What You Should and Shouldn’t Buy at the Thrift Store

10 min read
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You can find some pretty amazing things at thrift stores–rare collectibles, antique household furnishings, and so much more. On the other hand, you can also find some items that are unclean, unsafe, or just simply not worth the money. That being said, here are some things you should and shouldn’t buy at thrift stores.


11. Sporting Goods

Sporting Goods
Source: Wikimedia Commons By Wolfmann [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

When it comes to purchasing used sporting goods, Morgan McBride of Charleston Crafted told Reader’s Digest that consumers should “look for things that were donated because they were outgrown, not because they were no longer usable quality.” “If the major component of something looks good but can be easily upgraded–like grips on a golf club–then that’s a good find. Gently used sports specific footwear is fine too, just check the soles and insides,” McBride added. Consumers, however, should pass on helmets as there could be damage to them that’s hard to see, and that damage could compromise the user’s safety, McBride also said.

10. Books

Source: Pexels

If you’re an avid reader, then you probably already know about the treasure trove of books that can be found at thrift shops. Many of them are less than $1 and are authored by favorites like Danielle Steel, Mary Higgins Clark, and Carol Higgins Clark, to name a few. But, did you know that you can find an amazing selection of books strictly for decorative purposes, too? Betsy Appleton, thrift shopping expert, and blogger at Goldwill Digger, told Reader’s Digest that removing the paper covers from those new or gently used hardcover books lets you showcase a classic look in your home.

9. Wooden Furniture

Wooden Chair
Source: Pixabay

A thrift store is a great place to find gently used furniture, especially solid wood furnishings. Mission and Craftsman-style antique pieces from the early 1900s are hot buys, too. And, you won’t have to break the bank to decorate your place, plus you can add your own touches with paint, varnish and fixtures for a look that’s all your own.

TIP: Stacy Verdick Case of Peony Lane Designs recommends buying pieces with dovetail joints where two pieces of wood connect. These types of joints are very sturdy, Case says.

8. Picture Frames

Picture Frame
Source: Pexels

Paintings are often encased in some very beautiful, elaborate frames. And, even if you don’t like the artwork inside the frame, you can still purchase it and take the art out when you get home and put your own picture in it. And, if by chance you stumble upon a solid wood frame, you can sand it and repaint it to give it a more personalized touch.

FYI, some of the ornate or antique-looking frames are actually worth quite a bit of money. Sometimes they’re worth more than the artwork itself!

7. Certain Kitchen Items

Kitchen Items
Source: Pixabay

Kitchen utensils are a steal at thrift stores. Gently used novelty items like popcorn machines, bread makers and pasta makers are, too. So is colored vintage Pyrex. Whatever you decide to purchase, just make sure you clean the items thoroughly before using them. Also, be careful when it comes to purchasing non-stick pots and pans–especially if they’re scratched. That’s because the coating, which contains harmful chemicals, can flake and get into your food and possibly cause health issues.

TIP: If you see a pot or pan you really like but it has scratches, McBride suggests using them to “make a beautiful wall hanging decor” instead.

6. Tools

Source: Pixabay

If you don’t use tools on a regular basis, there’s no sense in paying an arm and a leg for them, right? Instead, go for the gently used tools that can be found at many thrift stores for a fraction of the price. Who knows? You might even find some Craftsman tools there. According to Mental Floss magazine, Craftsman tools come with a lifetime warranty that guarantees replacement–when it comes to normal wear-and-tear, that is. So, don’t go around trying to hammer stuff to concrete walls and thinking you’re going to get that hammer replaced because you’ll be sadly mistaken.

5. Toys

Source: Pexels

You can find some very inexpensive toys that your kids will love at the thrift store. In fact, it may be better to shop for them there since kids tend to outgrow toys rather quickly. That way you can continue to purchase play items for them without breaking the bank. Beware, though. That cute stuffed animal they’re begging for just might have an insect infestation. With that said, make sure to only buy plush toys that are clean and stain-free and, for added protection, wash them thoroughly when you get home. And, when it comes to buying hard plastic toys, those “can be soaked in bleach and water” to remove any germs and bacteria, McBride told Reader’s Digest.

TIP: If you see any vintage comic books and video games, Barbie dolls, Legos, Hot Wheels cars, Matchbox cars, Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh! trading cards, wrestling figures from the 80s, Transformers figures or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle action figures, snatch them up ASAP. They could be worth big bucks!

4. Records

Vinyl Record
Source: Pexels

Thrift shops are the best places to look for vinyl records from your favorite artists. You can often get the classics for a fraction of what you’d pay for them at record stores–many of them will cost you anywhere from a few cents to a few bucks! And, get this: You can sell them for way more than that. According to MarketWatch, vinyl records have risen in value. In fact, albums from artists like The Beatles and Bob Dylan have sold for at least $15,000.

3. Maternity Clothes

Maternity Clothes
Source: Pexels

You’ll save money shopping for maternity clothes at the thrift store, since it “can get expensive as you need to get many pieces from work to casual clothing,” Jacqueline Gilchrist of Mom Money Map told Reader’s Digest. Plus, “buying used maternity clothes is a great way to save money, cash that will come in handy for those upcoming baby expenses,” Gilchrist added. Not only that, but you’ll likely get some items that are in excellent condition, too. Think about it. Unless they’ve been handed down from one person to the next, maternity clothes don’t get worn for very long so it’s highly unlikely that they’ll get tattered and worn out.

2. Brand New Items

Brand New
Source: Pixabay

You can get some pretty good deals on used stuff at thrift stores, but if you’re like a lot of people, you probably think that everything there is old, smelly, and dusty. Well, you may not believe it, but you can also get some pretty good deals on brand new merchandise at thrift stores as well. Yep, it’s true. According to an article published by Reader’s Digest, some thrift stores sell brand new merchandise. “When a boutique goes out of business, I’ll pick up the inventory and flip it to you,” one thrift shop owner told Reader’s Digest.

1. Entertainment

Source: Pixabay

You can get CDs, DVDs and old VHS tapes for $1 or less at thrift stores. In fact, it’s not uncommon to find some very good titles (old and new) for a few cents, and, in return, you’ll get hours of entertainment. It’s an added bonus if you’re into oldies. Most of the time people donate the stuff they don’t want anymore to thrift stores. So, if you’re on the hunt for anything by artists who don’t record anymore or VHS tapes of your favorite 80s and 90s movies, check out your local thrift store.


9. Shoes

Source: Pixabay

According to Reader’s Digest, Suzanne Wexler, a culture and lifestyle expert, strongly suggests passing on used shoes. That’s because they harbor lots of bacteria, particularly in the toe area. Plus, they’ve already adapted to the previous wearer’s feet, so they won’t be quite the comfortable fit you’re looking for. “In terms of thrift footwear, stick with hardly-used or new-in-box statement shoes or heels,” Wexler told Reader’s Digest. “These can cost $400 to $800 brand new and are often more comfortable than less pricey heels, which tend to sacrifice fit for style.”

8. Intimate Apparel

Source: Pexels

You might want to pass on the intimate apparel. In the words of the great Jerry Seinfeld when Kramer asked to borrow his bathing suit, “I don’t know, my bathing suit? That’s a little familiar. I don’t want your boys down there.” And, if you feel that way about sharing your undergarments with close friends, you should definitely feel that way when it comes to strangers. “Never buy second-hand panties or shapewear that has visited the nether regions,” Wexler told Reader’s Digest. “It’s impossible to know how well the garment has been washed, leaving you vulnerable to bacteria and certain sexually transmitted diseases.”

TIP: Only buy intimate apparel from a thrift store if it’s still in its original packaging.

7. Antique Crystal

Crystal Glasses
Source: Pixabay

Unless you’re buying antique crystal for decorative purposes, you might want to avoid it altogether. That’s because antique crystal made prior to 1969 could contain 32 percent or more of lead oxide! If you still prefer to use these pieces to serve or store food and beverages, make sure you test them first with an instant lead test kit.

TIP: Even if the crystal is just for decorative purposes, you’ll still want to proceed with extreme caution when it comes to handling these items.

6. Electronics You Can’t Try Out

Source: Pixabay

“If the store does not offer the ability to test an electronic or appliance before purchasing and will not allow returns, pass on the item,” Appleton told Reader’s Digest. After all, how will you know if they will even power on? And, even if they do power on, how do you know they won’t malfunction when you get them home? And, how do you know that computer you’re about to purchase isn’t infected with a virus or malware? If you’re looking for used electronics, your best bet is to purchase them from some place with a buyer protection program, such as eBay.

5. Makeup

Source: Wikimedia Commons By Pear285 at English Wikipedia [CC0]

While you may think you’re getting a steal on that collection of Estée Lauder makeup you happened to find at your local thrift store, you just may be getting more than you bargained for. According to Gilchrist, that makeup may have already expired, and it’s pretty difficult for you to tell that–even if it’s sealed–since makeup usually doesn’t come with an expiration date. And, this can lead to all sorts of problems since “expired makeup can cause breakouts or an infection like pink eye,” Gilchrist said.

TIPS: Beware of health and beauty products made outside the U.S. They may not have the same safety standards as those made here in America.

4. Large Linens

Source: Pixabay

If they won’t fit in your washing machine at home and you just so happen to live in a remote area where there’s no laundromat with oversized commercial washers and dryers, your best bet is to leave these items in the store. You may be able to get a good deal on them, but you’ll also have to deal with hard-to-remove odors like cigarette smoke, mold, etc. Besides, you can’t even be too sure if they were washed thoroughly. The last thing you want is to be handling filthy linens that someone else slept (among other things) on.

3. Furniture with Dated Fabric

Dated Fabric
Source: Pixabay

Never buy upholstered pieces that were made before 2010. Those that were contain harmful fire retardants. In fact, just don’t buy used upholstered pieces at all. That’s because they could contain odors, allergens, mold, and even bed bugs! That’s right, bed bugs. They don’t just make their homes out of mattresses. They can make a home out of couches, chairs and anything else that’s upholstered. They do, however, tend to favor bedroom furniture, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says. Therefore, it’s best to avoid fabric-covered headboards, too.

2. Old Construction Materials

Construction Materials
Source: Wikimedia Commons By Mennonite Church USA Archives

Like the antique crystal glasses, decanters and vases, old construction materials, i.e. those made before 1978, also contain lead. If you spot any windows, doors or molding that you really want, have a lead paint test done on them first before taking these items home.

The good news is that “not all vintage items contain lead paint,” according to the Minnesota Department of Health. The Department warns that you should still take caution, though, when handling vintage items. They suggest washing your hands after working with or handling vintage items, wearing protective clothing that can be discarded or washed separately from other clothing, and not allowing pregnant women and children to come in contact with these items.

1. Vacuum Cleaners

Source: Pixabay

First of all, you should never purchase one of these from a thrift store without testing it beforehand. You just may find out it doesn’t work when you get it home. Not only that, Consumer Reports says that vacuum cleaners don’t really hold up over time, so you just may be wasting your money buying a used one. It’d be better to purchase one new from a store like Walmart, Lowe’s or Home Depot. It’ll last longer than a used one, plus it’ll come with a warranty.


Do you shop at thrift stores? What items do you avoid purchasing? Let us know in the comments below. Thanks!