man shopping in thrift store
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What’s the Big Deal?

You might save some money upfront, but buying used can come with hidden costs. From bed bugs to product recalls, things can go sideways sometimes. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t buy anything secondhand. But when you get that thrift store itch, know what to watch out for and which things you should never buy used.

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tricycle close up
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Do: Be Careful With Kids’ Stuff

When it comes to toys and children’s furniture, always check for safety recalls and make sure there’s no lead paint involved. If you can’t find out for sure, move on. You also should stay away from anything with missing or broken parts, or that’s wobbly when it should be stable. And remember that older products may not have the same safety features as new ones.

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childs car seat
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Don’t: Buy Car Seats

This means booster seats, too. While you can check for recalls, you don’t know a seat’s history. Even a little fender bender could have damaged it and keep it from protecting your child the way it was meant to. In general, they have a service life of about 6 years. After several summer heatwaves and winter freezes, they can break down in ways you can’t see.

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cigarette smoke in sunlight
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Do: Sniff Out Thirdhand Smoke

This is what smoking leaves behind in clothes, furniture, curtains, and pretty much everything else. It builds up over time and can last for weeks. Stay away from items you know came from the home of someone who smoked. Since you don’t always know for sure, it’s best to give everything you buy used a thorough cleaning.

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baby crib in nursery room
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Don’t: Buy Cribs

Cribs made before June 2011 must not be used or sold because safety standards have changed. There also are strict rules for things like height, how close together the slats must be, and how the mattress fits. When you add it all up, it’s not worth the risk.

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stroller high chair diptych
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Do: Check Strollers and High Chairs

Make sure the safety straps are in good working order and that no sharp parts, like screws, jut out from anywhere. And check the company’s website to be sure it hasn’t been recalled. Fold and unfold strollers to see if they’re sturdy. Test that high chairs aren’t wobbly and trays snap firmly into place. Keep in mind that some older models may not be tip-proof.

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makeup supplies
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Don’t: Buy Makeup or Makeup Brushes

It might seem like a good deal -- until you have to pay for a doctor’s visit and some medication. Makeup and brushes touch your hands, eyes, and mouth. That makes those little containers breeding grounds for all kinds of germs. Even the testers in stores can be a bad idea. You can get skin rashes and serious infections. And used makeup may no longer have labels that list ingredients and warnings and tell you how to use them safely.

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clothes in washing machine
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Do: Wash and Dry Clothes and Linens

If you’re concerned about bedbugs -- and most of the time, you probably should be -- go straight to the dryer. Washing alone won’t kill them. Run everything through on high heat for 30 minutes. Take any bags the items came in to your outside trash right away. For things that can’t go into the washer and dryer, dry cleaning will get the job done.

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bicycle helmet on handlebars
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Don’t: Buy Helmets

From bikes to horse riding, most helmets are made to hold up through only one crash. Or one drop on a hard surface. Once that happens, the foam inside squeezes and won’t protect you the same way, even if it looks fine. Plus, older helmets don’t necessarily meet the same safety standards as new ones, and the materials can break down over time.

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torchiere lamp
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Do: Ensure Halogen Lamps Have Shields

The bulbs in tall torchiere lamps can get twice as hot as your oven. If a curtain touches it, it can catch fire. Look for one with a wire or glass shield over the bulb. And even if the label says otherwise, don’t go any higher than a 300-watt bulb. It’s also good to check for a polarized plug, where one side is wider than the other. And make sure the cord isn’t frayed and that the lamp doesn’t have any bent, rusted, or loose parts.

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swimsuit drying on clothesline
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Don’t: Buy Swimwear or Underwear

While used clothing is generally fine, you don’t want these items used. Because of where they sit on your body, a whole other level of germs come into play. That includes genital infections and small amounts of poop. And swimsuits tend to wear out quickly, so you’re not really saving much money in the long run.

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mattress on bed frame
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Do: Look for Bedbugs in Furniture

These critters can crawl into the tiniest seam or crack and go a year without eating. Once you have them, they’re brutal to get out. They can be in most types of used furniture, but you’re more likely to find them in mattresses or items with soft fabric, like sofas. Check these things very closely, looking for bugs, eggs, and signs of their poop, which looks like tiny black dots.

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cat and dog sleeping on sofa
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Do: Know Your Allergies

If you’re allergic to dogs or cats, it’s probably the dried skin flakes, known as dander, that affect you. And they’re sticky, so they easily cling to clothes and other fabrics. Look for hair or fur to give you a warning sign. Washing clothes and linens will help. And furniture made of wood is a lot easier to clean than that almost perfect vintage sofa.

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stacks of automobile tires
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Don’t: Buy Tires

Like car seats and helmets, there’s just too much you can’t know about their history. Were they in an accident? Driven at really high speeds? Towing loads that were too heavy? All those can cause damage you can’t see. And every tire has an expiration date. They’re only good for 6 years, whether you use them often or not.

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hair dryer close up
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Do: Check the Plug on Hair Dryers

Water and electricity are deadly together. As long as it’s plugged in, a hair dryer has electricity raring to go, even if it’s turned off. Newer ones protect you with a bulky plug that has red and yellow switches on it. It cuts off the supply of electricity if it gets wet. Don’t buy older models that don’t have this feature. And check that the cord is in good shape.

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woman viewing us cpsc website
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How to Find Out About Recalls

From washing machines to strollers, pretty much anything can be recalled for safety reasons. To find out if there’s been one for something you’re interested in buying, get the brand and model, then check the manufacturer’s website. Older products may no longer be on recall lists, so you may want to give the company a call to be sure. You can also check with the government’s Consumer Product Safety Commission at www.cpsc.gov.

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 12/21/2017 Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on December 21, 2017

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SOURCES:

Government of Canada: “Information for Shoppers of Second-hand Products.”

Government of South Australia: “Buying and Selling of Second-hand Goods.”

Children’s Hospital St. Louis: “Should You Say 'No Thanks' to Secondhand Baby Items?”

U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission: “Resellers Guide to Selling Safer Products.”

Texas A&M University Health Science Center: “6 Things You Should Never Buy Used.”

FDA: “Eye Cosmetic Safety.”

Environmental Protection Agency: “Preparing for Treatment Against Bed Bugs.”

Oklahoma State University, Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service: “Bed Bugs -- Reduce Risk While Thrift Shopping.”

Cornell College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, New York State Integrated Pest Management: “Bed Bug FAQs.”

Government of New South Wales, Road and Maritime Services: “Heads Up on Helmets.”

Parachute: “Helmet FAQ.”

Mayo Clinic: “What is thirdhand smoke, and why is it a concern?” ���Allergy-proof Your Home.”

International Association of Certified Home Inspectors: “Pet Allergens.”

Licking County Health Department: “Smoke-Free Homes and Multi-Unit Housing.”

National Health Service: “Can Clothes and Towels Spread Germs?”

Consumer Reports: “Is It Safe to Buy Used Tires?”

Extension.org: “Tire Safety: Expiration Dates.”

Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on December 21, 2017

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.