Published on February 19, 2016

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Found furniture finds are great—and not just because they’re free. Second hand, thrift shop, and even sidewalk furniture has character. But you know the saying “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure?” Sometimes that isn’t the case. Sometimes, one man’s trash is really just trash. Read on to find out what to grab and what to leave—at all costs.

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mirrors

Always a hard yes, no matter what. The only exception is if it’s cracked. Remember, a bit of polish (for the frame that we’re hoping your future sidewalk mirrors have) goes a long way. Remember, if a mirror seems to large to hang, perhaps there’s some wall space it could lean against and look lovely. 

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Photography by Michael Wiltbank

tables, dressers, nightstands, and more

This is a tricky one, because bed bugs can live in furniture. They favor dark, tiny crevices, so a full inspection of any furniture you’re buying secondhand or potentially picking up off the sidewalk is necessary. If you have a patio or live in a home with a yard, leaving smaller pieces of furniture in a black trash bag in direct sun should kill off any potential bugs (who can’t withstand high heat).

quality counts

Ask yourself, is it really worth it to pick up a shoddily built piece of Ikea furniture off the street? The answer should be no. Solid wood pieces (over pressed wood) are naturally more resistant to bed bugs because they’re built by professionals and thus have fewer crevices. Pieces like tables or bookshelves also by design have fewer hidden nooks. Another plus? If they’re designed and built by professionals, they’re probably also more sturdy and unique.

Bottom line: Pick up tables and dressers at your own risk.

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NO mattresses

Do not, we repeat, DO NOT pick up a mattress off the sidewalk—under any circumstance. Don’t touch it, definitely don’t pick it up, and keep your distance. People throw away mattresses for a reason (cough, bed bugs, cough), so don’t fall for it. This goes for all bed frames, too. 

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questionable sofas

The same goes for sofas and any furniture with cushions—just avoid them. Again, if someone puts a couch on the street, it’s probably for a reason. Don’t even sit on them! Instead of snooping for sidewalk couches, take to online marketplaces. It’s so easy to sell your used furniture that doesn’t work for your new home or design aesthetic online, making that a much safer option. It’s not free, but again, it will be much more safe. Upon seeing the piece of furniture in question, ask the current owner about things like pets, smoking habits, and bed bugs before thoroughly inspecting yourself and deciding to purchase. 

Important to note: As a rule, avoid items that look or are reupholstered.The process of reupholstering makes it near impossible to detect OR kill bed bugs. It’s not worth a free, discounted, or cool looking couch for an infestation.

Disclaimer: If you don’t live in a big city and don’t live in constant fear of picking up these pesky little bugs, picking up second hand furniture from a garage sale, second hand store, or even off the sidewalk (we suggest speaking to the owner first) is much more casual. Still, make sure to conduct a thorough inspection.

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calculate real costs

Once you’re certain your couch in question doesn’t have bed bugs, the next step is to calculate real costs. How much money will it take you to haul this piece of furniture back to your apartment—or straight to get reupholstered? How much in total will the reupholstery project cost you, with new cushions, foam, and fabric. Reupholstery sounds fun and is sometimes worth it, but make sure you’re comfortable with the total price, not just the face value $20 Craigslist ad.

Another piece of valuable advice is to check for any tags or labels. Like mentioned above, picking up any Ikea furniture probably isn’t worth it, especially if it’s previous owner was ready to dump it on the street. The same goes for when you’re buying secondhand items. Make sure you’re not getting duped by the seller and look for the manufacturer or brand before shelling out any money.

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eliminate odors

If you pick up or buy a piece of furniture owned by a pet owner or smoker, your new item will probably smell (ugh). But not to worry. For your wood furniture, make a simple solution using two parts water and one part vinegar. The vinegar smell will disappear as the concoction dries, leaving a neutral smell behind. For couch cushions, simply shake on some baking soda, leave for a few hours, and vacuum up. 

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how to disinfect

Your average disinfecting wipes or aerosol sprays you use to clean your home will work just fine on wood furniture. If you’re not planning to refinish your new piece of varnished furniture, be careful and follow regular cleaning rules. Sofas are a bit more complicated, but step one is always to vacuum—the entire thing, paying extra attention to the crevices. If your new couch is really dirty, consider reupholstering it or splurging on a steam cleaner. 

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refinishing damaged goods

Most second hand wood furniture you find will be scratched or stained a different color than you want. Steps to refinishing your new furniture is easy, but will take time. Basic steps include applying a stripper, removing the old finish, cleaning with a mineral solvent, sanding, and applying the new stain. Painting is an option as well, but make sure to sand, prime, paint, and gloss.