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Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources

Avoiding bed bugs before and after thrift store purchases

STILLWATER, Okla. – Thrift-store shopping can be fun and often has the added benefit of reducing the wear and tear on the family budget. It is not without some risks, though. Picking up second-hand household goods, clothing and furniture could lead to increased exposure to bed bugs

To reduce the risk, shoppers should follow a few important precautions before and after bringing home thrift store purchases, said Gina Peek, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension housing and consumer specialist.

“Prevention is the best kind of pest control,” she said. “Never bring second-hand items home without first inspecting them closely. Don’t assume or expect thrift stores to sanitize and inspect for bed bugs.”

Before forking over your money, shoppers should search for evidence of bed bugs.

Check pockets and along seams as well as turn garments inside out, if possible. Shake sheets and towels to ensure no pests are hiding.

“Next to beds, sofas and chairs are the most common places we find bed bugs,” Peek said. “Before buying these types of furniture items, remove and carefully check all the cushions, including along decorative edges and seams. You also should examine the frame, look inside and push down on the springs, then turn the item over to check underneath for signs of bed bugs or droppings.”

Shoppers should use flashlights to examine all surfaces of headboards, frames – including metal ones – night stands, dressers and other bedroom furniture before purchasing.

“Open drawers, turn night stands and dressers over to look underneath and wipe surfaces with a towel to reveal signs of previous activity,” Peek said.

Upon returning home with purchased second-hand items, immediately wash and dry textiles and clothing using the normal settings and detergent.

“Heat kills bed bugs and one cycle in the dryer should eliminate adults and eggs,” Peek said. “If an item can’t be washed, run it through a cycle in the dryer.”

Before bringing sofas and chairs inside the home, they should be vacuumed. As an additional precaution, shoppers can use a steamer over the entire piece of furniture.

“Empty the vacuum into the outside trash, then leave the furniture items in the garage or another storage area for several days. Or, during warmer months, cover the sofa or chair with clear plastic and set it in the sun,” Peek said.

Headboards, frames, night stands and dressers at least should be vacuumed out before being moved inside. However, these furniture items also can be washed with a scrub brush and soapy water, then allowed to dry before being pressed into service.

Finally, state law requires second-hand mattresses are identified with special labeling indicating they have been cleaned, with stains and odors removed and germicidal treated. But, shoppers may consider also purchasing a bed-bug rated encasement for the mattress and box springs to contain any pests so they do not infest the home.

“Prevention is an easier, less expensive option compared to treating your home for a bed bug infestation. Over-the-counter pesticides and do-it-yourself options are ineffective and not recommended,” she said.

For more information on bed bugs and preventative measures, visit and contact the nearest county Extension office.


Leilana McKindra
Communications Specialist
Agricultural Communications Services
158 Agriculture North
Oklahoma State University
Stillwater, OK 74078
Phone: 405-744-6792
Fax: 405-744-5739

Oklahoma State University - Stillwater, OK 74078