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9 Frequently asked questions for safe, smart and savvy thrift shopping

Thrift shopping is a great way to score high-end clothing, shoes, accessories, household items, toys, furniture and more – at well below retail prices. Who doesn’t love a good deal? Beyond just great savings and fun finds, buying used instead of new also helps the environment by reducing the amount of trash we produce and preserving the natural resources that go into manufacturing, packaging, transporting and ultimately disposing of new goods.

Despite the savings to your wallet and the world, some shoppers still hesitate to embrace thrifting. If you’re new to thrift shopping and aren’t quite sure where to start or have questions about the safety of buying secondhand goods, you’ve come to the right place. We break down some frequently asked questions on thrifting and what you need to know to have a safe, smart, and savvy thrift shopping experience.

1. Will I find current fashions at thrift shops

Fashion shopper wearing mask

If you’ve put off thrift shopping because you’re worried the stores are filled with outdated clothing, we’re here to tell you that you’ve been missing out. In fact, you can find current fashion trends like big sleeves, loafers, Bermuda shorts and more at your local thrift store.&

Things like thrifting, upcycling, buying local and renting are on the rise in 2020. But for many it’s more than just a “trend”, it’s a way of life. Thrift stores want to sell their clothing and other items, so they’re buying what they know customers want. That means you can expect to see an intriguing mix of current and vintage styles. Not only do thrift stores have some of the latest fashions, they also offer opportunities for creativity, sustainability, and uniqueness that you can’t always find when you buy new.

2. Do thrift stores sell more than clothes?

Yes! Most have a wide selection of goods beyond just clothes and shoes. Thrift stores are a great place to look for household items, furniture and more. Here’s just a sampling of what’s on offer:

  • Wooden furniture
  • Books
  • Baby clothes
  • Maternity clothes
  • Vinyl records
  • Wooden hangers
  • Bikes
  • Halloween costumes
  • Kitchen tools and appliance
  • Picture frames
  • Tools

3. How do I find what I’m looking for at thrift stores?

Thrifting for furniture

Wondering if you’ll be able to find what you’re looking for or will have to search for hours? While going through multiple racks and piles of clothes isn’t exactly for the faint of heart, it doesn’t have to be as complicated as it sounds. To avoid having to look through every single piece to find your gem, we recommend mastering the art of the scan. Depending on what you’re looking for, browse the store and scan each rack for pieces that catch your eye. It’s not something that you’ll master overnight, but as they say, practice makes perfect. So get to shopping!

Thrift Tip: You can benefit from befriending the thrift store staff, once you find a store that fits your budget and style. Staff can help you while shopping and also provide insights into new merchandise and clothing they’re looking at buying for the store.

4. What are the benefits of thrift shopping?

Vintage tea service 

There are numerous benefits to thrift shopping and buying used instead of new. As we mentioned above, when you buy used, you’re not only saving money, you’re helping to save the environment. Donating and buying used items keeps them out of the trash while preserving the resources that go into making new goods. Thrift stores also have a constantly changing selection of items for you to choose from. So you don’t have to worry about looking at the same old styles. Moreover, you can score amazing vintage pieces, designer brands and unique items you’d never find at a big box store. We could go on and on about how great thrift shopping is, but we highly recommend checking it out for yourself.

Related Reading: Buying Used Stuff: Critical to Helping Save the Environment

5. Should I wash thrift store clothes?

This one is a resounding YES. Most secondhand stores don’t wash the clothes before selling them. Donations are typically washed before they’re donated, but we still recommend giving them a good cleaning when you get home. Even if the clothes are washed before they hit the thrift store floor, people will have since touched them. The same can be said even if you were buying new. Thrift stores will sort through the clothing before putting it on display and throw out anything that has stains, damage, or a bad odor. Regardless, as a general rule, we still strongly encourage you to wash your clothing purchases, new or used, before you wear.

6. How do I properly wash thrift store finds?

Washing thrift store purchases

Now that you know to wash your thrifting finds, you might be wondering if there’s anything special you need to do to clean them properly. Given the concern around germs and smells when buying secondhand goods, here’s what we recommend for “new to you” purchases:

  • Wash the laundry immediately, using recommended settings and detergent
  • Recycle any bags or boxes they came in
  • Once the wash is complete, put items in the dryer right way
  • If possible, use the recommended dryer settings as heat helps kill germs
  • If you have an item that can’t be washed, try placing it in the dryer for a cycle
  • For cookware, dishes and silverware, be sure to run them through the dishwasher or wash by hand before using them. Kids toys, electronics, and furniture should also be wiped down before use.

7. Why do thrift stores smell?

Questions about the thrift store “scent” are common. It’s not that thrift stores or the secondhand goods they sell are dirty, it’s a culmination of many household smells converging under one roof. Think about it. Does your house or apartment have a distinct “smell” that makes it unique to you? Or what about going to a friend or family member’s house? Every home has a “scent.” Now imagine taking all those household scents and combining them into one area. That’s exactly what’s happening at thrift stores.

Thrift Tip: While most people wash the items they donate, most thrift stores don’t have the capacity to clean the goods they sell. That’s why we recommend washing your items before donation and after purchase.

8. Will it be safe to thrift during/after COVID-19?

Safe shopper wearing a mask

The question on everyone’s mind lately is what’s safe to do during the current COVID-19 pandemic. Thrift shopping will be like any other in-store shopping experience as far as safety is concerned. Many stores, organizations and drop-off sites are in the process of reopening and will have social distancing policies in place. If you want to make sure, we recommend checking the store’s website or social media page for information, [KP9] before visiting to see what precautions they’re taking. We also recommend following some of the precautionary steps of checking items before you purchase and washing them right when you get home, which can reduce the spread of germs. While thrifting, keep your distance from other shoppers, avoid touching things you don’t intend to purchase, refrain from touching your face, wash your hands as soon as you leave, and just try to enjoy your time shopping.

9. Can I return things I buy from thrift stores?

This answer depends entirely on the store. Some do allow exchanges or will issue in-store credit if items are returned within a certain amount of time. But don’t assume you’ll be able to return items if you change your mind. Many thrift stores have a “no returns or exchanges” policy. That’s why we recommend checking with the store before you purchase.

Thrift Tip: While some thrifting pros recommend bringing cash when you shop, many stores are either requiring credit cards or highly suggesting using them right now.

Related Reading: Ten Best Things to Buy Used

Whether you’re shopping for an outfit, toys for your kids, or a piece of furniture, your first stop should be a secondhand shop. Not only will you save money and find some great pieces, but you’ll reduce pollution and preserve vital resources that go into making new goods. The benefits of thrifting extend far beyond those cute designer shoes you find, and while we can answer all your questions, the best way to see if thrift shopping is right for you is to go out and try it. Happy hunting!