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Can You Get Bed Bugs From Shopping At Thrift Stores?

Are you worried about bringing bed bugs home with you the next time you go shopping at a thrift store? It’s a valid concern – after all, many secondhand items can come from unknown sources that could potentially be infested. So, can you get bed bugs from shopping at thrift stores and charity shops? Keep on reading to find out! 

a rack of secondhand clothing in a thrift shop infested with bed bugs

Where Do Bed Bugs Come From?

Bed bugs are parasitic insects of the cimicid family that feed exclusively on blood.

They are most commonly found in dwellings, though they can also be found in hotels, apartment buildings, dormitories and other places where people sleep or spend extended periods of time. 

Though bed bugs have become increasingly common over the last few decades, it is unclear exactly where they come from.

Many theorize that the recent increase in travel has contributed to the spread of these pests.

With international commerce becoming so commonplace as more individuals and businesses send their goods overseas, bed bugs may have been inadvertently transported with items purchased abroad or through contact with personal luggage during transportation.

This is further compounded by a lack of awareness surrounding the presence of these creatures in certain parts of the world as well as increased resistance to insecticides used to control them.

Therefore, travelers should take precaution when packing and unpacking luggage after traveling abroad to avoid taking home any unwanted guests.  

Furthermore, due to their small size, bed bugs will often go unnoticed until an infestation begins, or they move into other areas inside a structure such as baseboards and window frames.

Which creates additional opportunities for them to spread undetected even further into a home or business environment from one occupant’s space to another’s living area.

To combat this problem, it is important to regularly inspect furniture and linens for any signs of these parasites including dark spots on mattresses (i.e., fecal stains) or small white eggshells which may indicate an infestation has taken place already.

racks of secondhand clothing in a thrift store

What Are The Health Risks Of Shopping At Thrift Shops?

Shopping at thrift stores can potentially pose some health risks. When shopping for used clothing and other items, you may not have the opportunity to inspect the items before purchasing them.

The person donating or selling them has likely handled them extensively, so there is a risk of germs being transferred from person to person.

As an example, secondhand clothing could be carrying lice, scabies mites, bacteria, fungi, viruses and parasites like hookworms and roundworms.

Thrift store furniture may also contain bedbugs or dust mites that can cause allergies and asthma symptoms if exposed to over long periods of time. 

Personal care products such as makeup can also contain bacteria and mold after being in someone else’s home for an extended period of time.

This is why it is best to avoid makeup from thrift stores to protect your skin from potential irritation or infection.

Old mattresses sold in thrift stores are likely harboring many dust mite colonies which are all but impossible to remove with cleaning products alone due their tiny size make them extremely difficult to clean out entirely.

Therefore, it is important to proceed with caution when shopping for mattresses at a thrift shop as they may cause allergic reactions due to exposure to these allergens.

Finally, shopping at a thrift store should involve extra caution as the items present on shelves can be contaminated with hazardous substances that were often used by previous owners.

Such as pesticides or chemical cleaners which could lead to serious respiratory problems if inhaled directly by shoppers while browsing items on sale. 

bed bug crawling on human skin

Can You Get Bed Bugs From Shopping At Thrift Stores?

Thrift stores offer a variety of used items ranging from clothing to furniture at attractive prices.

While these stores are popular for finding unique and affordable goods, there is a possibility of encountering bed bugs among these second-hand treasures.

Clothing: Your vigilance is essential when purchasing clothes. Inspect every garment for signs of bed bugs, such as small brown or black spots and eggs, particularly along seams, zippers, and folds. Turning clothing inside out can help with a thorough examination.

Furniture: Bed bugs are notorious for hiding in furniture. When considering purchasing a used couch, chair, mattress, or dresser, inspect every nook and cranny. Look for the same signs as with clothing—spots, skins, or eggs.

Precautions Why It Matters
Examine items closely Bed bugs are tiny and can hide well, so a close inspection is crucial.
Focus on seams and creases These are the favorite hiding spots for bed bugs.
Be wary of furniture Bed bugs thrive in the crevices of upholstered and wooden furniture.

If you do decide to bring an item home, consider taking additional precautions such as washing and drying clothing at high temperatures or using protective encasements for furniture.

Always be proactive in preventing a potential bed bug infestation, as dealing with them can be challenging and may require professional assistance. 

secondhand clothing infested with bed bugs

Which Items Are Most Likely To Be Infested With Bed Bugs, When Shopping In Thrift Shops?

When you’re navigating through thrift stores, certain items pose a higher risk of harboring bed bugs due to their structure and fabric.

Bed bugs are experts at hiding in small crevices, making the following items likely suspects:

Furniture with Upholstery: Bed bugs prefer soft, warm places, especially those with nooks and crannies for them to hide in.

  • Couches and upholstered chairs can offer ideal hiding spots for bed bugs in the seams, folds, and under cushions.
  • Mattresses and beds are among the high-risk items since bed bugs thrive in the crevices and seams where they can remain undetected.

Textiles and Clothing: These items can easily become infested, particularly if they’ve been previously stored in an infested area.

High-Risk Items: Pay close attention to items that offer plenty of hiding spaces for these elusive pests.

  • Items like stored box springs, comforters, and used bed frames are susceptible as well.

bed bugs hiding on secondhand clothing from a thrift shop

Can You Look For Bed Bugs When Shopping In Charity Shops?

When shopping in a charity shop, it is important to look for signs of bed bugs. 

Signs to look out for in furniture, clothing and other items include small black spots which could be droppings or eggs from the bugs, as well as any strange odors which may indicate their presence. 

It is also worth taking a closer look at seams and folds of material, as bed bugs like to hide in tight places. 

They are often around mattresses and other upholstered furniture, meaning it is important to thoroughly inspect all second-hand items before purchasing them.

If you do come across signs of bedbugs while shopping in a charity shop, you should report this immediately. 

Most charity shops will have strict policies on accepting donations with infestations such as these, so they can work towards preventing further problems caused by spreading the pests inadvertently through shoppers coming away with infected items. 

Make sure you don’t take any homeware which may be affected, even if they seem like good deals – you never know what kind of hidden dangers may lie beneath.

a thrift store with secondhand clothing on racks and low lighting for ambience

How To Inspect Thrift Store Clothes For Bed Bugs

When you’re browsing through clothing at a thrift store, it’s important to carry out a thorough inspection to ensure you don’t inadvertently bring bed bugs into your home. Here’s how you can do so:

  • Examine Seams and Folds: Bed bugs can hide in the smallest crevices. Turn each garment inside out and scrutinize the seams, hems, and inside folds for any signs of bed bugs.
  • Look for Stains: Small reddish or brownish spots could indicate bed bug excrement. These marks often appear along seams or on areas of the cloth that rest against furniture when worn.
  • Check for Live Insects or Eggs: Although bed bugs are small, they are visible to the naked eye. Look for tiny, oval-shaped, reddish-brown insects and their clear, minuscule eggs.
  • Inspect the Zipper Area: Zippers and buttonholes are common hiding spots for bed bugs due to the tight spaces and secure hiding they offer.
  • Feel the Fabric: Sometimes, tiny eggs or the texture of a shed skin might be felt before it’s seen. Run your fingers along the fabric’s surface to check for any irregularities.
Action Step What to Look For
Look Closely Stains, live insects, eggs, shed skins
Touch and Feel Irregularities on the fabric surface
Smell Musty odors that could indicate bug presence


Tips On How To Treat Secondhand Clothes To Avoid Bed Bug Infestations

Here’s how you can treat secondhand clothes to prevent infestations:

  1. Inspect Before Buying: Before purchasing, thoroughly inspect clothes for any signs of bed bugs. Pay special attention to seams, pockets, and folds.
  2. Heat Treatment: Bed bugs are vulnerable to high temperatures. Wash and dry the clothes on the highest heat setting that the fabric can tolerate. Ideally, the dryer should be set for at least 30 minutes at over 120°F (49°C).
  3. Seal and Secure: After purchasing and before bringing items inside your home, place them in a sealed plastic bag. This will contain any potential pests and prevent them from spreading.
  4. Immediate Laundry: Once you’re home, immediately launder the clothes. Use hot water and a high heat dryer setting.
  5. Dry Clean Only Items: For items that cannot be washed, put them through at least one dryer cycle on high heat. Alternatively, consult professional dry cleaning services about pest treatment options.
  6. Storage: After treatment, store your clean and treated clothes safely. Store them in sealed containers or bags until you’re ready to wear them to prevent any possible re-infestation.

a thrift shop filled with racks of secondhand clothing


Bed bugs can be brought into a home through thrift stores and charity shops, but the risk of infestation is low if proper precautions are taken.  

Ensure you inspect items closely for signs of bedbugs before bringing them home, focusing on seams, creases and furniture.

High-risk items including upholstered furniture, mattresses and clothing should be looked at carefully given their potential to harbor these pests.

Solutions such as washing and drying clothes on high heat settings or using protective encasements for furniture can help minimize the risk of an infestation.

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Friday 8th of December 2023

Yes, you can and we did! It was aweful! It took me almost a year to fully get rid of them! Now everthing I bring home from there goes straight to the dryer if it can, if not it gets bagged in a black trash bag, and sealed then put in a safe place out in our yard away from my house for a week.

Gemma Daniels

Saturday 9th of December 2023

Oh what a nightmare for you! I'm so glad you managed to get rid of them, but there's definitely the best plan of action once shopping there. They're such a nightmare to get rid of, once you've brought them into your home!

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