Bed bugs. The general public agrees that they’re hard to get and even harder to get rid of. But with most cases residing in foreign countries and NYC apartments, it’s safe to say that the rest of the country has little to worry about … right?
Wrong! According to experts, bed bugs aren’t just risks at hostels, dirty motels or crowded NYC apartment buildings. Recently, national clothing stores, media companies and prestigious opera houses have fallen victim to bed bug invasion. And then there’s those cases in wealthy South Florida hotels, suburban Los Angeles homes and even in college dorms. Looks like bed bugs are leaving urban mattresses in search of greener pastures.
No matter where they come from or where they’re going, between the hours of 1AM and 5AM these creepy crawly critters want to snuggle with you in the warmth of your bed for a quick bite to eat and an even quicker scamper back to their dark, secret hiding places. They’re spreading their blood-sucking selves into the beds of warm human bodies nationwide, and if you aren’t careful with your shopping habits, you may be welcoming an expensive exterminator along with those new bedmates of yours.
Sure, thrifty finds are unique and cheap, but the exterminator? He’ll need $1000+ to take care of your little creepy crawlies. No need to go into panic mode because fortunately, there are measures you can take to enjoy thrifty finds and avoid bedbugs.
Read on for my advice on how to best avoid bringing bed bugs home with you when shopping thrift and second-hand finds.
HIGH RISK: CURBSIDE FURNITURE
In the market for a new set of drawers? If you want to avoid the highest risk activity in bed bug infestation, then avoid trash- night for your freegan shopping spree.
Admittedly, I have a history of pulling new-to-me furniture from the curb in elated glee — but with the recent resurgence of bed bugs, you never know if something is curbside because its previous owners are dealing with the little critters themselves. Step away from the leather couch, my friend — unless you want some pretty uncomfortable bites with that comfortable cushion.
Low Risk Advice: If you want free furniture, ask family members if they have anything to give.
HIGH RISK: LUGGAGE
Bed bugs enjoy traveling just as much as your newly retired Aunt Paula & Uncle Dave enjoy using their 20 years of cumulative frequent flier miles to travel the globe. Like a bona fide nomad, bed bugs aren’t attached to their last warm body — they just follow the food wherever it goes. And sorry to say it … but that food is you.
If you’re eyeing up a piece of vintage or thrift luggage at your local Salvation Army, close your eyes and just slowly walk away. Bed bugs emerge in the nighttime because they like the dark. And what is darker than the shadows of a suitcase? No matter its price tag, don’t pay for your bed bugs’ one-way ticket into your home.
Low-Risk Advice: Discount stores like Marshalls and TJ Maxx have pretty stylish luggage for less. Add a bow for some extra personality, minus the extra baggage of bed bugs.
MODERATE RISK: THRIFT STORE CLOTHING
Keep in mind that not all thrift store pieces are at risk equally. Bed bugs will nestle and lay eggs in sweaters and coats over jeans or shoes. Also, a difference in materials influences where a bug is more likely to hang. Bedbugs love settling into dark, humid places like the hood of a fur jacket or the lining of a wool sweater. Sequins, linen and starchy materials are safe alternatives to wool, cashmere or other soft, bury-friendly threads.
Before buying, give your thrift store find a 360-degree examination. Stretch knitting between your fingers to expose any resting critters, unfold cuffs, turn pockets inside out and look along the inner lining of a winter jacket. If it seems suspicious, pass it over.
Low-Risk Advice: See swap parties & yard sales below.
MODERATE RISK: THRIFT STORE PURSES
Unlike luggage, thrift store purses are a lower risk because you usually don’t throw clothing items into purses. Still, there have been isolated reports of bed bugs hiding in cell phones, so the risk is worth a rating.
My best advice? Dump out each thrift store purse before buying. Check the seams and pockets for black or brown pin-sized splotches, or “bed bug droppings.”
Low-Risk Advice: Give each purse a serious once-over and if you choose to buy it, immediately throw it in your dryer on high heat to kill any live bugs or their eggs.
LOW-TO-MODERATE RISK: THRIFT STORE PAINTINGS
Most people don’t recognize that bed bugs aren’t just mattress-dwelling. They like to hang out in all things wooden and porous, too.
Old picture frames and painting frames make perfect hiding places for bed bugs, especially when said frames are hanging on a wall and give the insects leverage to travel to and from various rooms of your home.
Low-Risk Advice: If a vintage painting is just too good to be true (see examples above, classic!) and you have to buy it, turn it around and make sure that it’s mark free (no black or brown spots) and that the frame doesn’t contain porous holes where bed bugs could hide. If it’s solid wood and mark-free, you’re probably more safe than screwed.
LOW RISK: USED BOOKS
Bed bugs can be book worms, too.
The most serious of bed bug cases report that the pages of books found in untouched, for-display-only, book shelves shelter bed bugs. They burrow into disintegrating pages of ancient books that your human eye has neither desire to read nor chance of seeing.
Low-Risk Advice: Don’t just pick up a used book and buy it. Bust a move and shake it, flap it and turn it upside down. Spot a few holes in the pages or a tiny insect resembling an apple seed? Then it’s time to buy new on Amazon.
AT YOUR DISCRETION: YARD SALE PURCHASES & SWAP PARTIES
I’m a huge proponent of swap parties and yard sales for their “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” platform of sustainable style and material possession consciousness.
The issue? Like when shopping thrift stores, you’re shopping in slippery territory with swap parties and yard sales, too. How do you know that your best-friends’-cousins’-aunts’-neighbor doesn’t have bed bugs, and her awesome vintage 60s dress isn’t only going to impress your friends, but is going to bring home some new friends, too?
Low-Risk Advice: Shop sanely, but wash safely and quickly. Everything that you acquire at a swap event, yard sale or thrift store is going to be washed eventually, right? Instead of throwing new swap finds into your hamper, keep them tightly bound in a plastic bag and then wash and dry them on high heat immediately.
– SAMMY DAVIS
Sammy Davis spends her days doing what any thrift nut loves most: blogging about her totally vintage life on her site, Sammy Davis Vintage, and shooting videos that inspire you to pursue your passions on her YouTube channel.