13 Things You Should Never Buy at Thrift Stores

Thrift shopping is one of the best ways to stretch your dollars. But sometimes a great deal isn't worth it — or, even worse, is dangerous.

13 Things You Should Never Buy at Thrift Stores Photo by Iakov Filimonov / Shutterstock.com

One of the best ways to make the most of your money is to head to the thrift store and see what’s available.

Not too long ago, I bought a bed frame and cute lampstand for less than $13 total.

But just because something is cheap, that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to buy it. There are some things you should avoid at thrift stores.

I asked a few consumer advocates and frugal experts to weigh in on when it’s worth it to pay a little more. They consider the following items among those you should avoid buying from secondhand stores.

1. Vintage painted items

“I shop at thrift stores for probably 50 percent of my stuff, so I’ve learned many tricks of the trade,” says Dustyn Ferguson, a blogger at frugal website Dime Will Tell.

He points out that old painted items — such as vintage dishware — can contain lead and contaminate whatever you’re eating.

“If you do buy, always test for lead,” Ferguson recommends.

2. Mattresses

This is the ultimate thrift store no-no. Just about every expert says buying a mattress at a thrift store is a terrible idea.

Indeed, we cite mattresses in both “10 Things No One Should Ever Buy Used” and “It’s Worth Paying Extra for These 7 Items.”

“Mattresses can be contaminated with dirt, skin cells and who knows what else,” says Ferguson. “Think of it like a sponge: Over time, it’s so contaminated you need a new one.”

And, of course, you don’t want to risk bringing bedbugs, lice or other hard-to-get-rid-of pests into your home.

3. Shoes

This is another purchase that earned a spot in “10 Things No One Should Ever Buy Used.”

The article explains:

“If you’re interested in having comfy feet and minimizing back pain, you might want to skip past the used shoe section at the thrift store. Shoes often come to conform to their first owner’s feet, which can make them uncomfortable for you.”

4. Electronics

J.R. Duren, personal finance analyst and senior editor at consumer review website HighYa.com, says it’s best to avoid thrift-store electronics when possible.

Cords could be frayed or internal wiring might be degraded, leading to safety problems when you plug it in.

“Just because a monitor powers on doesn’t mean it’s devoid of issues,” Duren points out. “There could be glitches that you don’t see with a 30-second test — but that would annoy you if you took the monitor home and used it for work every day.”

5. Small appliances

You can’t be sure that small kitchen appliances will actually work as expected when you buy them at a thrift store, says Steven Millstein, an editor at CreditRepairExpert.

He points out that items like blenders and kitchen appliances, which you can’t adequately field test, are likely to be outside their warranty. And you could spend the money with no recourse if things don’t work out.

6. Vacuums

“Vacuum cleaners are not built to last long,” says Millstein, citing a Consumer Reports article putting the average lifespan at about eight years.

As with kitchen appliances, you don’t actually know how the status of the warranty or the history of the item.

“Buying a vacuum cleaner from the thrift store is a big gamble,” Millstein says.

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