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Should I Buy Secondhand Furniture?

By Sheri Cyprus
Updated May 16, 2024
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Buying secondhand furniture has many benefits. When purchased from garage sales, thrift stores and flea markets rather than antique stores, the cost is usually low. Buying used furniture is also environmentally-friendly and a great way to express yourself since older pieces may be repainted or refinished to suit your style. By blending fixed-up secondhand furniture with the other pieces in your home's decor, you can create interesting looks while stretching your decorating budget. Since many areas have used furniture for sale through garage sales or other means, it's also quite easy to find.

Since second hand furniture may be very old or have a manufacturing history that may be unknown, there are precautions to take when shopping for these goods. Older painted items could contain lead paint which is toxic, so look for manufacturer's tags that say the paint used is lead-free. When refinishing any old painted furniture, wear a dust mask and handle the furniture and paint dust with care. Children especially should not have contact with any items in the home that could have lead paint. Any household furniture, including baby cribs and toys, should not be purchased if there is a possibility it could contain lead based paint.

In general, toys and baby equipment of all types should not be bought secondhand without research, as these items could have been recalled. Recalled items are products that manufacturers or government agencies ask the public to return because an item could have a defect or problem that may possibly cause harm if used. Toasters and other appliance may also have been recalled items and are not a good buy secondhand unless you do research beforehand to eliminate the possibility of a recall. Watch out for used furniture with rotted or warped wood and pieces with cheap construction. Musty smelling fabrics signal secondhand furniture that is not good to buy as it may contain mold.

If bought carefully, secondhand furniture can be a budget-friendly as well as environmentally-friendly way to furnish a first apartment or a living space for anyone on a limited income. Think creatively and work to blend secondhand pieces with other furniture to avoid a cheap or tacky look. Something like classic Adirondack outdoor wood chairs may work wonderfully indoors when given a few coats of glossy black paint and outfitted with padded seat cushions in a bright accent color. Always choose a specific color scheme and pick quality secondhand furniture that will fit in with your decorating plan and personal style.

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Discussion Comments

By ShellM89 — On Jun 11, 2011

@SaraGrove – You have brought up a good question regarding a concern mentioned in the article.

Most of the time it is furniture manufactured in the early to mid 1900s that contains lead in the finish. Normally newer furniture, or older furniture from the 1800s or earlier does not contain lead.

Personally, I would not take a chance. If the seller does not know about the lead content and you really love the piece you could have it tested.

If you can’t have it tested or if it does have lead in the finish and you still want it, I would take it to a professional furniture restorer who has the expertise and equipment to handle the process.

Because the inhaling of lead dust and ingestion of paint chips is so dangerous; in my opinion, it isn’t worth the risk of trying to refinish it yourself.

By SarahGrove — On Jun 09, 2011

There are some great tips in this article. I love the idea of buying and using used furniture, especially to save money and the environment.

What really scares me is the idea that some may have lead based paint. I certainly don’t want to expose my family or myself to lead based paint.

Besides finding furniture tagged as lead-free, which I think would be difficult to find when looking at used furniture, are there any other ways to know if it is lead-free?

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