How To Tell If Used Furniture Is Worth Buying

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Thrift stores and garage sales often have gorgeous pieces of furniture for sale. Are these the buys of the century or a waste of your time and money? Actually, it depends.

Why Buy Used Furniture?

With so many beautiful new pieces of furniture in stores everywhere, why give second hand furniture a second thought? Quality used furniture offers a number of distinct benefits including:

  • Value: If you shop around, you’ll be able to find some real bargains.
  • Craftsmanship: Some vintage pieces are better made than brand new ones.
  • Character: You’ll find some unique retro pieces with real personality.
  • Sustainability: Recycling furniture reduces your carbon footprint and is good for the planet.

Getting started:

Shopping for used furniture is a little different than buying brand-new. These tips will help you get started:

  • Don’t be swayed by price alone: Before buying that great bargain, be sure it fits well with your style and available space.
  • Keep budget in mind: If used furniture qualifies as antique, it can be quite expensive. Additionally, you’ll also want to see if the seller adds a delivery charge before committing to a purchase.
  • Know your skills: You may fall in love with a damaged piece you want to bring home and repair. If you buy damaged furniture, be sure you’re really up to the repair challenge or can afford to have it repaired professionally.
  • Know where to shop: Try garage sales, thrift stores, antique stores, real estate auctions, consignment shops and online auctions for a great selection of used furniture.
  • Use caution with fabrics: If you buy used upholstered furniture, you run some risk of the fabric containing unpleasant extras such as mold, mildew, pet dander or even bedbugs. Only buy upholstered furniture from reliable sources and consider having any purchases professionally reupholstered to protect your health.

Before You Buy Used Furniture

Often used furniture is sold “as is.” Because of this you’ll need to be especially careful to inspect any second hand pieces you’re considering purchasing. Here are a few ways to help you protect yourself:

  • Test it out: Sit on chairs to make sure they don’t buckle under your weight. Lean on tables. Open and close drawers and cabinet drawers. Check the firmness of cushions. Only buy furniture that’s strong and solid.
  • Look for damage: A little bit of distress adds character (or can be easily repaired), but if you find heavy damage such as split timber, water damage and wood worm, this furniture isn’t worth buying.
  • Use your sense of smell: Sniff any used furniture you’re considering for signs of mold and other unpleasant smelling problems. If you’re still in love with a piece of furniture despite its bad odor, leaving it out in the sun for the day may help the wood release odors.

Red Flags

Used furniture is often a wonderful addition to the home, however, in some cases you should steer clear of it no matter how much you like it. These used furniture items are not worth buying:

  • Chairs with joints that are stapled: These won’t hold up over time.
  • Pine lumber sofas or living room furniture: Pine is very soft and may not be strong enough to support the weight of some adults.
  • Chairs or sofas with mesh support or foam peanuts instead of cushions: This substandard construction is uncomfortable as well as not durable.
  • Cribs: Safety standards change almost every year.
  • Mattresses: Even if they look new, you just don’t know whether they contain bugs or other unsanitary things.
  • Lamps with electrical issues: These could pose a fire hazard.

Cleaning and Sanitizing Your Used Furniture

Once you’ve bought that special vintage piece of furniture and brought it home, you’ll want to clean it up to protect your health and help it look it’s absolute best. Follow these easy steps to make sure your new purchase is clean and free of unwanted germs and/or insects:

  1. Spray for bugs: If you suspect or find evidence of infestation, find a pet-safe insecticide and spray furniture thoroughly. Allow furniture to dry for 24 hours in a well-ventilated space before bringing it inside.
  2. Disinfect: Wipe furniture down with a solution of vinegar and water or a good disinfectant safe for use on wood.
  3. Deodorize: Spray vinegar and water solution and air dry for a few hours, or sprinkle baking soda, let rest a few hours and vacuum up to remove any remaining odor on fabric.

If fabric is stained, be sure to research proper removal methods before trying to treat stains at home. When you’ve taken the time to find quality used furniture, you can look forward to many years to enjoy a purchase that benefits both you and the planet.


Last Updated: November 1, 2012
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About Roberta Pescow Roberta Pescow holds a bachelor's degree in communications from City University of New York, Queens College and is a freelance writer and editor in the NJ area. The author of "A Life In The Service" and "A Monster's Tears," she enjoys writing informative articles, personal essays, fiction and music.  Roberta is a proud mother of two. Her other interests include fitness, photography, sculpture and meditation. She is a voracious reader and holds a 2nd degree black belt in Tae Kwan Do. Roberta enjoys decorating her hectic, but happy home and garden in original and affordable ways.  

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