Things You Should Never Buy at Estate Sales, According to the Experts

published Feb 15, 2024
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Outdoor shot of residential house with road and neat lawn in front of it, big yellow sign with estate sale inscription. Sale of mansions.
Credit: Khosrork/Getty Images/iStockphoto

If you prefer timeless, vintage pieces over the latest interior decor trend, you’re probably familiar with secondhand furniture shopping. But if you’ve exhausted the supply at your local thrift stores, don’t worry — estate sales often deliver an equally unique mix of pieces. 

Whether you’ve shopped dozens of estate sales or you’re brand new to the game, there are a few hard-and-fast rules that experts live by when scouring homes for secondhand treasures. Before you head to your next estate sale, consider these items that you should never bring home with you — no matter how good of a deal you think you’re getting.


While secondhand appliances might even look new, you can’t always count on them to make your purchase worthwhile. Alexandra von Gymnich-Scully, interior designer and owner of Rustic Rooster Interiors, explains that appliances purchased at estate sales “might be good for one use, but can quit on you shortly. Buy new and get a warranty to last longer.”

Faux Plants

Believe it or not, faux plants are dirtier than real plants, despite the fact that real plants grow in the dirt. ”Fake plants are one of the grossest things you can buy at an estate sale because they are usually covered in decades of dust,” says Andi Jenkins, vintage reseller and interior stylist. “Unless you want to induce an asthma attack, I recommend steering clear of faux plants.”

Baby Items

“Always buy new with baby items,” advises von Gymnich-Scully. Safety regulations are always changing for baby products like cribs and high chairs, and many people are surprised to learn that car seats come with expiration dates. While it may be enticing to pick up some baby items at estate sale prices, you should definitely pass on them.

Personal Care Items

“Bathrooms at estate sales are full of used personal care items, from half-used boxes of tissues to face creams, hair spray, and other toiletry items,” says Jenkins. “Personal care items should absolutely be avoided at estate estates because they can harbor lots of bacteria. Even unused toiletries can be an issue because ingredients break down over time, especially when not properly stored.”

Upholstered Headboards & Bedding

Headboards can be expensive, so naturally it’s tempting to want to bring one home from an estate sale, but von Gymnich-Scully says you should leave upholstered headboards — and all pillows and other miscellaneous bedding, for that matter — behind. “Someone’s cleanliness might not be yours, and I wouldn’t chance it,” she explains. Upholstered furniture and other textiles can carry bed bugs, not to mention dirt, mold, and bacteria. “Fabric and foam very easily absorb odors, and some smells will never dissipate even with professional cleaning,” adds Jenkins.

Opened & Expired Food

“Almost everything is for sale at estate sales, even canned goods, spices, and other food staples,” says Jenkins. “Most people tend to hold on pantry items way longer than recommended, so I advise people to make sure they check expiration dates or avoid pantry items altogether.” Opened food containers are the perfect home for bugs, rodents, and other pests, and expired food is an upset stomach waiting to happen. No matter how good a deal it may seem, avoid buying anyone’s leftover groceries. 


Even though high-quality lingerie can be as beautiful as it is expensive, it’s not something that should be on your estate sale shopping list. While von Gymnich-Scully acknowledges how spectacular some pieces of lingerie can be, she points out that it “was used by someone else,” and cites it as “maybe more of a mental no-no,” than anything else. Generally speaking, wearing any type of previously used underwear is ill-advised from a hygiene perspective.

Auction Items You Can’t Authenticate

“Estate sale organizers often will put the most valuable items in a home up for auction,” explains Jenkins. “While sometimes these items are worth what the sale organizer estimates, many times you could be buying something secondhand at an inflated price or, worse, something that’s inauthentic.” It’s important to do your homework before bidding on pricey items to ensure that you’re not overpaying for an item that isn’t genuine.