8 Things to Avoid Buying at Yard Sales and Thrift Shops — and What to Prioritize Instead

published Apr 19, 2021
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Whether you love the thrill of the hunt, want to shop sustainably for pre-loved items, or want to shop on a budget, heading to yard sales and thrift shops can be stop number one. While folks are getting the urge to purge and vigorously spring cleaning, their thrift-store donations and tag sales can be your paradise. 

But blessings can come with major asterisks, and there are some items you might want to bypass for the sake of safety and time. Here are eight things to avoid buying secondhand — and what you should prioritize instead. 

Avoid: Sheets, Towels, and Other Linens

Prioritize: Throw pillows and dish towels

Shelling out $100 for new 400-thread-count sheets may not be in the cards, but beware when you see used sheets, towels, and pillowcases. Watch for stains, rips, and threadbare areas. Sure, you can wash linens in hot water, but some things are better purchased unused. However, consider yourself lucky if you can score brand-new linens at a discounted rate. If they’re still in the package or have tags, they should be good to go after a quick wash.  

If you are in the market for soft furnishings for your home, look for items that don’t get so personal with your body. Decorative pillows with removable covers and themed tea towels are often discarded when homeowners swap out their decor. Make their castoffs your new inspiration for decorating your bedroom, kitchen, and living room. 

Avoid: Swimwear and Other Intimate Clothing

Prioritize: Outerwear and clothes you can wash

Clothes are expensive, and it can make sense to seek out pre-loved clothes before shopping for brand-new wares. However, when it comes to intimates, such as underwear and swimsuits, pass by unless they are brand new with tags and protective linings. Even then, give them a once over if you dare as intimates come in contact with highly personal areas of the body that naturally release fluids. Does anything else need to be said? Probably not.

However, you can score a new wardrobe by stopping at that tag sale. It’s a fabulous way to build your collection of graphic tees and purchase a winter coat at a fraction of what it would be retail. Jeans are also prevalent at thrift shops, as are children’s clothing items. Give them a thorough check for rips and stains, and tug at the seams to test the sturdiness. If it passes inspection, feel free to add it to your wardrobe after washing or dry cleaning. 

Credit: Cathy Pyle

Avoid: Open Boxes of Puzzles and Other Games with Lots of Parts

Prioritize: Still-sealed boxes, or games where a few missing pieces won’t ruin your fun

Things with lots of parts, including puzzles, games, and some children’s toys, could be missing essential pieces. The last thing you want is for your next game night to go south because your new-to-you-set isn’t as complete as you thought it was. Unless you have time during the sale to inventory puzzle pieces to make sure all 1,000 are present, you may want to pass. 

The good news is that if your find is still sealed in the box, hopefully, everything you need is still there. If the price is right and you’re willing to take a chance that an open game is complete, then go ahead. After all, you can still play Yard Jenga if a few blocks have fallen to the wayside over time. 

Avoid: Appliances You Can’t Test First

Prioritize: Testing out appliances and checking out the cord

Anything that requires electricity — such as small appliances, lamps, and hair dryers — can pose a danger. If the cord is pinched or fraying, that can be a fire hazard. Plus, you run the risk that something may be for sale because it doesn’t work correctly or is not functional, and the seller could be trying to obscure that fact.

Instead of being disappointed by an unusable item, ask the seller or store employee if you can test out the item. If a light isn’t working, try to determine if it’s the lamp itself or simply a bad light bulb. If the appliance functions correctly and the cord is in good shape, get ready to Venmo your way to a new electronic for your home. 

Avoid: Baby Items Whose Warranties and Building Specifications You Want to Specify

Prioritize: Children’s books, washable clothes, and toys you can disinfect

Many baby items are designed for use with one single baby. Mattresses and bottles should be placed on your registry so that your little one can rest and eat safely. Use <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="caution%20with%20cribs,%20and%20be%20sure%20that%20the%20crib's%20dimensions%20(including%20width%20between%20slats)%20comply%20with%20modern%20safety%20standards%20(which%20you%20can%20check%20out%20<a%20href=" https:>here).

When shopping for other kid stuff, remember that car seats and bike helmets should be discarded after an accident. There’s no way to guarantee that a secondhand booster seat or headgear is accident-free, so invest in a new one. 

Instead of things that could potentially cause harm, scour secondhand shops for children’s books, which are often under $1. With a quick wash, most preloved toys are safe for children to play with, too.

Avoid: Open and/or Used Makeup

Prioritize: Still-sealed makeup and brushes

Open personal products, such as makeup, hair care items, and deodorant, should get a hard pass. Yes, that may be the exact palette you bookmarked at Ulta, yet sharing makeup and other personal items can breed bacteria and spread viruses, especially when it comes to your eyes. 

Alternatively, if you see a sealed makeup brush set or unopened personal care items, feel free to give those new eyeshadow colors a try.

Avoid: Food, Especially If You Have Allergies

Prioritize: Sealed treats from the store

Sure, that lemonade stand is as adorable as can be. The chocolate chip cookies certainly are tempting. However, if you or someone in your family has food sensitivities or allergies, or you’re worried about bacterial spread, it might be better to pass.

If you simply can’t resist that tug on your heartstrings, offer to pay it forward by buying a drink for the next interested customer, or simply making a donation to their stand. Of course, if they’re selling bottles of water or individually-packaged grocery store treats, feel free to partake. 

Avoid: Plush Items That Can Carry Pests

Prioritize: Wooden or plastic toys you can sanitize

Stuffed animals are adorable, and they may be incredibly tempting, especially if you have a child in tow. However, plush surfaces, upholstered items, comforters, and mattresses can bring dust mites, bedbugs, or fleas that can lurk in between fibers into your home.
If you’re looking to soften up your space, opt for blankets and throws that are either new, or that you can safely launder. When it comes to kids begging for toys, urge them to peek at wooden or plastic items that you can easily wipe off and disinfect instead.