed puppy home only to find it was the previous owner’s snot rag or even worse, for the school nurse to call home from school to report that your son or daughter has a head full of lice? I didn’t think so!



dont buy used electronics at the thrift storeCredit: Creative Commons on Flickr

DON’T BUY THEM BECAUSE: First, unless you find an electrical outlet in the thrift store you’re not going to know if that blender actually works. Speaking from personal experience, I’ve blown way too many blenders in my college years intensely crushing ice for margaritas! Basic blenders are so dime-a-dozen that the chances one found for sale in a thrift store actually works is pretty slim.

Second, the chances that the blender is completely “clean” also isn’t likely. If you’re someone sensitive to crusty food remnants, I warn you now: DON’T PEEK INTO THAT BLENDER! You’ll probably see bits of fruit, protein powder and other frequently blended bits. Double ick!

THE RISK YOU TAKE: Forking over a few bucks for a thrifted blender is chancing not only whether the device works, but whether it’s going to work well. The blades could have lost their sharpness over time, or hardly spin at all. Plus, you’ve got that “former” food life issue. You’ll have to soak the blender’s pitcher in some seriously cleansing dish washing soap and hot water to remove anything that may have stuck around from its former owner’s last meal.

WHY IT’S WORTH THE FULL COST: A brand new blender can be bought for $10-$15 at a Target or Wal-Mart. For the $10 extra in full cost value, you might as well start fresh and get the “first blend” to your benefit. Just remember not to fill the blender up with too much ice, margarita mix and tequila because next to buying a used blender, that’s also a recipe for disaster!



dont buy underwear at thrift storesCredit: Creative Commons on Flickr

DON’T BUY THEM BECAUSE: So here’s the truth: The reason used undergarments, bathing suits and the like are sold at thrift stores is because it is completely legal to do so. New retail stores put panty liners in underwear and bathing suits simply as a vanity act. It’s not like they replace the panty liners each time someone has tried on the garment, so when you try something on new in the store with a liner you are still essentially “trying on a used garment.”

People don’t want to buy used undergarments for the obvious reasons of the bodily fluids which can be absorbed by the material and remain until washed.

THE RISK YOU TAKE: Actually, none. Unless the undergarment was worn immediately before you put it on, you have no risk of inheriting any form of bacteria like an STD or other illness-inducing disease. The risk you take when buying used underwear is honestly just your comfort level in wearing them once they are washed.

WHY IT’S WORTH THE FULL COST: I put undergarments on this top 10 list of things not to thrift for personal reasons only. I’ve actually inherited my mother’s old lingerie/negligee without discomfort, but I personally wouldn’t purchase or inherit that of someone beyond my family.

However this is my personal preference at this stage in my life. Those less fortunate or more secondhand savvy may have different opinions, and I completely respect that. In fact, I welcome it and hope that thrifters open to purchasing used undergarments offer their opinions in the comments below this post.



dont buy baby car seats at thrift storeCredit: Creative Commons on Flickr

DON’T BUY THEM BECAUSE: Just like used baby cribs, purchasing a baby seat or carrier at a thrift store increases the chance that you are investing in a piece of equipment for your child that fails to meet today’s safety technology.

THE RISK YOU TAKE: The general rule of thumb is to replace child car seats every six years from date of manufacture. This is because over time, the plastic from the car seat is affected by harsh conditions of heat and sun sitting in a car. While a car seat may have look brand new and have never been used, over time the plastic loses strength and is more prone to cracking or worse, not being able to withstand full impact from a crash compared to its strength at time of original purchase.

But like baby cribs, car seats are also recalled frequently. While thrift stores are not supposed to sell car seats and carriers because of this risk as regulated by the US Product Safety Commission, a few risk-items may slip through the cracks at your local thrift store chain.

WHY IT’S WORTH THE FULL COST: Safety technology is constantly evolving and improving. New technology for children’s safety is being developed every single day, and so investing in a brand new car seat is the same as investing in a brand new vaccine. You wouldn’t get a vaccine to prevent disease that’s proven not as effective as a newer version, right? The same can be said for car seats: Why would you get something that won’t be as effective in the event of an emergency, just to save a few bucks?



dont buy running shoes at thrift storeCredit: Creative Commons on Flickr

DON’T BUY THEM BECAUSE: Running shoes should be purchased to help you achieve the safest, most optimal running stride for you. Picking up a pair of generic running shoes in your size at a thrift store is like trying to fit a square peg into a circle. It might seem like a good economical idea at the time, but you’ll quickly learn that your running success isn’t going to be first class with a second hand pair of shoes.

THE RISK YOU TAKE: Additionally, running shoes are not supposed to be worn for running after about 500 miles of running use. When running shoes are donated to a thrift store, the chance that the shoes have been used close to that amount are high. Why else would they find their way into a thrift store? Their former owners’ ran them to their expiration date, and decided to donate them for fear of being wasteful.

WHY IT’S WORTH THE FULL COST: A pair of running shoes worn for approximately 500 miles at an average of 30 miles per week can be worn for up to 6 months. That’s a long time for a great pair of shoes fitted to help you reach top performance with secure safety in mind!Buy new running shoes at a local running equipment store with trained professionals who know how to fit your stride (also called “gait”) with the right shoe. These running boutiques usually have a treadmill set up to evaluate your running and help suggest the best shoe.



dont buy halogen lamps at thrift storeCredit: Creative Commons on Flickr

DON’T BUY THEM BECAUSE: Older versions of halogen lamps lack the protective glass/wire frames over the bulbs to prevent the lamp’s extreme heat from affecting flammable objects, like curtains.

A halogen lamp is different from a non-halogen lamp because it can burn brighter thanks to its chemical components of iodine or bromine. Since they burn brighter, they also burn hotter which introduces the risk of pain-upon-contact or worse, a halogen-lamp induced fire on an object resting nearby.

THE RISK YOU TAKE: After recognizing that the halogen bulb burner brighter and hotter, manufacturers began encasing the bubs with glass/wire frames to prevent heat from escaping and affecting nearby objects.

But in the world of vintage, a non-encased halogen lamp may seem kitschy and decoratively more interesting than a modern halogen lamp with the protective coverings. While thrift stores are not legally allowed to sell halogen lamps according to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, home decor thrifters should still be wary of what types of plug-in electronics they’re investing in with vintage — but potentially unsafe — appeal.

WHY IT’S WORTH THE FULL COST: If you’re looking for a vintage lamp, consider purchasing a new model that’s been designed with vintage inspiration. Like a piece of vintage clothing, sometimes the fit just isn’t right and you have to invest in a vintage-inspired piece with modern size. When it comes to lamps and other electronic equipment, look for pieces designed with vintage-inspiration and modern safety standards.


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Facebook Comments


  1. Sammy says:

    Thanks Kerrie! Now I just need some advice from you on the “10 things everyone should always thrift” haha! XO

  2. Reyna Lay says:

    Great Job on this!! Ew factor is high on the undergarments, especially thongs that crawl up people crevices… double, triple, quadruple ew!! lol

  3. Sammy says:

    LOL! I know, I just can’t do it! can’t can’t can’t! You can buy new underwear at thrift stores, however. Oftentimes from Target, etc! XOXO

  4. Emmah says:

    Great list though I’m with the others I do buy slips and stockings (still in packaging) because who wants to pay more for the slip hidden underneath then they did for the dress they’re wearing. :)

    Ps. I’m the Aussie girl who visited you at A Little Wicked while I was on holiday. :)

  5. Sammy says:

    hi Dear Emmah! Of course I remember you ;-) I hope you are doing so well, it’s fast becoming fall/winter in Australia now no? You have a great point about slips. I didn’t differentiate between underwear and slips. I suppose I would buy them used, yes although I have quite a few from my mom so I’m not in need of any soon! XO

  6. Noreen says:

    Good advice. I would buy a thrift store swimsuit or underwear if it still had the tags or packaging, but I’m not to the point that I would buy used…yet. Slips don’t seem all that different from a dress to me, so I have no problem buying them.

  7. Courtney says:

    There are some vintage makeup collectors out there who may score a good find in a thrift shop when it comes to makeup. However, that’s of course with the caveat that you shouldn’t actually USE the makeup.

  8. Abby says:

    Another reason not to buy used cribs (or at least the crib mattress) is the possible link between used crib mattresses and SIDS.

  9. Sammy says:

    Here here, sister! I will check out that link, thank you!

  10. Sammy says:

    Abby I hadn’t thought of this — thank you for bringing it to my attention!

  11. Sammy says:

    LOL. true that sister! #maybeshesbornwithit #maybeitsjustold

  12. Jake says:

    You forgot to add people to the list. I picked up my x-wife there and forgot to save the receipt. Needless to say it was the most expensive purchase I ever made, cost me half my house and half my bank account.

  13. UH OH!!!! ;-) Well, perhaps that’s just a BIG write-off for tax season, Jake? xo

  14. L A Chhay says:

    I am in love with 60s style swim wear, but haven’t purchased any because I just can’t get over being that close to someone else’s summer fun. Any idea where quality reproductions are available?

  15. Sammy says:

    I agree! Let me do some research for you. Are you on the fan page? I’d love to share what I find there but want to make sure you follow, too. xx

  16. Lin says:

    I have that exact crib in the picture. I bought it at a thrift store. No kidding – the exact one. Simplicity if I recall correctly, but not real sure on the brand. Anyway basically you just need to know current safety laws. No need to waste perfectly good things. For those who do pass up good things – more for those who dont. I even buy sheets used. I love high end design and no one would guess my sheets or anything I have is used. Ha. Little do my guests know they sleep on thrifted down pillows.

  17. Vic says:

    Nice post! Thank you Sammy for your super cool website =) I am a vintage fan too.
    But I have some questions:
    1. Is it safe to buy vintage electronics? There are so many cool designed stuff that are not around anymore! Like hair rollers, lava lamps, turntables, radio and TV etc. They look futuristic even now!
    2. Undergarment: How about bras, girdles, garters that are worn outside? The vintage underwear are well made and can’t be found today!
    3. Vintage magazines:
    I love love love the layout of the vintage magazines, but they make me sick too! Because all those weird mold, stains, unknown stuff on there…ew!

  18. Les says:

    I disagree with some of your list. Bike helmets like the one in the photo are not cheap Walmart stuff. As long as there are no dents or other physical damage they are fine! Blenders can be cleaned, most thrift stores I have been in have outlets for checking the unit.The older commercial units are great! I buy allot of electronics in thrift stores. I buy all my clothes there also. Old Levi 501’s are great at $3.00!One exception is mens under wear and socks, Walmart for that.Very good advice for the childrens things and make sure there are no recalls. I’ve bought brand new looking Nike,NB,bike shoes, and more at thrift stores. Just wash em good and disinfect all!

  19. Sammy says:

    Les I am so happy that you feel comfortable enough to disagree! Your opinion is SO valid! I think you have some points about the helmets, although it is always important to exercise caution. Good point about the outlets — this is a good tip to pass along in a future post. Thank you so much for commenting and spreading thrift store <3! XO

  20. Andrea says:

    I’ve bought two pairs of underwear(s)from Vaule Village and I feel confident on wearing them.

  21. Jerry says:

    Boomboxes, tape players, cameras…they rarely work. Even if the sticker says “plays” or “works” TEST IT YOURSELF!!!!

  22. Amarie says:

    That’s just nasty! Ewwwwww!!!!

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  24. I’m fairly certain I’ve see this very same type of assertion anywhere else, it needs to be gaining popularity with the world.

  25. Penny says:

    I worked for a thrift store. And I can tell you clothes are NOT washed, they are nasty. Luggage is Nasty. I seen poop, peed, vomit, mold, and all kinds of Nasty. My eyes and nose was so congested after a days work for little pay bearly above min. wage. You can catch bed bugs, lice, scabbies, and all other kinds of Funk and STDs. Good Luck hope you don’t catch something.

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  35. Iloveithere says:

    Your stuff is so helpful. Thank you for sharing, you have some amazing insights here. But on the issue of thrifted under garments, I too used to be grossed out at the idea until I realised everything i was missing out on. While I wouldn’t buy modern under anything from a thrift store vintage bras, teddys, nighties, and other amazing things can’t be purchased anywhere else. How would I survive without a sheer lace a la Madonna bustier or a fifties polka dot silk and lace romper nightie. And my lace and ruffle teddy, or my silk paisley one. As a vintage lover don’t you realize you are missing out on the most beautiful and sensual remnants of the past because, before you washed it, it touched another human?

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  37. Cierria says:

    Some of these things are just about looking at them carefully to see if they have been damaged or testing it. Stuffed animals, clothes, just wash it all before you use or try them on. Carry hand sanitizer around. My goodwill, lets me return items, So, if I try it on and it doesn’t fit…I return it. Just keep the barbs on the clothes as you wash them. Not every goodwill or thriftstore has the no return policy.

  38. Cierria says:

    Also, even if undwear are new, If they are not packaged(unopened), I would not recommend trying them on.

  39. thestuffedanimallover says:

    stuffed animals are awesome just because you don’t like them doesn’t mean you should post bad stuff about them.

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