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Beware of bed bugs when thrift shopping

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Whether shoppers are on the hunt for the unique, vintage and collectible, or in need of everyday necessities such as dishes, clothing and even furniture, there are plenty of fun finds in thrift stores.

Before carting away new-to-them treasures, though, consumers should be careful they are not also taking home bed bugs.

Since bed bugs are excellent hitchhikers, they can be brought into a thrift store on clothing, furniture or other used items before being introduced into homes of shoppers who purchase those infested items, said Gina Peek, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension housing and consumer specialist.

“Bed bugs are small, but they can be a significant pest. They’re mostly active at night and they can disrupt your sleep by crawling on and biting you,” Peek said. “This pest can build up large numbers before a homeowner realizes it and they are very hard to eliminate once established.”

Once bed bugs invade a home, treatment is expensive and for best results, requires a pest management professional. That is why prevention is so important.

There are steps shoppers can take to reduce their risk of exposure to bed bugs when picking up thrift store items.

Begin by looking for the pests and evidence of their presence.

Adult bed bugs are red to dark brown in color, oval, and a little smaller in size than an apple seed. Younger bed bugs are tan.

“Mattresses, box springs and headboards are common hiding places for bed bugs,” Peek said. “Actually, the presence of any bug, alive or dead, indicates a problem.”

Bed bugs defecate often as they process a blood meal. Consumers should look for black stains that could appear in the seams of fabric, as well as on top of the mattress, sheets and other furniture coverings. The dark spots also may appear on wood.

The pests also like to hide together, which can produce a dirty looking area containing cast skins, eggs and fecal material. Consequently, any dirty spot on a piece of furniture should be closely examined for bed bugs.

“Ask an associate or manager at the thrift store about the precautions they’ve taken to ensure items are free of bed bugs,” Peek said. “Inspection and heat treatment are best.”

For more detailed guidance on how to reduce the risk of bed bugs before and after purchasing household textiles, clothing and furniture from thrift stores, download for free OSU Fact Sheet T-4421, “Bed Bugs – Reduce Risk While Thrift Shopping.”

For more information on bed bugs and preventative measures, visit and contact the nearest county Extension office.

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