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Fashion & Style

Do Toronto thrift stores have a bedbug problem?

Posted by Natalia Manzocco / August 10, 2014

thrift stores torontoIt's a word that strikes fear into the heart of all Torontonians - bedbugs. That terror is doubly felt by the city's secondhand shoppers, who regularly rifle through their fellow Torontonians' closet castoffs at thrift, consignment and resale stores in search of a great deal. (Not enough fear to scare them off completely, though, as the city's current secondhand fashion boom proves.)

But how realistic are those fears? Sure, the idea of secondhand clothing might squick some folks out, but is buying used clothing really a higher bedbug risk than riding the TTC, heading to a library or sitting in a movie theatre?

Secondhand stores around Toronto, from thrift stores in low-income areas to high-end consignment stores, are all on alert for the possibility of bedbugs, and keep their eyes peeled for telltale signs when buying new stock - though most say they don't clean clothing themselves as a precaution.

One of the few that does is Double Take on Gerrard East, operated by the Yonge Street Mission, which which features a large sign in the window advertising that all clothing is steam cleaned, and all linens are washed (and, the store staff add, dried on hot).

"I believe putting a sign in our window expressly stating that we steam clean all our clothing is something that has drawn a very appreciative audience to Double Take," says manager Kathy Webster.

The store uses a large steaming machine, as well as another for delicate items (like leather jackets). But, Webster says, that main machine cost them between $25,000 and $30,000 to obtain - a prohibitive price tag for most businesses.

Combating bedbugs, as anyone who's ever hosted the little blighters can attest, is more complicated than just throwing an item in the laundry. If the bugs have laid eggs on a garment, washing won't kill them - the clothing also needs to be exposed to very high heat via a dryer or steamer. Add up the staffing, equipment, and time needed to treat every piece that comes through the door, and those processing costs often become unfeasible for businesses trying to cater to a cost-conscious clientele.

That having been said, however, secondhand buyers are typically on high alert. At the Kind Exchange, staff say looking for unwanted critters - particularly along clothing seams, where they like to hide - is a big part of the quality control process. "We check things seam for seam, button by button, so it makes it easy to tell," says Bronwen Hagan, who manages the Queen and Peter store.

If buyers spot the slightest trace of an insect of any kind, they immediately seal the item in a plastic bag and either ask the consignor to come pick it up right away or dispose of it outright.

Thrift stores are even more vigilant, thanks to the possibility of infestation through used furniture (where bedbugs like to hide in nooks and crannies). Staff at Value Village in Leslieville say they don't accept used mattresses (the rule for most thrift stores) and tend to avoid taking bed frames; though clothing isn't washed, everything else is inspected for signs of an infestation, particularly furniture.

Vintage lovers, however, may be able to breathe a little easier. Since vintage shops typically buy their stock from various dealers and warehouses, instead of directly from members of the public, it's theoretically less likely that an infestation that began in a private apartment or home would make its way into the store.

High-end consignment stores, too, often ask for clothing to either be freshly washed or dry cleaned (though buyers at lower-end resale stores like Kind Exchange also say they'll decline items they can tell aren't clean). Of course, though they're a problem generally associated with lower-income neighbourhoods, bedbugs don't discriminate based on class - and just because the label on your secondhand find says "Chanel", that doesn't automatically mean you're immune.

Whatever you brought home, you can always buy yourself a little extra peace of mind; Toronto Public Health advises safeguarding your place against potential thrift-store hitchhikers by throwing your new item into a hot dryer for 30 minutes. It's a handy tip, since Toronto's thrift addicts (myself included) likely won't be going cold turkey on the thrill of the find anytime soon.

Discussion

9 Comments

W. K. Lis / August 10, 2014 at 09:50 am
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All used anything should be irradiated.
Sameer / August 10, 2014 at 10:14 am
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TL;DR - The answer to the headline is, "NO".

This seems like a very irresponsibly titled piece.

The actual article does a lengthy job of saying that thrift stores have rigid processes in place to make sure bedbugs are not an issue, but the headline is sensational and creates fear, uncertainty and doubt, probably adversely affecting the vigilant and careful businesses that are being reported on.

George C / August 10, 2014 at 10:52 am
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Now matter which thrift shop you buy at , to are all taking your chances of taking home the "UNWATED" The clothes this stores get come from contracted suppliers which own drop off box all over North America and abroad. When these large chain thrift shops receive there inventory they get in one ton bales, barely screened for metal objects, let along any parasidic creatures. From experience on two occasions I found hypodermic needles and even a little bag on pot , That's just from one store.
George C / August 10, 2014 at 10:58 am
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The regional manager did apologize and stated they receive 10's of thousands of pieces and garments a day. said they try to do their best to catch objects in pockets etc. But I don't think there are any processes that they check for parasites like head lice or bed bugs.
Wow! This could be a serious liability on them, they are totally responsible.
roncesvaller / August 10, 2014 at 01:23 pm
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The simplest way to prevent a bedbug getting in is just to wash and dry for 45 mins all items you bring home. Bag them and seal them at the thrift store, then wash them immediately without letting them get in contact elsewhere in the house. Bedbugs aren't some drug resistant bacteria. You just need to be careful and follow some simple steps.
chaka quan / August 10, 2014 at 03:18 pm
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I would like to see a story on whether or not furniture delivery and rented moving trucks are routinely treated for bedbugs.

Inde / August 10, 2014 at 10:14 pm
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Black Market had bedbugs last time I went. They came home with me in my shopping bag... nightmare...
Rolo / August 11, 2014 at 09:07 am
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I bought a pair of jeans at Value Village once and found a tampon in the pocket!
JOhn Macintyre / September 2, 2014 at 04:00 pm
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Hello,
MOST second hand stores do not check for any problems. In recent years numerous second hand stores in Canada and the USA have been reported as causing bedbug infestations thru 2cnd hand furniture. The same kind of complaints have been filed against A VERY LARGE (new- returned furniture RE-stocked and sold as new)furniture company as well as furniture RENTAL companies.
Just washing and drying as described is NOT safe or effective since the eggs are sticky and as small as lice, so they may RE-stick to your car floor, bag, purse, or shoes on your way home.
Yes, this is accurate. They are easier to catch than fleas and harder to get rid of than cockroaches.

Further, no one is warning anyone that they are as small as lice and ready to bite for the first few weeks of their lives. Its not about how clean you are. Its about how ignorant you (or your neighbors) are.
Further, the pesticides Canada has authorized ONLY WORK FOR 20 days. They have NO decent residual barrier. The new pesticide laws just imposed make this even HARDER to combat.

Media is not being forthright about warnings, and people are still giving away furniture and picking it up in back alleys because they dont even know bedbug problems exist.
Meanwhile people who move, leave there infested furniture in the alleyways because many cities require PAYMENT to come pick up any furniture/garbage. So the problem just keeps on spreading.

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