HOUSTON - Scoring a sweet deal on second-hand furniture or clothing isn't as safe as it used to be. Bed bugs that live in bedding and feed on humans are finding their way into the thrift store supply chain.
Most people think of bed bugs nesting in their mattress, but what about between couch cushions? Or even in a book?
The easiest way to avoid bed bugs is knowing where they like to live.
"I felt something. I looked down, there were bed bugs," said Passion Ross. "There were three of them on me actually."
But even before Ross actually saw the insects, she noticed bites on her hand. She said she was so freaked out that she tossed the used couch and chair she had purchased at a second-hand store onto the front lawn.
"They were like a little cluster ... kind of scattered about on the under side of the cushion," said Ross.
Prior to buying the couch, Ross remembers seeing yellow tags on the furniture in the store, tags showing the merchandise had been treated with a germicide.
"That tag kind of makes you feel secure. The Texas Health Code says that you sanitized this, but you're absolutely right, it doesn't say that we bedbug-proofed it," said Ross. "It just says that we sanitized it."
By phone, Texas Department of State Health Services spokesman Chris Van Deusen said the tags aren't meant to be a guarantee.
"I think what the tag does is show that it's being sold at a store that has a permit to do this treatment, and has performed treatment on this piece of furniture," said Deusen.
However, it's not just upholstered furniture you should scrutinize. Wooden or porous furniture like wicker provide crannies where the bed bugs can hide.
They can also easily hide in the zippers and seams of luggage.
Examine the back of used paintings and picture frames and shake out books. If you notice any holes or insects that resemble apple seeds, take a pass on the deal.
"Buyer beware, beware definitely. Inspect your goods when you're thrift shopping or buying something used at all," said Ross.
Clothing can be inspected more easily if you do buy clothes second-hand. Keep the items closed tightly in a plastic bag until you can get them straight into a washer. A high heat wash and dry should kill any bugs or eggs.
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