25 Things You Should Never Buy Used at Thrift Stores

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I don’t know about you, but I love thrift stores. Second hand shopping is one of my favorite ways to save and while I don’t want to toot my own horn? I’m quite good at those thrift store shopping marathons you sometimes hear about. (Heh) Finding a great deal at the thrift stores is always awesome and any good bargain hunter knows the value of a good second hand store. Not every deal that you find used is a good one though. In fact, there are quite a few that you wouldn’t want to grab. There’s nothing worse than getting a bad deal. We’ve all been there but knowing which items that should be bought used and which items that you should never buy used can go a long way to protecting you and your money as a buyer.

Things You Should Never Buy Used at Thrift Stores - I love to go second hand shopping as much as the next shopper, but there are some things that you should never buy second hand at thrift stores! Before you head out to go thrift store shopping next, be sure you check this list of 25 things you should never buy used!

Please don’t misunderstand the meaning behind this post. I’m not by any means telling you not to go thrift store shopping. Quite the opposite actually as I think there are also items you should never buy newThrift store shopping is one of my favorite things to do both offline and online. I’m constantly crusing my favorite online consignment stores and I hit the local second hand shops at least twice a month. I find amazing deals like the cast iron skillet that I picked up a few weeks ago for $6.00. It only needed to be cleaned and re-seasoned. I’m quite familiar with how to season a cast iron skillet so I grabbed it and brought it home.

Second Hand Shopping Tip – Things You Should Never Buy Used at Thrift Stores

The reason you shouldn’t buy these items used vary. I’ll explain each one but they all fall under the category of unsafe, unwise or too risky. Saving money is great, but not when it comes with a risk like these items all have. If you buy used and end up having to replace it quicker or worse, you’re only spending more money in the long run. This means that for some items, it’s much better to buy new than to grab that “deal” that you saw when you were thrift store shopping at the second hand stores last week.

Never buy car seats used –  Did you know that infant car seats actually have an expiration date? Not only do they have expiration dates, but they are also considered no longer safe to use after they have been in a car accident.  Even a slight fender bender can damage the plastic enough to make it unsafe for use. A seat can look 100% fine, but have tiny fractures that may not be visible to the naked eye that make it totally unsafe to use. There is absolutely no way to tell if a seat has been in an accident in most cases so for your baby’s sake, its best to just avoid buying used at all. Most thrift stores and second hand shops won’t sell car seats, but you do see them on Facebook groups.  If you can’t afford to buy a new one, there are organizations that provide free car seats for low income families. I urge you to take advantage of one of those programs instead of risking it by buying used.

Be wary of buying a used mattresses –  Bedbugs are such an issue these days that you really should stay away from used mattresses. Not to mention mites, bodily fluids,and even lice. I’m more than sure none of you want to deal with any of that because Lord knows that I don’t. The only exception that I would possibly make to this is if the mattress and/or springs were still totally wrapped in plastic with no holes that I can see. Even then, I would be certain that they received a deep cleaning before they were used. Since that rarely happens though so it is best to avoid buying used in this case at all.

Buy used shoes rarely –   Those Gucci shoes at the thrift store may only be $9.00,  but you don’t know what kind of fungus or skin issue the previous owner may have had and whether you can clean that fungus 100% out of the shoes. I do make two exceptions to this rule personally with my own family. First, I buy used shoes from both ThredUp and Schoola. Both of them are online second hand stores and do an incredible job of cleaning their items. I’ve bought several pairs of shoes from both companies for my own family and to help out friends and have never once had an issue. The third exception is when the shoes are brand new with tags at the thrift store. It is rare but it does happen.

Never buy cribs used – I know that it is incredibly tempting to buy a used crib or bassinet. They’re so expensive and if you’re having a baby on a budget, you may be tempted to try and buy used to save. Doing so can be incredibly dangerous for your infant since recalls are so hard to keep track of and often, damage is so small that it can go unnoticed. If you absolutely must buy used, be certain that you check the FDA’s product recall site for any potential recalls before you do buy used. It will, at the very least, add a layer of protection for your family before you spend the money.

Used smart phones are a gamble – That new iPhone you saw posted in that buy/sell/trade group on Facebook might be an awesome deal, but ask yourself why they are selling it priced that low. Phones are incredibly expensive pieces of technology, even when bought used, so you’ll need to ask yourself if you’re willing to risk that amount of money on a phone that has the potential to not work correctly. Instead, buy a certified refurbished phone from a trusted retailer. You’ll still get a deal and you won’t be gambling with your money. If you’ve got a used phone that you need to sell, there are places that will pay you top dollar for them even if they’re broken. Try selling to these places first before you offer someone a deal on a used phone.

Buying used bike helmets is an enormous no-no – Your kids are the most important thing in your life, right? Why would you risk their safety on a used bike helmet? Germs aside (because helmets make you sweat and germs can breed easily in that kind of environment), bike helmets are the same as infant car seats. They can be damaged with no signs of it. They’re not that expensive to buy new so in this case, pony up the $20 or so to buy a new bike helmet and keep the cost of your risk low.

Used hats are a gamble too:  Along the same lines, there just isn’t a lot you can do to sanitize a hat properly that won’t ruin its’ shape. For the most part, buying a hat new is a better option than buying one used unless you absolutely know where the hat came from and that it is clean.

Be careful if you buy a used computer – Computers, like phones, are a gamble. You never know what has been done to it, up to and including viruses being attached before you bought it. Your best bet is to buy is to either find a deal on a new one or to buy a certified refurbished unit that is still under warranty. It isn’t worth the gamble to save a few bucks when there are so many deals on new units.

Be careful buying used stuffed animals:  Germs, odors, bed bugs, mold and allergens can all be lingering inside that cute stuffed bunny. Buy new instead or just skip them. Parents? Do your kids really need anymore stuffed animals? My guess is that they already have a ton.

Be careful buying used upholstered furniture:  Used furniture can be a great deal, but it can also be a very bad one. Like mattresses, mold, pet dander, bed bugs, mites, pet (or other) stains and more potentially nasty and dangerous things might be  lingering hidden under the fabric. Yuck factor aside, his could be potentially life threatening if you or your children have allergies. To keep things safe and clean. only buy used furniture that you can clean completely and pass on the stuff that you can’t.

Pass on buying used pillows:  Yuck. Just yuck. Drool,  sweat, tears, lice and many other things could be lingering on a pillow.  Just avoid it and buy a new one since you can find them for as little as $5.00 each on sale a lot of the time. Mark this one totally off of your thrift store shopping list.

Don’t take the chance with used swimsuits –  Items that are up against your body in this manner are just a breeding ground for gross things and buying used can only help spread those gross things even if they’re washed. In fact, there are viruses and other yuckies that live on material long after it is dry. Don’t take this chance and just watch for a good deal instead. Early fall or even in the winter is a great time to buy a new swimsuit on sale rather than buying a used one that may cost you more money in the long run.

Be careful buying used tires – I’m torn on this because I know that my father never once bought new tires for his cars, but even if they look to be in good shape, used tires can always have a hidden issue. If you do decide to buy used tires, make sure that you look them over in their entirety to thoroughly check them out before you buy. Also keep in mind that used tires will not have a warranty and they won’t last as long as a new tire. The best option is to watch for deals (because yes, they do happen) on new tires and leave the used behind unless you have no other choice.

Skip appliances that you can not test in store:  One thing you’ve probably noticed when you’re out and about doing your thrift store shopping is that second hand shops seem to be a magnet for small appliances. Picking up small kitchen appliances used is a fantastic way to save, however, if you can’t test it in the store before buying? Walk away. Buying something that you can’t test without knowing it works is taking a huge risk at losing money since most thrift stores have no return policies. If you can’t make certain it works? Find a deal and take your money elsewhere.

Used televisions are another gamble –   Unless it is still under warranty, this could be potentially a waste of money.  Televisions with problems can go out quickly and easily without warning.  If it is not under warranty, you may have wasted a large sum of money on something you can’t get a refund for. Instead, watch for huge electronic sales, such as what happens around Black Friday, and buy a new one. Shop through a site that will pay you cash back for shopping too and you will save even more. Usually you can actually get a better deal from those sales than you will by buying a used one.

Used sheets and bed linens: Another thing that I’m sure you’ve noticed on your thrift store shopping trips that used lines are plentiful. Used bed sheets can be washed  in hot water to rid of germs, but that won’t kill bed bugs which are expensive to get rid of. Since you can find so many deals on sheets and even whole comforter sets, there’s not really a reason to buy used. You may pay ten or twenty dollars more than you would buying used, but the peace of mind that comes from not chancing it is worth it. Obviously this is subjective. If your favorite Aunt gives you a sheet set and you know that she doesn’t have any creepy crawlies, then by all means, save the money.

Don’t buy used baby bottles – This one is more price related than anything. Thrift stores rarely sell an item for under two or three dollars. It makes no sense at all to spend that much money for a used baby bottle that may actually be unsafe due to micro-cracks in the plastic or glass when you can buy an entire set of baby bottles for $15.00 or so new. Skip these the next time you’re thrift store shopping. Your baby’s health isn’t worth the risk.

Used makeup is a health risk – Buying used makeup, especially eye and lip makeup,  is a huge health risk since bacteria and germs can live in those bottles and tubes so be sure you skip it the next time you go thrift store shopping. Really there’s no reason to when companies like EyesLipsFace offer very high quality makeup for as little as $1.00 for each piece. Even if you buy more expensive makeup from a store like Sephora, you’ll still save by not having to pay for high doctor bills to treat an eye infection or worse.

Used perfume is a health risk too – Much like makeup, perfume has an expiration date.  Being too old can cause chemicals to breakdown and truly injure you if they are unsafe for use. To get a good deal on perfume, buy gift sets during the holidays or shop a site like perfume.com where they almost always have a coupon code available or sale going on.

Don’t buy used school supplies – Again, a common sense one, but I have seen it happen in various homeschooling groups and at quite a few thrift stores. Thrift stores rarely sell items for less than $3.00 or so, which means you could actually end up paying more than you would just buying it new.  Why would you pay someone for used school supplies when you can simply stock up on them during the back to school sales. Buy a few small plastic totes with lids and buy more than you think your kids will need. Store them in the totes, label them and skip the used stuff.

Be wary of used computer software at thrift stores –   Most software is sold with a licensed id number that is only valid for a certain number of computers. A lot of newer software programs aren’t actually able to be transferred so there is potential for fraudulent or unauthorized use if buying used.  Avoid this and look for open source free downloads that are legit or a sale on the software program that you need instead.

Don’t buy large appliances used that are over 5 years old –   While they may work when you test them out before purchase, there is no guarantee an older used appliance will last very long.  Look for used appliance stores that sell newer models of that washer or dryer you need and that offer warranties instead of purchasing from a private individual. If you do purchase one from the thrift stores, be absolutely certain that you can test it through whatever cycle it needs to run through.

Skip the used surge protectors – The last thing you want is to buy a surge protector at one of your favorite thrift stores and have it not work when you truly need it. They’re fairly cheap to buy new so there’s not really any reason to even try to buy one used.

Skip used pet beds –  For the same reason you wouldn’t purchase a used mattress or bedding for yourself, you wouldn’t want to do so for your pets.  While they can be cleaned, it is difficult to properly sanitize them and if your dog is a member of the family like ours is? You’ll only want them to have the best and to be as healthy as they can be.

Don’t buy used non-stick cookware:  The type of used cookware that is usually found at thrift stores tend to have dings, dents and scratches in the nonstick coating that can flake off and make your family sick or cause you to waste food.  Buying new with a deal or sale really is the best and safest option for your family. If you’re in need of a deal, they often happen in the early spring, around Memorial Day or the 4th of July and at the holidays.


Things You Should Never Buy Used at Thrift Stores - I love to go second hand shopping as much as the next shopper, but there are some things that you should never buy second hand at thrift stores! Before you head out to go thrift store shopping next, be sure you check this list of 25 things you should never buy used!

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Stacy Williams is a 37-year old wife to a USAF Gulf War Veteran, mother of two teen girls and fur-mamma to a rescued pit bull. The face and brain behind the frugal living and lifestyle blog Six Dollar Family, she also owns and manages Long Haul Wife, Republic Preparedness, The Genealogy Queen and a handful of others sites. By the age of 30, Stacy had overcome a drinking problem, a drug addiction, divorce, survived domestic violence, and had built a life for herself and her daughter after spending 10 months in a homeless shelter. Stacy is passionate about homeless advocacy and addiction education.  Her first book, also called Six Dollar Family is available on Amazon.

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  1. Kate Tindle says:

    I’m not sure where you live, but many of the items you list in your article are not allowed to be re-sold in my state. The resale of used car seats haven’t been allowed for years here nor in many other states, the same goes for personal products like make-up. That said, we’ve donated originally boxed car seats to disaster shelters, as well as gently used clean linens.

    • Kate, you’d be surprised what people will sell (and buy) in online groups. Cribs and car seats are very common if the groups admin doesn’t forbid them so I felt they needed to be mentioned in the post.

  2. Item’s such as bed linens and blankets/quilts, I will buy at estate auctions. You are generally at the person’s home for the sale and you can tell by their home and other possession if it is a “Good Clean Auction”. I have picked up good quality full sheet sets that were brand new for $1. I am not a big thrift store addict, but I absolutely love a good auction.

    • Stacy Barr says:

      Deb, I spent my childhood in auctions with my Dad. Love them! My uncle is still a big auction fan and goes every weekend 🙂

  3. Mostly solid advice, but I do buy a few of these items all the time.
    Sheets: I only buy the ones that look virtually new and bleach the devil out of ’em with HOT water and then dry them on my dryer’s highest setting.
    Hats/shoes: Again, I only buy new or extremely gently used. I lightly spray the insides of both hats and shoes with a mix of distilled water and tea-tree oil and either air-dry in the sunlight on a hot afternoon or put them on the door-mounted rack in my dryer and run them on medium heat for half an hour (leather items get low heat and a prompt oiling while still warm). Shoes then get a dose of anti-fungal shoe spray.

  4. Also,. Plastic kitchen ware, such as dishes and storage containers. Glass is ok, but plastic absorb whatever is in them. If gasoline or other chemicals are stored or used to hold during a project,. That gas seeps into the plastic, and then out into your food later. You just can’t tell what someone else has used those containers and dishes for!

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