The Dangers of Thrift Store Shopping: How to Avoid Buying Toxic Home Items

Monica Gray - February 7, 2023

Shopping sustainably is important for the environment. It helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions and has a positive impact on the world. That’s why thrift store shopping is one of the best ways to shop sustainably and save money. You can buy secondhand clothes and other items that won’t put a dent in your wallet. But you also have to make sure you’re buying products that are safe to use and are not harmful to your health. It can be easy to fall into a trap of buying toxic home items at a thrift store without even knowing it. Always leave clothing or furniture at home that smells bad. This could be from smoke, dust, mold, or a combination of toxic chemicals. You don’t know the history of the item and you’re not a detective, so save yourself from a host of problems and leave it. It’s never worth saving a few bucks, and if it causes problems in your home, like mold growth or health issues, the price you pay will be exponentially more.


In a study conducted by NPR, 15 children and adults tested positive for elevated blood lead levels. They traced it back to their use of ceramic ware purchased from thrift stores. The New York Health Department sent out a warning about purchasing traditional ceramic ware from thrift stores and flea markets, especially when it’s hard to trace the manufacturer. This is just one of the many dangers that come with thrift store shopping. That being said, there are certain dangers to thrift store shopping, and with this list, we’ll help you avoid those dangers to buy the safest items possible.

Cleveland Clinic Health Essentials

Avoid Buying Hats To Prevent Lice

Even though you might find some pretty cool hats at a thrift store, it’s better to leave them on the shelf. Hats are considered a high-risk purchase because of the risk of lice, allergens, and other bacteria in the hat. It can quickly become a toxic home item that can spread to all members of your family. Getting rid of lice is never fun, and it can take weeks to fully get rid of the lice. It spreads easily to your pillows and clothing, so it’s best to leave the hat at the store and purchase a brand-new one. Because even if you do manage to clean the thrift store hat, you still risk damaging it or not cleaning it through (Business Insider).

Hobby Lark

Vintage Plates And Dishes May Have Lead

Because vintage dishes are old, they’re especially risky to bring home. They may contain toxic levels of lead, which poses a danger to you and your children’s health if it’s accidentally ingested. Because they’re exposed to high heat and light over a long period, this slowly damages the plate and leads to lead leakage. This is especially true for dishes dating back to the 1970s (NPR).

Maine Bedbugs and Pest Control

Don’t Buy Stuffed Animals, They May Have Mold or Bedbugs

While it may seem like a good idea to buy a stuffed animal from a thrift store – especially if your kid throws an adorable, demanding tantrum when they see it – leave it on the shelf. They often harbor tons of bacteria. Previous children who owned the stuffed animal drooled and cuddled with it. It also has snot and dead skin plastered over the fur. Mold, bedbugs, allergens, and other odors also stick to the fur of the stuffed animal, making it toxic to your home and child. You could unknowingly bring a ton of bacteria into your home with the stuffed animal. Even if you manage to sanitize the stuffed animal, germs can still linger, or you can damage the animal with high heat when trying to wash it (Food Storage Moms).

Sammy D Vintage

Never Thrift Children’s Safety Equipment, It May Not Be Up To Date

Used children’s safety equipment is dangerous to use, and is another high-risk purchase. Car seats, strollers, and cribs may be damaged, and their faults may not always be visible. It’s illegal for stores to sell items that were recalled, though they’re not required to check the items for safety. According to Jen Stockburger, a Consumer Reports Car Seat Expert, “even if a car seat looks fine, it may have internal damage that you can’t see. We test hundreds of car seats and after those crash tests, there is sometimes damage that’s not evident.” Something like a car seat is always worth the investment to buy new (6ABC).

Minnesota Department of Health

Vintage Hardware And Jewelry May Cause Lead Exposure, So Always Buy New

Some toxic home items may be unsafe to use, while others may contribute to lead exposure. Even if that 1970s distressed knob looks like it’ll fit perfectly on your vintage cabinet or dresser, it may come with a risk of lead exposure. It’s more likely it’ll have lead exposure if it’s an item that was made before 1978. You don’t know how old it is or the history of the vintage hardware. It’s best to test for lead before you buy the item, or just skip buying it together. Other items that are dangerous include jewelry, toys, furniture, lead crystal, and toys. Symptoms of lead exposure include delayed mental development, shortened attention span, high blood pressure, joint pain, and fertility problems (Health).

Chasing Winter

Avoid Pet Furniture As It May Carry Pesky Diseases

Even though you might not think twice about buying secondhand for your pet, you should. Previous pets may have had illnesses, fleas, or stinky odors that transferred onto the pet furniture. It’s better to buy your pet something brand new from the store to prevent any risks of bringing in odors or diseases into your home. This goes for blankets, crates, pet beds, and toys. You don’t know the previous pet or its history, so it’s better to assume the worst and leave the item at the thrift store. Your pet’s health is just as important as your and your children’s health (Country Living).

Mr. Appliance

Home Appliances May Be Faulty, So Only Buy Them If You Can Test Them At The Store

This one is obvious, but it’s important to make sure the appliance works before you bring it home. Imagine buying a microwave, only to realize it doesn’t work. If you can test it at the store, that’s the best-case scenario, although buying a new appliance is always the safest bet. Also, buying a TV at the thrift store means it doesn’t come with a warranty in case it breaks. It could be outdated and expensive to repair. This also goes for video games. Saving a few hundred dollars at the thrift store may just end up costing you more in the future (Country Living)


Utensils May Contain Harmful Metals And Chemicals, So Always Buy New Ones

You don’t know the history of utensils when you buy them from a thrift store. They may contain harmful metals and chemicals that may lead to a host of health problems and contaminate your food. At the very least, sterling silver and stainless steel are safe to use, but you need to make sure they’re made of those materials before buying. According to the FDA, “imported and domestic silver-plated hollowware have been found to contain significant quantities of leachable lead. The metal is extractable by acidic foods and could cause chronic heavy metal poisoning under continued food use.” Always beware before you buy (Country Living).


Old Batteries Are Dangerous, Always Buy Them New

There’s a reason we have to discard our batteries when they stop working. Batteries contain metals like lead, cadmium, nickel, mercury, and silver. This not only poses a threat to the environment but to your health. There are certain handling precautions when it comes to batteries, like needed to place each battery in a sealed plastic bag to keep the toxic chemicals from leaching out. If it’s at a thrift store, it’s already posing a danger. Do not bring it back home (EPA).


Slow Cookers May Have Faulty Wiring, Buy A New Ceramic One Instead

Faulty wiring can lead to fires. This is incredibly dangerous for your home. The motor may be burned out, and there’s no way to test it at a thrift store. Older slow cookers may be peeling and not operating properly. It’s not worth it. For the safest option, buy a new, high-quality ceramic slow cooker. These use lead-free glazes, which means you won’t have toxic chemicals leeching into your food. We don’t know about you, but a dinner free of lead sounds like a good idea (Smart Slow Cooker).


Linens May Be Contaminated With Germs, Always Buy New

Just like stuffed animals and pet furniture, linens may contain bedbugs and other harmful germs. Simply washing the linens in hot water may not be enough to fully get rid of the toxic germs. You can easily buy new inexpensive linens, usually on sale, from a shop. Because there’s no thorough way to sanitize linen, there’s always a chance they contain hazardous chemicals or bacteria that can cause an array of health problems. Think about it, you’re spending between seven and nine hours a night wrapped in the linens. You want to make sure there are no bacteria (Country Living).


Any Item With Chipped Paint May Contain Lead, So Don’t Risk It

We can’t stress this enough. Always test your thrift store purchases for toxic items like lead. Not every item contains toxic lead, but if you’re buying something with chipped paint, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. It’s best to assume it contains lead until you can properly test it. Children are especially vulnerable to lead poisoning, so you must be extra careful. Children can chew on surfaces coated in lead-based paint, like small objects you pick up from a thrift store. Breathing in lead dust is another way children may have accidental exposure (CDC).

Home in the Finger Lakes

Used Cookware And Pots And Pans Are A Big No-No

There’s a reason they suggest replacing your pots and pans every five years. Worn-down baking sheets, pans with non-stick coating, scratched pots, and rusty supplies may be toxic. Chipped non-stick coatings are not safe to cook with or eat off of. Over-used cookware may have toxic chemicals that leech into your food. If you accidentally inhale Teflon, the coating on non-stick pans, at high temperatures, you may get Teflon flu. These are temporary flu-like symptoms that come from the toxic chemicals. If you want that vintage look, it’s better to buy cookware from a store that’s purposefully made to look vintage. You can have fun shopping for these items, with the knowledge they’re completely safe to use (Healthline).

Daves Pest Control

Upholstered Headboards May Contain Bedbugs

We know bedbugs love to nestle in mattresses and linen, but they also love to hide in headboards. Anything that’s upholstered, or considered bedroom furniture for that matter, holds potential risk for bedbugs. Avoid buying headboards covered in fabric to minimize this risk. Carefully examine any headboard you buy in a thrift store to make sure there’s no potential bedbug infestation. This goes for wooden headboards, too. If there are cracks in the headboards, bedbugs can hide in there and lay eggs (JCEhrlich).

Better World Apparel

You Don’t Need That Old Tire For Your Car, Take It To the Shop Instead

Tires contain chemicals and heavy metals that are leeched into the environment as the tire breaks down. Some of these chemicals cause cancer and gene mutations. You don’t know how old the tire is or its history, so it may contain tons of chemicals you’re unaware of. If you need a new tire for your car, go to your local car shop and have them replace your tire for you. Always buy new when it comes to these toxic items (Eco Green Equipment).

Future King and Queen

Avoid Buying Antique Crystals As They May Be Dangerous And Outdated

This is mostly to protect your children, as they’re more susceptible to accidental consumption. It’s likely the crystals you find at the thrift store are outdated, which means they may contain 32 percent or more lead oxide. This also pertains to glass crystals that you’d drink out of. Use a lead test kid to get a measure of the amount of lead that may be present in the crystals. Better yet, avoid buying the crystals altogether to prevent bringing a toxic item into your home (America’s Test Kitchen).


Laptops Could Steal Your Identity, Don’t Risk It

The laptop itself won’t steal your identity, but there could be a hacker waiting for its victim to buy the laptop with tracking on it. Not only may a laptop be severely damaged at a thrift shop, but there’s no way to truly test it. It may be toxic in the sense that it carries a virus that can easily steal your information or lock you out. Keyloggers can track your typing, undetected spy software may track your actions, and illegal files may still exist on the laptop. Overall, it’s a bad idea. It’s better to make a payment plan for your new laptop and pay it off every month (Make Use Of).


Used Rain Boots May Leave Your Feet Wet And Soggy

No one wants soggy feet, especially during a torrential downpour on your way to work. Buying a good pair of rain boots at a thrift store might seem like a good idea, but waterproof apparel can easily degrade over the years and lose its efficiency. Not only that, but if they weren’t properly taken care of, they may contain bacteria, mildew, and mold. After a few seasons, rain boots usually wear out. The same goes for waterproof jackets (Insider).


Medical Supplies Can Be Harmful And Tampered With

Stocking up on medical supplies is never a good idea. First of all, they might not be cleaned properly. Face masks, thermometers, and hand sanitizer are always better purchased new. They can also easily be tampered with, so buying them from an accredited store is your best bet. The same goes for medication. It can be very dangerous to purchase medication that wasn’t prescribed by your doctor. Even Tylenol or Advil should be bought, new, from the pharmacy (Country Living).


Helmets Are Only Made For One Accident. Never Buy Used.

Similarly to strollers and children’s items, buying used helmets is never a good idea. Helmets are built to only withstand one impact, which means if someone used it and got into an accident, it doesn’t work anymore. That could very possibly be one of the reasons it’s at the thrift store. It’s always better to be safe than sorry, especially when it comes to helmets for your children (Insider).


Don’t Buy That Dirty Mattress, Ever

Even though it’s unlikely you’ll find a mattress in a thrift shop, you may come across one. It’s never a good idea to buy a mattress in a thrift store, just as it’s not a good idea to buy linens or pillows. In general, bedroom furniture always runs the risk of carrying bedbugs and other mites that are toxic to you and your family. They may also carry smells, mysterious stains, and other bacteria. Bringing them inside your home could create a ton of problems that is never worth saving a couple of hundred bucks over (Insider).

NY Times

Used Underwear Is Off Limits

This one is obvious, but we’ll subtly remind you that used underwear is off-limits. Buying undergarments secondhand is not something you’ll ever want to do. Unless it’s clear they’ve never been worn, don’t buy them. Preworn underwear or swimsuits can carry tons of bacteria, fecal matter, and even STDs. Because of where they sit on the body, it attracts tons of bacteria. Swimsuits also wear out easily, so you’re not saving much money in the long run (WebMD).

Langley Vacuum and Sewing Center

Vacuum Cleaners Don’t Last Very Long, So Just Buy It New

Vacuums are another item that’s best bought new. Since you don’t know the history of the vacuum, it’s hard to tell if it works properly or not. The money saved in the long run isn’t worth it. If you need the vacuum, make sure you test it at the thrift store beforehand. It also runs the danger of bringing someone else’s dust into your home (Fool).


That Old Rug May Make You Sneeze

Did you buy a used rug from a thrift store and suddenly, you’re sneezing? That’s because the pre-owned rug can contain mildew, mold, allergens, dust, and stains. Even worse, it could contain black mold, which is incredibly harmful and toxic to your health. Carpet mold comes in black, white, or green spots, so if you see this on the rug, leave it at the shop. If you bring this mold into your home, you run the risk of spreading it to other areas of your home. If you or your family are sensitive to mold, you might experience sneezing, sniffling, itchy eyes, or itchy skin (GP Inspect).


Outdated Furniture May Contain Multiple Toxins

If you see a couch or other furniture that dates back to 1984, leave it at the shop. It may be one of the 85% of furniture that contains harmful fire retardant chemicals in its fabric. In 1975, a “California furniture flammability standard called Technical Bulletin 117 led to the use of harmful and ineffective flame retardant chemicals in furniture and children’s product foam. This California regulation was followed across all of North America.” This toxin is associated with a lower IQ in children, hormone disruption, cancer, and a host of other health problems (Green Science Policy).


Construction Materials Have Lead, Especially Before 1978

Just as many other items on this list may contain lead, windows, doors, and molding manufactured before 1978 may also contain lead. Leave the construction materials at the store, where you found them. Lead poisoning is a serious issue, and it’s never worth saving money. To prevent this, you can do a lead paint test before taking it out of the store (Country Living).

The Healthy

Used Makeup Contains Yucky Bacteria, Avoid It Altogether

Wearing other people’s makeup is never a good idea, especially because it can lead to skin infections. Even with unopened cosmetics, you don’t know the expiration date or if someone happened to tamper with the item. It’s always better to spend the extra money and buy high-quality makeup. You’re putting it near your eyes, nose, and mouth, so it’s always better to be safe than sorry (Country Living).