Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Bad News for Frugal Furniture Buyers: Bed Bugs

One of the basic tenets of frugality is that you don't always have to buy things new. Different people have different standards about what kind of second-hand items they'd purchase: almost everyone buys a used house, lots of people buy used cars, thrift shop clothing is quite popular, but a lot of people draw the line at shoes. And underwear? Well some people try to sell it, but let's just say the buyers aren't looking for bargains. But in general, buying, or finding used items is a great way to save money and cut down on waste.
Then there's furniture. Brand new furniture can be really expensive. Also, sometimes older furniture is made better. In general, furniture is the kind of item that should often be capable of a much longer life than the time it takes for its first owner to get tired of it.
One of the things I was really looking forward to about moving to a bigger apartment was that I'd have space for more furniture. Not really because I want to jam in tons of stuff, but because there have been many occasions where I've seen a nice piece that someone was throwing out on the street, something that I knew I could spruce up and resell, or keep for myself-- either way, it's something that can be a fun project. (You should have seen the cool dresser I once did, bright orange with eyeballs for knobs... my tastes are a bit more sedate now.) So I thought that once I moved, I could spend some more weekend time looking for cheap chairs, tables, dresser, etc. and set aside a corner in which to work on them. But lately I've had reason to be very reluctant to bring any used furniture into my home: the reason is BEDBUGS!
Over the last year or so, there seems to have been a big outbreak of bedbug infestations in New York. The more I hear about it, the more grossed out I am. Basically, bed bugs live in the cracks and crannies around your home. They come out at night and feed on human blood, leaving their victims with horrible itchy welts. They are extremely difficult and expensive to get rid of-- the links below contain a variety of horror stories about people having to get rid of all their furniture and books, hiring multiple exterminators, and having to wash every piece of clothing and bedlinens they owned in piping hot water and drying them on the highest setting for an extra long time.
So if you see any nice new-looking furniture sitting on the street, it might have been ditched because there are bedbugs living in the cracks, even in non-upholstered wood furniture. Some people think the increasing use of craigslist and ebay to sell used furniture is part of the reason there's a bedbug outbreak in the first place. So check out these links, and beware! As for me, I think I will be redirecting my crafty DIY impulses into macramé, or whittling or something.

The Bed Bug Blog

New Yorker story

NYC Dept. of Health Fact Sheet

9/18/06 NY Times article


Andi @ udandi / Lunch It Punch It said...

I read through all the links, but there was a hilarious post on best of craigslist about a guy who got bedbugs from a couch his coworker gave him.

mapgirl said...

Oh gross! Thanks for the post! I bought a used bed off Craigslist 3 years ago. Fortunately no problems. I also got a desk/hutch set, table and desk chair from 3 other friends, and a coffee table from the laundry room in the building.

Making that list, I realize how frugally I've furnished my apartment. (I've only bought two items new, and one antique item from a flea market.) Was it worth saving money? Yes. Bed bugs? I'm not so sure!

Anonymous said...

i live on the east coast (not that bedbugs aren't elsewhere, but have been in my state) and bedbugs are one of the major reasons i ceased considering used furniture a while back. i own a lot of used/rescued/redone diy items, but sadly it's just not worth the risk anymore. incidentally, i recently ordered a new sofa even tho it's a major $ hit, but it's exactly how i want it (custom order) and it's a reputable furniture store therefore worth it to me (will last). plus, i have been good :)
thoughts of bedbugs skeeve me out big time.


Anonymous said...

I used a second hand matress for a month. Then had to give it up coz of hte itching all night and the red spots inthe morning. I discarded it and got a brand new matress and have slept sound ever since.

WH said...

Don't forget the benefits of going to a reputable furniture store...after all, secondhand is not the only way to get bedbugs!


Anonymous said...

I guess I now know why I am an outsider looking in on these frugal websites. There are some things that I just cannot tolerate to buy when they have been previously used, i.e., underwear, socks, shoes, mattresses, boxsprings, bedding, etc. But more power to you if you can transcend that.

Anonymous said...

Beware, I believe I may have gotten bed bugs from a brand new sofa, sold by a major, nationwide, reputable sofa chain.

New mattresses and other new furniture pieces are often delivered in vans also used to cart away used furniture. If your furniture store offers you the free service of having your old mattress or sofa taken away, beware! Other peoples' infested stuff may share a truck with your new stuff.

Anonymous said...

I recently joined The Compact and posted a question about bedbugs (and any other unwanted insects) being transported into the home via used clothing. No one responded. Is there any way to insure clothing is bug-free when buying from consignment or the like?!?!?!

Anonymous said...

Actually, even if you do end up getting bedbugs, you just have to simply get rid of your stuff and move out. If you get all your furniture for free, and clothes, you got nothing to lose, especially if you are a tenant. Just give your month notice, and move out. You have nothing to lose beyond your damage deposit as a renter so it is worth the risk to be frugal. I even paid my rent with furniture and stuff to the leaseholder who was my roomate rather than with cash and saved 7 months of rental payments.

Anonymous said...

This risk has greatly dampened my enthusiasm for buying used goods, which otherwise I prefer to do. Does anyone know of updated information on the risks of used clothing and used books?

Many years ago I put a large carpet out with the trash because of an intractable flea infestation at my apartment. I was sorry to see before the garbage truck came that someone had taken it, no doubt having observed that it looked like a nice carpet. Unfortunately, they were in for a miserable surprise. I've always regretted that I didn't post a warning on it.

paul wheaton said...

Bed bugs are easy to get rid of with a little diatomaceous earth. The stuff is freaky cheap (like ten bucks for a huge bag), edible for mammals and deadly for bedbugs.

Anonymous said...

If you get bedbugs from second-hand furniture, it will cost you more money than buying new.

Food-grade diatomaceous earth is only effective if the bugs walk on it - and it doesn't kill the eggs. It is also a known carcinogen when breathed in and should only be applied wearing a vapor mask. Don't DIY. Call a professional.