I have talked about my obsession with thrifting before and some of my amazing finds. Even now that I have really slowed down my shopping habits, I still find thrifting is one of my favorite activities. Last week, I kid you not, I was breezing through a resale shop and caught a glimpse of soft comfy boots on the bottom shelf. I had to reach down to see if they were genuine shearling. It turns out they were authentic Ugg boots in my size for only…..$3.50. Whether or not you are a fan of Uggs, you have admit that’s a heck of a deal. My old boots were so very worn, I was thrilled to replace them with these comfy grey classics!
But in between my Ugg boots and my $8 Le Creuset Dutch Oven, I have to admit I’ve had a few duds. After years and years of thrifting here are some of my tips on what to AVOID at thrift stores.
- Broken Zippers: Before you snatch up those perfectly worn jeans in your size (made by that brand you could otherwise never afford) be sure to check the pockets and zippers. I’ve been burned this way a time or two before, so check to make sure all pieces of the zipper are intact and functioning. Here are some tips to repair broken zippers, but be sure you are willing to take the risk before laying down your cash!
- Anything that smells like smoke: Put anything you are going to buy up to your nose before purchasing! I used to feel awkward doing this, but we have asthma and allergies, so I’ve just gotten used to it. I know folks have some great tips for removing the smoke smell from textiles but I’d prefer to avoid anything questionable, odor-wise. Stores often douse everything in Febreeze so the scent may not be immediately noticeable.
- Mismatched Sets: I recently snatched up a pair of 100% cotton pajamas for my son only to come home and realize that, although the top was a size 6, the bottoms were a size 2. Thrift stores process and price items very quickly so you can’t always count on them to have put the right pieces together. (one the other hand, I have often found matching pieces of a set on opposite sides of a rack….so it’s always worth continuing the hunt if it’s a brand you really love).
- Recalled Items: Because of the sheer volume of donations, most thrift stores cannot keep up with which products have been recalled, so it’s important to be a responsible consumer when buying used (particularly for baby products which tend to suffer many recalls). Here’s a resource to search for recalled items. One of the big reasons I wanted a smart phone was so that I could google products before I buy them second-hand!
- Carseats: On a similar note, I have to advise everyone of the one item that I would never, ever buy used and that is a carseat for my baby or child. Carseats can be rendered ineffective if they are cared for improperly or if they are involved in any kind of wreck. A child’s safety is of the utmost value, so please avoid seats from unknown sources.
- Counterfeit Items: Counterfeit brands have become so much more commonplace that they are popping up at thrift stores more regularly. Here are some tips for avoiding counterfeit items while shopping. It can be tricky to spot a fake so I ask myself this question: Does this item look, feel, and smell like the real thing? Will I enjoy using it and be proud to own it? If so, then I may buy it, but if I have any hesitation I pass.
- Outlet Versions of your Favorite Brands: Just keep in mind that some outlet stores carry first quality, but some actually produce a lesser quality line for distribution directly at their outlet stores. This is important when you are shopping second-hand because you might love Ann Taylor blouses, but you might actually be holding an Ann Taylor Loft Outlet blouse which could be a very different product.
Have you ever been “burned” by a bargain? I’d love to hear what items you always avoid when buying second hand!
Having worked on the sorting end of a thrift store, we try to toss anything that’s iffy. Broken zippers, missing buttons, funky smells, dirty or spotted, ripped seams. You wouldn’t believe the stuff some people donate. As for recalled items, you’re correct. There is not enough manpower to check everything out. especially at not-for-profit places. We also don’t check for knock offs. Then again, some pretty awesome things come through the drop off, so don’t let the possibilities of bad stuff coming past us to deter you from finding a treasure or two.
Mara Sweet says
Thanks for the insider perspective!
i don’t understand the last one. an ann taylor loft outlet blouse for $2.99 is still a bargain, even though it’s not ann taylor loft. or are you simple saying if i’m shopping solely based on labels, don’t be fooled?
Carey @ wiserdollar.com says
Good list! One other item never to buy, may seem obvious, but not necessarily to all. That is never buy items that you just recently donated. I’ve heard friends mention a desire to buy again something they had rid themselves of when decluttering.
Be careful in buying shoes at thrift stores unless they are almost in new condition. Even still the biggest problem is toenail fungus and athletes foot fungus. Never buy used shoes for children as their feet are developing and could develop issues of any sort that goes for adult feet as well
CAREFULLY check ceramic, glass, and any breakable items. It’s easy to overlook a chip or crack, especially if the lighting is not very good in the store. Also collectors…carry a black light when looking for vasolin glass. Makes the process of checking so much easier!
I’m a thrifter as well, but I never knew about Outlet Versions of your Favorite Brands, Thanks for that tip.
sue rose says
I am a long time volunteer for a thrift shop. We try very hard not to put out stained, ripped items…broken zippers.. sometimes we mess up, so do check everything carefully.
By law we are not allowed to sell used car seats.
By the way, if you donate to thrift shops we don’t want your paint stained, ripped, stain, worn out, dirty items. It costs us time and money to get rid of your trash! If you would not wear it yourself, we probably can’t sell it. Thanks.
I read that Goodwill will recycle textiles such as clothes, blankets, backpacks and shoes that are unsellable. I also recently saw a GW ad that they want to keep items out of the landfill, and will even recycle electric cords.
When I donate to Goodwill, I don’t even have to load the stuff into their truck, like at the Salvation Army. The workers at Goodwill will come to my car, unload and hand out the receipt. Their store, by my house, usually has the best items too. Probably because of the extra service they provide to the people donating items.
Goodwill is a FOR PROFIT company. The CEO is paid over a million dollars every year. Give to the Salvation Army or local animal rescue thrift stores. Investigate the charities to which you donate.
Dr Everett says
this is a false rumor going around, Not at all true.
Goodwill is in fact a not for profit 501c3 organization. But… That does not mean that the CEO is an altruistic saint who runs the place for peanuts. Of course he gets a 7 figure salary, the organization is incredibly large and internationally known. So it may as well be a regular fortune 500 company but then they would loose their ability to avoid paying taxes.
Thank you for your comment. There are many other reasons not to shop with them also research it, I find it appalling.
Never buy: chipped glassware or dishes, cutting boards or shoes/purses due to bacterial growth.
Value Village: Westbend deep fryer…..worked great!, until I realized the thermostat was gone, it just KEPT on heating up! Hair dryer caught fire due to wad of hair in motor. Lamp blew fuseboard- some Numpty had “rewired” it himself.
I found a pair of black zip up ankle boots that were in perfect condition. I was so excited to get them home to disenfect them and wear them. Well, I put them on and one of the heals was empty. It was rubber and looked normal, but the inside was hallow. It was like walking on a marshmallow.
I, too, have worked at a resale shop for years. Please know that we are not required by law to clean shoes, purses, and clothing. I have taken items out of bags of REAL GARBAGE from donors’ homes. Whether they used a bag with kitchen or bathroom garbage by mistake, ran out of clean bags, or just plain thought it was funny, I don’t know. Also, we are processing donations so quickly that we do not always go through the pockets. I have, on more than one occasion, pulled used birth control devices from a pocket or purse. I hate to be so graphic, but people who shop at resale or thrift stores need to be aware that some people are CARELESS about what they are donating, and disease can possibly be spread by wearing even other items in the same bag that have touched unsanitary items. Be especially careful to launder (And I use Lysol on anything I buy).
Mara Sweet says
Wow, thanks for the insider tips! I will definitely start (carefully) checking pockets from now on.
Robin Newman says
My husband once donated clothes that I was planning on taking to the dry cleaner’s. Including 2 suits that my son had had made while stationed in south Korea. They were silk, but he has strong B. O. Probably thrown.
mardy zehm says
Wash clothes,sheets, etc. immediately after getting home. i picked up bedbugs somewhere, somehow without my knowledge. Took over a year and hundreds of dollars, plua hard work to get rid of them.
Darlene Aleckson says
I just recently started to volunteer at a thrift store. I also cannot believe what some people donate. Some nice stuff can be found but also some nasty stuff like dirty underwear and socks. I wish people would stop and think before they donate their unwanted stuff. Would they want to buy other peoples junk?
Brenda C says
Wow, I make sure I wash everything before I donate it. That is nasty that people don’t have common decency.
Jackie Levin says
On buying furniture, check for bed bugs. My friend bought a couch from a church sale and it had bed bugs. Look carefully.
Very true! A bargain is never worth risking bed bugs.
I volunteer at a thrift store and some people just us the drop off like a dump donating broken, stained and smoke smelling items. It causes more work for volunteers.
I bought a skirt with diagonal stripes for $2. I washed it and hung it outside to dry. While it was drying I noticed there was something unusual going on. It turned out there was a slit along one of the diagonals. It had been “fixed” with duct tape, which came off during the wash! $2 wasted! 😉
Battery operated things always are marked works on them,,I spend more on the battery than the toy I just got,get home and the toy don’t work,,battery thing always burns me I don’t buy no more,
My Goodwill finds are wonderful.We have the best Goodwill Store in our home town.The ladies that work there are very nice and always willing to help.Never have I had a bad expierence at Goodwill
My neighbor bought a blanket that had bed bugs in it. It ended up costing her hundreds of dollars to have them professionally fumigated out of her house. Check the seams of blankets to hunt for little specks of blood. She said the pest control folks told her it was a sign of the nasty buggers.
This is a big fear of mine when shopping at thrift stores. I generally don’t buy any upholstered furniture or rugs, but it never occurred to me that blankets would also harbor bed bugs (although it makes total sense). Something else to worry about!:)