Spending

'People are cleaning out their closets' during coronavirus, but is it safe to buy used? Experts explain

Twenty/20

Buying secondhand is a good way to save money on clothing and other pricey household items. And experts say it can still be perfectly safe even during the pandemic, provided you take some precautions. 

Salvation Army and Goodwill are not currently selling items or accepting donations. However, other platforms including ThredUp, Poshmark, Mercari, Facebook Marketplace, eBay, and Craigslist are still allowing consumers to buy and sell goods. ThredUp has actually seen an uptick in sellers, says company representative Samantha Blumenthal: "People are cleaning out their closets right now." 

The spread of the coronavirus may give shoppers pause when it comes to thrifting. At a time when we are asked to wear gloves and masks to the grocery store, purchasing an item that has not only been touched by another person, but has been in their home, can seem unwise. Especially because we're not sure exactly how contagious the virus is. 

"The thing we do not know is how much virus you have to be exposed to to get sick," says Dr. Amy Edwards, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at University Hospitals, who works with the UH Roe Green Center for Travel Medicine & Global Health. Some viruses travel easily through fabrics and surfaces and some don't.

Edwards believes that the likelihood of getting Covid-19 from secondhand items is not that high. Still, she and other experts agree, it's smart to take some precautions. Follow these best practices to be as safe as possible when buying secondhand. 

Don't come face-to-face with sellers

Arlene Liu's side hustle is selling secondhand clothing and writing about it on her blog From Pennies to Plenty. Although she is low on inventory right now, she says people have been consistently buying from her. 

If you are buying from a local seller and either picking up the item or having it dropped off, make sure the exchange is as distanced as possible. "Don't do face-to-face contact with people," Liu says. "Have people do the drop-off at your doorstep." 

Wear gloves when you pick the item up and then immediately clean or launder it, depending on what you bought.

Let shipped items sit idle 

The coronavirus lasts for up to one day on cardboard, two days on stainless steel, and three days on plastic, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. Researchers have found that the virus is not good at surviving on soft materials like fabric. 

If your item is being shipped, the chance of you contracting Covid-19 from it is much smaller, Edwards says. This is because an item coming from a company's warehouse, where it has been for a few days before being shipped, is sitting idle for enough time that the viriorns (virus particles) will probably not survive the journey from the warehouse to your door. 

"Every day you can put an item in storage instead of using it, the item will have less and less virus," Edwards says. 

Don't do face-to-face contact with people. Have people do the drop-off at your doorstep.
Arlene Liu
Founder of From Pennies to Plenty blog

If you're ordering from eBay and the item is being shipped directly by the seller, a few days in the mail will also lessen the possibility that the virus is alive and will infect you. 

To be extra cautious, after delivery, put the unopened box somewhere out of the way for a day or two before opening. The longer it sits around with no one touching it, the better.

Wash clothes

Whether there is a global pandemic or not, it is always smart to launder secondhand clothing before you wear it yourself, says Carolyn Forte, director of the home care & cleaning products lab and the textiles, paper and plastics lab at the Good Housekeeping Institute.

"Wash it in the hottest water that is safe for the fabric," she says. "And put it in the dryer. Washing and drying should kill anything that's on there." 

If the garment is white, consider adding some bleach or all-fabric bleach, she says. 

When dealing with bed sheets, blankets, or other oversize fabric items, don't shake them out before you put them in the wash. "You don't want the virus to become airborne," she says. Wear gloves and try to contain the item as much as possible before putting it in the wash. 

Sanitize appliances and furniture 

If you're buying a secondhand appliance like an Instant Pot, take everything apart and soak the parts you'd normally wash in hot water and soap, Forte says. When you buy furniture, take out drawers if needed, and wipe everything down with disinfectant wipes. 

"Some disinfectant wipes do say they are good for wood, so look for those," she says. "You don't want to damage it but a quick wipe, a quick wash and dry afterwards should be good." 

Before you buy anything secondhand, check to make sure the item is safe to use and has not been recalled. To find out if a product has been recalled, you can visit the Consumer Product Safety Commission recall list or the recalls.gov.

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