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10 Things You Should Never Buy Used

It always pays to buy these items new

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Perhaps the best warning to think twice before buying anything used came from used-car sellers who tried to blur the process by substituting the fuzzy word “pre-owned” for used.

Pre-owned? Seriously, now. Would you ever feel comfortable purchasing a pre-owned mattress? Or a pre-owned pillow? Or heaven forbid, a pre-owned bra?

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Buyers beware. The world of purchasing used or pre-owned stuff is fraught with potholes aplenty. COVID-19 taught many of us to think twice about what others have touched. But it doesn’t necessarily take a pandemic to remind us that some things are most certainly safer when purchased new. AARP reached out to three thrift specialists and one retail guru for their insights on the 10 things you should never purchase used.

1. Intimates, swimwear and leggings

Let’s start with perhaps the single most obvious example of something that you never, ever should purchase used: any clothing that could possibly have come in close contact with someone’s privates. This advice comes straight from veteran retail guru Trae Bodge, a smart shopping expert who says her life’s passion is to help shoppers save money. But, she says, saving money is hardly an accomplishment if the consumer isn’t fully safe in wearing or using the product.

“As a policy, I never purchase anything secondhand that could have come in close contact with a stranger’s private parts or have been excessively sweated in,” she says. That’s, in part, because the buyer has absolutely no idea of the history of the items. If you have purchased such an item anyway, she suggests getting rid of it. If you insist on keeping and using the items, for whatever reason, “Wash thoroughly in hot water before wearing,” she advises.

2. Mattresses, bedding, pillows and sheets

Much like intimates and swimwear, used mattresses are also a big no-no. When you see a used mattress or pillow for sale all you see is the mattress or pillow and not what you really need to see: its history. You don’t know who or what slept on it.  You don’t know if it has dust mites or bedbugs. This is way too much unknown to risk your health on, says Anita Chagaris, coauthor and publisher of Garage Sale Gourmet: Streetwise Shopping for Fun, Profit and Home Improvement. Considering that each of us spends about one-third of our lives in bed, we should at least take the basic precaution to make sure the bed and bedding we sleep in do us no harm, she says. The one exception, she says, is if the bedding is still packaged and clearly has never been used — or if the bedding is going to be repurposed, say, to be washed and donated to a dog rescue.

3. Shoes, slippers and boots

While not quite as gross as purchasing used intimates or used swimwear, the very notion of purchasing used shoes is pretty disgusting, says Kathy Ozzard Chism, author of Garage Sale Secrets: The Definitive Step-by-Step Guide to Turn Your Trash Into Cash.

Used shoes are likely filled with bacteria and possibly even fungus that could lead to athlete’s foot, she says. What’s more, since the shoes have been worn by the previous owner, they have become fitted to that person’s wearing pattern — not yours.

Should you insist on purchasing used shoes anyway, make certain to thoroughly clean them inside and out before you wear them. You might also consider taking them to the shoe repair store for a good vetting, says Chagaris.

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4. Medicine, vitamins and pills 

This might seem like a five-alarm no-brainer, but that doesn’t stop motivated sellers from trying to unload outdated and even used medications of all kinds at yard sales, warns Bruce Littlefield, author of Garage Sale America. He remembers walking into a yard sale near Alexandria, Virginia, and seeing a used tube of Preparation H marked with a 25-cent price sticker on it. “The idea sends shivers up my spine,” he says. “The fact that someone wouldn’t be embarrassed to sell that is shocking enough,” he says. 

He’s also seen outdated prescription medications sold at garage sales. “That screams danger,” he says. Never, ever purchase any kind of prescription or nonprescription drugs or medications used, he advises. “Just do the right thing and get it at the pharmacy,” he says.

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5. Anything for a newborn

This includes baby clothes, bottles, bedding, cribs, strollers and car seats, too.  The problem: the unknown. You don’t know who used them last and how they were potentially misused. You don’t know if they were properly sterilized. You don’t know if they’ve been recalled or redesigned for safety reasons. And you don’t necessarily know if they are damaged or broken. “When it comes to baby stuff, it’s always better to err on the side of caution and buy new,” says Chism.

6. Large appliances, electronics and lamps

It can be tempting as heck to pick up used large appliances like washers or dryers at a garage sale or thrift shop for alluring prices like $100 or even $50.  But it’s hardly a bargain if the appliance doesn’t work — or if it breaks shortly after you purchase it.

Unless you can repair electronics yourself, say no to anything that needs an outlet to operate unless you are able to thoroughly test each of the items before buying, says Bodge. Some thrift stores do have outlets that they let customers use, she notes. Also, she adds, make sure to check the cords and plugs to all appliances for any damage. If the cord is frayed, that could be a fire hazard.

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7. Plastic containers of any kind

It might seem like you can never have enough plastic storage containers in your home to stash everything into — from the rice leftover from last night’s dinner to the reams of extension chords that you don’t know where else to store.

While purchasing them used might seem more environmentally friendly, using plastic containers — particularly for storing food — whose past is a mystery to you is never a good idea, says Chagaris. She says she’ll never buy plastic containers or Tupperware from yard sales. Plastic is often porous and is not usually microwave-safe. ”I won’t use recycled plastic of any kind inside my house,” she says.

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8. Pots and pans

These might seem like great bargains at yard sales or in thrift stores when you’re asked to pay only a few dollars for items that can often cost $20, $30 or more. But used pots and pans typically come with all kinds of large and small scratches — and therein lies the danger, says Chism. Pots and pans that are rusted, scratched or burned can leak toxic chemicals that you definitely don’t want in your body — or the bodies of family members. Only purchase them new.

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9. Perfumes, colognes, cosmetics, or body lotions

Few things are more personal than those things that we rub or spray on our own bodies — so why even consider purchasing these things used? Consider: anything you rub or spray on your body is likely going to enter your bloodstream within about 10 minutes, says Chism. Used cosmetics, in particular, can be breeding grounds for germs and potential infections, says Chagaris. 

10. Helmets for bikers, skiers, boarders or motorcycle riders

When you purchase a used helmet of any kind you are basically purchasing a wish and a prayer. That’s because you don’t know if the helmet — typically built for one-time emergency use — already has served that function in a previous emergency and is now, basically, useless. Not only won’t you have the full force of its protection, says Littlefield, but you also don’t know if this particular helmet has been recalled or replaced by a newer model for safety reasons.

In the end, says Littlefield, it’s all about using your head.

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