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Saving money (while also recycling and helping the environment) is a great thing, but buying clothes, furniture and housewares at a thrift store or garage sale can sometimes feel dodgy. What else is coming home along with that pair of used jeans or vintage dresser? Feel confident that your secondhand steals won’t leave you with germs or pests with these simple cleaning tips.

First, a few general tips

  • A mix of 50 per cent white vinegar and 50 per cent water is a great disinfectant and will kill germs just as well as (sometimes better than) commercial cleaning products
  • Vinegar works well in the washing machine too, but you can also use bleach, Pine Sol (yes, Pine Sol removes stains) or hydrogen peroxide. Just make sure you test the hydrogen peroxide on the item before washing as it can act as a bleach on some fabrics
  • Put plastic, glass and ceramic items in the dishwasher, but be warned that metallic finishes and any paint or decoration may come off. If your dishwasher has a sanitize cycle, even better

Plastic toys: 
Spray or wipe down with a mix of water and vinegar, then rinse with warm, soapy water.

Soft toys: 
Before buying a soft toy second-hand, think about whether you’ll feel okay with your child putting it in his or her mouth. If, you still feel confident, take it home and put it in a delicates laundry bag and throw it in the washing machine on a normal cycle. You’ll want to use warm or hot water but expect that teddy bear fur or doll hair may come out a bit matted.

Clothes: 
Read the washing instructions if there are any. If not, look up how to care for the fabric online or take to a dry cleaner. If you can, throw the item in the washing machine and wash using one of the disinfectants mentioned above then put it in the dryer. If your washer and dryer have sanitize cycles, use them. If you’re worked up about bugs, be sure to put the clothes in the dryer on the hottest heat available for at least 20 minutes.

Shoes: 
Wipe the insides down with rubbing alcohol. Clean the outsides with warm, soapy water or a diluted mix of alcohol and water. Put baking soda inside the shoe and leave overnight to absorb any odours. Finally, to kill fungus, put the shoes in an airtight plastic bag, place in the freezer and leave overnight.

Jewellery: 
Drop into a small glass of white vinegar and let soak for a while. A paste of baking soda and water removes tarnish from silver and is also great for sparkling up any piece with gemstones.

Wood furniture: Don’t bring it inside until you’ve inspected and treated it outside. Inspect drawers, corners and all surfaces for bugs and signs of bugs (nests, webs, droppings). Spray the item with insecticide and then disinfect with a furniture-friendly spray or a solution of vinegar and water. Follow with a wood polish or treatment, as needed.

Plastic or metal furniture: Spray with a cleaning spray or vinegar and water and then rinse with warm, soapy water. Follow with a polish or treatment, as needed.

Upholstered Furniture: Unless you are completely sure that the item is coming from a bug-free home, don’t buy it. Steam cleaning or having the item cleaned by a pest control professional may cost you more than the item is worth. That being said, if you plan to have the item reupholstered, it may be worth buying. Just keep the item outdoors until you’ve removed all the fabric and stuffing, and are left with a clean frame.

Knick knacks (small figurines, decorative accessories): Spray with water and vinegar and then wash in warm, soapy water.

Dishes: Wash them with a disinfectant or add vinegar to your dishwasher.

Books:
 Disinfect used books with a homemade solution of vinegar and water (see general tip above). Gently wipe down the book with a damp towel dipped in the vinegar solution and dry the book with a separate dry towel.