How do you swap, thrift or buy resale and NOT get bedbugs?

By the time you read this I'll hopefully have hauled my cookies off to one of the Brooklyn swaps and am unearthing useful (and incredibly pretty and well-fitting) articles of clothing.

When I spread the news of this swap to others in my area, some friends told me they didn't want to attend because of BEDBUGS.

Bedbugs are a totally valid fear here in NYC. There is an epidemic. I personally know 6 people who've had them and almost every friend I speak to seems to know another few. Mattress covers are being stocked per month in the hundreds in stores that were selling 1 per day just last year. I know other cities (I'm looking at you, San Francisco) also have issues with bedbugs. They can live for 18 months in virtually anything without eating -- picture frames, clothing, books -- and the real kicker about them is there is no way to kill their eggs. Save DDT.

But fear of bedbugs making people miss out on clothing swaps is sad news to me. Fear of people buying clothing from resale places is also sad to me. If you are going to swaps, to Beacon's Closet, to Buffalo Exchange, to Brooklyn Flea here in NYC...should you be worried about bedbugs?

Yeah, maybe.

Some of those places steam their stuff but apparently you need to steam effectively to get rid of them and yeah, bedbugs are pretty easy to get.


If you think this is an issue and you'd like to take precautions, I'm laying out some bedbug basics below and I'll direct you to hub of all bedbug info,


** Just an edited note: the part that actually kills the bedbugs here (as commenters noted) is the clothes-drying. The bagging is just to contain the bedbugs so they don't infiltrate your apartment while the clothes sit in a laundry pile and the washing is mainly because I assume everyone will wash thrift store/swap clothing before they wear them. Thank you, commenters, for pointing out that fact was not obvious in the way the steps are written out!

1. Put everything you get in ziploc bags at the location of the store or swap (you don't want the bugs crawling out of the bag in your home; I plan to bring a ziploc in a tote bag and then put the tote bag in the ziploc after I'm done carrying the stuff home)

2. If you've tried stuff on over your own clothes, put those in the ziploc bag, too. I usually do this in the hallway if I think I have anything on me (this goes for when I'm working Spay Day, too, and I think I might have fleas on me!) but if you can't do it outside your apartment, go right to your bathroom, strip in your shower and then run your shower with hot water

3. Make sure you seal the ziploc every time you put something in it!

4. Bring ziploc bag to the laundrette ASAP; needless to say, don't rub all your "questionable" clothing on the clothes you're wearing when you do it. (Alternately, you could bring everything to a dry-cleaner and let them know it's possible these clothes might have bedbugs but that's up to you.)

5. Wash and dry your clothing (hot wash, dry until well-past dry)

6. Get rid of the ziploc

7. Put your washed-and-very-dried laundry in a clean bag (laundry or whatevs, just not the ziploc you carted them there in) to take home


This section talks about how to deal with bedbugs and clothing.

This section talks about using steam to get rid of bedbugs (I haven't read all of this yet but it's now my train-reading to see if I can use my steamer to possibly get rid o' any visitors) I've now read through that section and you can't kill bedbugs with just any ol' clothing steamer so that's not an option

Now that my civic duty is done, happy re-using!

(And as Rad notes in the comments, clothing is easier to treat for bedbugs removal...use precaution with furniture. has some info on how furniture is treated but I do keep a box of DE in my house to dust new stuff with.)


  1. All, NYC bedbugs. My workplace had a huge BB problem last fall. All over the news. I was convinced I had them and went crazy. The upside is that I bought a really fancy steamer (the kind you use to clean hardwood floors and upholestry) and a Packtite, neither which were thrifty purchases. I also have crazy person's precautions around my be. I decided that it was necessary for peace of mind. Also, I think clothes are the easiest to clean, as opposed to furniture.
    Happy swapping!

  2. Ahhh! So- I really only thrift/swap clothing - and I generally just wash them all when i get home. No bed bug problems so far ( and I hope I nver have one)But last weekend I broke out in hives after trying on clothes- I really feel that the thrift and vintage stores should do better in cleaing and steaming the items they sell!

  3. @Rad - you are so right. Furniture is indeed easier! I also thought I had bedbugs and started going through the pre-PCO steps. When the PCO came he told me I didn't have them (I had fleas - the raccoons on my fire escape gave them to my cats!). My coworker has a Packtite but his building is having a hard time treating the nasties so he keeps getting them back - they seem to be going through the brick walls of connected buildings.

    @la fille d'or: I agree! Oh, how I agree!

  4. Isn't putting your clothes through the dryer enough? I saw something on Oprah about freshening bedding using your dryer's hottest setting. I suppose this doesn't work if it's really high end clothing that you don't want to destroy with heat, but perhaps a dry cleaner?

    I'm in Oregon and we don't have too much of a bed bug problem as far as I know.

  5. I had bedbugs from a temporary apartment I rented in a rural midwest college town. Not an epidemic like NYC, but they really are everywhere. Since then I've become neurotic about bringing used things home. Anything that fits in the dryer goes in the dryer. It's not necessary to wash.

    But hey, here's the Good News!

    It really only takes 5 minutes at any heat above 120F or so to kill bugs and eggs. Low heat settings on most dryers are around 130. I ran everything--clothes, shoes, bags, bedding--a full 20 minute cycle to be sure that the heat penetrates every part of the garment (or shoe, pillow, etc) to kill them. Heat will not harm otherwise unwashable (wool, silk, rayon...) clothing as long as they are already dry when you put them in the dryer. I haven't seen a single bug in over 3 months.

  6. Oh my, this is the first time I hear about that problem. Nothing of this over here in Germany. Is there any hint how on Earth they are so abundant? Is it the climate? Are they around all season-long? It is really creeping me out.


  7. @J and @Kristen - YES, the drying is what kills them. The ziploc bag is only to ensure they stay contained before you kill them and the washing is just because it's good practice to wash anything thrifted/swapped. I'm editing the post to reflect your clarifications that the drying is actually what kills them, just to make it clear!

    @Lilly Rose - no one is sure why there is such a resurgence. It seems like it's just exposure -- the practice of people taking mattresses off the street to refurbish them is sometimes thought to be the culprit since they could be contaminated and the bedbugs remain. Also, the old practice of putting used mattresses in the trucks delivering the new mattresses. But at this point movie theatres, subway benches, houses, locker rooms, etc. are being reported with infestations.

    They are around all season long, unfortunately but extreme heat and extreme cold kill them. So - they can live in things in apartments/houses but not *outside* in extreme temperatures.


    heat (also see that link above about clothes dryers!):

  8. I had a bed bug infestation a few years ago in Chicago. There was an apartment in my building two floors down that had them from a mattress grabbed from the alley and the little buggers crawled up the walls and through the outlets to land on my bed and the beds of many others in the building.

    They've seen a recent resurgence due to the banning of DDT (mentioned briefly above). They were common all over the US many many years ago, but were killed off with the continued use of DDT on was an accidental benefit of DDT. Now that that particular insecticide has been banned, they are experiencing a resurgence and continued growth.

    After having had them I will now NEVER pick up good looking furniture from the alley (not like I did before, but I'm really not now) and I second the recommendation to dry all thrifted/used clothes no matter the source on your dryer's hottest setting for minimum 20 minutes.

    These things are the devil themselves to get rid of. It takes 2 weeks for an exterminator to professionally declare your living quarters free of bugs after two treatments - don't let anyone tell you otherwise. If you've had better results, then kudos, but that's not good enough for me. And you don't even want to know what we went through to get them out of a whole building. Any cracks you can slide a credit card into, they can travel through (outlets, cracks in the walls, joints in furniture, tears in fabric). Not to scare people off of thrifted clothes, because there are precautions you can take - this post for example has EXCELLENT advice - but you have to follow the advice to avoid the hassle.

  9. I've been told my pest control that they are almost just as hard to kill as rats. It's scary because they bite you while you sleep. What mean bugs.

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