Every week, roughly 165,000 garage sales are held in the United States, according to Statistic Brain. In the warmer summer months, you can easily waste a whole day scoping out sales. And with the average item costing just 85 cents, another person’s trash may well turn out to be your treasure.
But for every amazing garage or yard sale find, it seems that there are piles and piles of junk, like battered toys, threadbare sheets, and musty textbooks. Some things that people sell are just gross, like half-empty bottles of toiletries and used underwear. Others are simply weird.
“At one yard sale, the seller was trying to sell their overabundance of live white mice,” Chris Heiska, who runs the Yardsale Queen blog and website, told The Cheat Sheet. “At a flea market in Southern California, there was a seller who sold caskets.”
Not knowing exactly what you’re going to find when you pull up to a yard sale is part of the fun, of course. But don’t let the thrill of the hunt let you get suckered into a bad purchase. Some things that look like great deals at first glance are actually big no-no’s. These items are unsafe, unsanitary, or just plan useless.
Here are 10 things you should never buy at a yard sale, no matter how cheap they are.
Tip: Have a question about the safety of a used item that’s not on our list? The Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) provides information about recalled products. You can search for recall information by product or company name.
1. Baby gear
Pass on the used cribs, playpens, car seats, and other baby gear. Older models may not have the same safety features as new products and used items could be damaged, putting your baby at risk. The CPSC urges parents not to use older cribs because they have design flaws that put infants in danger.
“Be very careful when buying anything baby related,” Heiska said. She also suggests using caution when buying old toys. “Many vintage toys are safety hazards — the lawn game from the ‘70s called Jarts come to mind,” she said. (Jarts, also known as lawn darts, have been banned in the U.S. since 1988.) “People who weren’t around in the ‘70s may buy them and not realize their danger.”
2. Bike helmets
Bike helmets should be replaced after any crash where you hit your heads, says the Bike Helmet Safety Institute (BHSI). Older helmets may also offer less protection than newer models.
“You probably should not buy a used helmet at a yard sale or thrift shop,” the BHSI cautions. “Damage may not be evident. Cheap helmets are available new.”
The bed bug risk is real. These pests are found in every state and can be difficult to get rid of once they set up residence in your home. Keep your home bug-free by only buying new mattresses, and stay away from upholstered furniture for the same reason. Plus, used mattresses can come with stains and odors that are hard to remove, and may carry pet dander or mold. Even if it looks like a great deal, skip it.
4. Non-stick cookware
While pans with non-stick coatings like Teflon are incredibly popular (up to 90% of aluminum pans sold come with it), some worry about whether the chemicals used to make the coating are safe. Though manufacturers, including 3M and Dupont, have phased out the used of PFOA and PFOS, the substances that caused the most concern, you’ll still find them in older pans. To stay safe, avoid older non-stick cookware, especially if the coating is chipped or flaking. The average lifespan of a non-stick pan is between three and five years, says Good Housekeeping.
Given how quickly technology evolves, most of the used electronics you find cluttering yard sale tables aren’t exactly a great deal. Even if an item still works (and you should always test before you buy), there’s a good chance that a better – and often cheaper – model is available elsewhere.
Pay special attention to items with batteries. “If something is battery operated and it doesn’t work, there is a good chance the batteries that are in it have corroded, making it unusable,” said Heiska.
The exceptions to the electronics rule? Hobbyists and tinkerers looking for spare parts can have a field day at garage sales, says Popular Mechanics. And you may be able to score a deal on electronics that haven’t evolved much in recent years, like speakers.
6. Boxes of old LPs
Collectible vinyl records can sell for thousands of dollars, which may make snapping up a box of vintage LPs seem like a smart investment. But your chances of finding a hidden gem are slim.
As anyone who’s flipped through a crate of records at a garage sale can tell you, most of what you’ll find is pretty worthless, unless you are in the market for old Herb Alpert or Engelbert Humperdinck records. If you find a single LP you like, buy it, but don’t haul the entire box home with you.
“Honestly, you’re about as likely to hit the lottery as to find a valuable record in an old collection,” says the website Popular Song.
Aside from the “ewww” factor, worn-in shoes have been molded to someone else’s feet, which can make them uncomfortable for you to wear. Used running shoes are a particularly bad bet, since they may be worn out and not have the support needed to protect your feet. Unless you’ve stumbled upon a pair of designer shoes in good condition or a one-of-a-kind vintage item, you’re probably better off buying new.
You wouldn’t buy someone else’s underwear, would you? Well, purchasing a secondhand swimsuit at a garage sale is essentially the same thing. No amount of soap and hot water is enough to wash away the “ick” of a used pair of swim trunks.
Aside from the gross-out factor, there’s another reason to steer clear of yard sale bikinis. Chlorine in pools can quickly wreck a swimsuit, causing colors to fade and fabrics to break down, as Health explained, which means your secondhand suit might not be such a bargain after all. Plus, you’re probably not trying swimwear on before you buy, and the chances of it fitting correctly are slim.
9. Bath and body products
Sometimes, you’ll find things at a yard sale that should have gone straight to the trash. Used or opened bath and body products like shampoos or lotions are a case in point. Even if they’re cheap, you should steer clear. Contamination is a concern, but there’s also a chance that these opened products won’t work as well as their new counterparts.
“Like most things in life, skin care products, toiletries, and beauty products don’t last forever. Once opened, the clock starts ticking on these items, because exposure to air, light, and bacteria can break them down,” Lifehacker explained. “[A]n expired perfume could smell a little off or your anti-dandruff shampoo no longer keep your mane flake-free. Other times … an expired product can be irritating or cause other problems, as with using expired sunscreen and then toasting yourself in the sun.”
10. Puzzles and games
A garage sale might seem like a good place to pick up a cheap puzzle or board game, but you could be setting yourself up for frustration. Both could be missing key pieces, and unless you want to stand there and count Scrabble tiles, you likely won’t realize until you get home and discover the all-important letter “Q” is missing from the box. Combine that with battered boards and missing instructions and you’re better off not passing “Go” in most cases.
The exception might be if you’re able to find collectible games or game pieces. Some people are able to make money selling rare Monopoly tokens or stray pieces of special chess sets online, but you need to know what to look for. “Having a bunch of generic black and red plastic checker pieces doesn’t do you much good. But if you had vintage clay checker pieces, it might be a different story,” Laura Niebauer Palmer wrote for The Pennyhoarder.