Flea Market, or Bed Bug Market?

Flea markets originally got their name because they sold the kind of goods that often contained fleas.

Today, you’re not likely to get fleas from a flea market or other secondhand store. Instead, you might get bed bugs.

Flea markets, thrift stores, and vintage boutiques are especially susceptible to bed bugs because they receive goods from people’s homes, where bed bugs like to live. (They feed on humans, so they like to be near their food source.) Bed bugs can travel from one person’s home to another’s by hitchhiking on clothes, furniture, appliances, or any other item sold in thrift stores. They can live for a year without a meal—dormant, waiting patiently for an unsuspecting customer to buy the infested item and bring them into a new home.

If you shop at thrift stores, flea markets, or vintage boutiques, you’re probably worried about bed bugs. (You’re right to be worried: Cincinnati is number eight in the country for bed bugs!). However, you don’t have to swear off bargain hunting to avoid this horrible pest. Instead, you can learn a few key tips to secondhand shop stress (and bed bug!) free.

Let’s talk about the signs of bed bugs, how to inspect secondhand items, and what items to pass on—no matter the deal.

How to Identify Bed Bugs

Bed bugs are a much-feared pest, but many people don’t actually know what they look like.

Adult bed bugs are the easiest to spot and identify. They are oval-shaped and flat, about the size of an apple seed. Depending on when they last fed, their color can be reddish to brown. They have six legs and two antennae but do not have wings.

“Nymph” bed bugs are smaller in size and thinner than adults. They are tan in color.

Bed bug eggs or egg casings are extremely small and white in color. They are difficult to spot without a magnifying glass and are often mistaken for a speck of dust.

In addition to the bugs themselves, other signs of bed bugs include their droppings and blood spots. Items that have contained bed bugs–like mattresses–might be stained with dark spots (their excrement) or dark red spots (caused by crushed bed bugs).

How to Inspect Potential Purchases

While most people think to check furniture, they often forget to look at other bed bug hiding places. Bed bugs have been found in the most surprising of places, including the seams of clothing, picture frames, electronics, and book bindings.

Be sure to inspect every item you’re thinking of buying (unless it’s something like cookware). Turn clothing inside out so that you can see the seams. Take off the back of cell phones and other electronics to check the inside (if possible). For furniture, use a flashlight to inspect the cracks and crevices for signs of bed bugs. Open any drawers, and wipe down surfaces with a cloth.

If you do find a bed bug or other sign on an item, alert a store employee right away.

After you purchase an item, consider cleaning or heat-treating it before bringing it inside your home. Wash clothing in hot water and dry it on high heat to kill any bugs. Wipe down wooden or metal furniture and steam-clean upholstered furniture.

Which Items You Should Skip

You already know that you should pass on any item that has evidence of bed bugs. But are there certain items that are riskier than others?

You might assume that you should never buy a used mattress, but that’s not necessarily true. By law, used mattresses must be treated and sanitized before they can be sold. If you buy a used mattress, it’s a good idea to cover it in a bed bug-rated mattress encasement for at least a year. (This will make sure that any bed bugs inside have died.)

In fact, furniture—specifically bed frames, nightstands, dressers, and couches—can be the real risk. Bed bugs like to hide near where humans sleep or lounge, which means they are often found in bedroom and living room furniture. Since these pieces aren’t legally required to be treated, they should be inspected carefully. Bed bugs also prefer wooden and upholstered furniture over metal pieces.

That being said, when secondhand shopping, you face the most risk not from what you buy but from where you buy it.

Some unscrupulous thrift stores, for example, skip treating and sanitizing used mattresses. Others don’t train their employees on how to inspect the furniture or clothing they receive for bed bugs.

Before buying from a flea market, thrift store, or vintage store, ask the store manager what their bed bug policies are. They should be able to tell you that they have pest prevention and pest management policies in place. If they can’t or won’t, run the other direction! You can also look at reviews of stores online to see if there are mentions of bed bugs.

If you have any doubt about an item or the store itself, don’t buy anything.

Found a Bed Bug? Call Us!

We hope these tips help you shop secondhand with less worry.

Concerned you might have a bed bug infestation on your hands? Contact Scherzinger Pest Control, a trusted pest control company in the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky areas, including Dayton, OH, and now Columbus, OH. We’ve been pioneers, engineering new standards for ways of eliminating and controlling bugs and pests. Contact us by phone at 1-877-748-9888 or through our websiteFacebook, or Twitter.