Every secondhand enthusiast has that one bargain that could have gone horribly wrong. For me, it was the couch by the dumpster outside my on-campus apartment during college. I had been out entirely too late on a week night, and my friend and I were overcome with strength and the determination to save this perfectly good couch from sudden death.
We sure didn’t check that thing for bed bugs. We hauled it into the apartment, and, a month later, to our off-campus house that was packed with other hand-me-downs. It was a solid couch and nobody got a rash. But older, wiser me wouldn’t have taken a chance on a dumpster couch.
Everyone’s still pouncing on everyone else’s castoffs that no longer spark joy, and I’m here to thank you for working on that “reduce” part of the “three Rs.” But also, I want you to take off your landfill blinders for a moment to review some items you should avoid buying used. To put it simply, they are too gross.
Two words: Bed bugs. Two more words: Too old! Mattresses aren’t good for nearly as long as your childhood bedroom would like you to think. If a mattress is more than five years old, it’s likely been used too much to make it worth saving a few bucks buying secondhand.
If you have a friend who’s moving and getting rid of their own fairly new mattress, I’ll let you slide on this one. But you need to be fewer than two degrees removed from the original owner to make it worth the risk of pests and the risk of back pain.
Two words: Head lice. OK, I’m mostly kidding. The real reason you don’t want to buy a used bike helmet is that the foam padding breaks down over time. A helmet that’s just a few years old might not be durable enough to protect your noggin if you go careening over a curb.
Plus, a helmet that has sustained a crash should be tossed. Unless you can guarantee that used helmet is brand new, never-been-crashed, pass and grab a new one for $30 or $40.
Baby gear gets expensive fast, but unless you know the seller well, you should skip trying to save money on a car seat. Safety rules on these necessary items change frequently, and seats often get recalled for not satisfying those requirements. Plus, if the car seat has been in an accident, it should be retired. It’s not worth taking a chance on your little one’s safety.
Food processors and blenders
Do you take apart all the components of your small home appliances after every use for a thorough cleaning? If you’ve ever cut a cleaning corner, you can assume everyone else has too. Blenders and food processors end up on my do-not-buy list for the high likelihood that even the most gleaming of castoffs have tiny bits of old food stuck within their crevices. Grab the spare blender from your mum’s next time you visit (why does she have two, anyway?), but steer clear of these items at thrift stores.
Best-case scenario, they’re already stretched out by the time they hit the “donate” pile. Worst-case scenario... well, look. They’ve been up in someone else’s nether regions. It’s gonna be a no from me.
Bathing suits, on the other hand? You probably have chlorine on your side. If you shop secondhand swimwear, make sure the elastic is strong and the suit isn’t faded. Machine wash, throw in a little vinegar if there’s a lingering chlorine smell, and then hit the pool deck in it.
When you find a favourite swimsuit, you wear it as much as you can before parting ways. The suits you find at thrift and consignment shops were likely only worn a few times before someone decided the fit wasn’t quite right. The not-for-everyday nature of a swimsuit makes it more acceptable to buy used than underoos, in my book.
Yes, people do this. They buy and sell used cosmetics, and I’m not talking about the corner shop brands — I’m talking the expensive stuff.
Makeup tends to be a safe, cosy harbour for bacteria, so it’s best not to test your luck by using someone else’s half-used eyeshadow palette.
Thrifters and secondhand shoppers, what would you add?