Since moving to New York, I have repeatedly relied on Craigslist to find just about everything I’ve needed to survive. From finding freelance work to subletting my apartment, Craigslist has come in incredibly handy over the years. But perhaps the most common (and dangerous) things to get on the site (excluding at-home “massages” and “escorts”) are furniture and clothing.
With the seemingly never-ending bed bug epidemic of the past few years striking fear into the heart of every shopper and apartment dweller in town, getting things from random people on the internet can seem a bit like playing Russian Roulette with your home. So, how can you get cheap stuff for your place without living in absolute fear? Well, I just brought home a new chair that I found on Craigslist, so let’s take a look at the process that has kept me bed bug free for the last 3 years:
1) Find Treasure
The first step is obviously to find the object of your desire in the adventurous depths of Craigslist. If you know exactly what you want, in my case a chair, just use the search box on the left side and browse around. If you are just cruising around looking for good deals, just click on the furniture link under For Sale. Remember that you are going to have to get this stuff home, so you might want to use the filters at the top of the page to narrow your search to your borough- at the very least, make sure you check out the address on a map to find things near convenient subway lines. Or you could always just reserve a ZipCar and go load it up.
Also, try to avoid things like wicker furniture, mattresses, hide-a-beds, etc. It is incredibly hard to inspect them before you take them home and it would be easy for unwelcome guests to be hidden deep inside the wicker or mattresses.
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2) Research the Location
There are some parts of town that have been hit by the bed bug problem more than others (I’m looking at you, Bushwick) but nowhere is safe. Just because you are getting a sweet $20 deal on an Eames chair from the Upper East Side doesn’t mean it is parasite-free. If Saks and Louis Vuitton have been victims, we can’t trust anyone. So, your first step once you know where you are going should be to check out the Bed Bug Registry. Yeah, there is actually a national bed bug registry- it allows you to search by address, city or even hotel name. It isn’t perfect since it relies on people reporting issues themselves, but it is definitely worth checking out to make sure the apartment building you are going to doesn’t have 15 incidents reported.
And it should go without saying, if the address you are looking for has been reported, their furniture is not worth it. (Okay, unless they actually do have an Eames chair for $20, that might be worth the risk.)
3) Inspect The Furniture. For Real.
When you show up at the apartment to pick up your couch, chair, table or whatever, do not be shy about inspecting it first. Remember, this is some random person from Craigslist who you are unlikely to ever interact with again. So, do not worry about it being awkward for you to examine their stuff before paying them for it. Tables, stools, etc are pretty easy to inspect because bed bugs do not live in wood, only on it. So, if they are on the surface, you will see tiny little mites scurrying around- check under neath and in the joints/crevasses to make sure. For anything upholstered, be sure to be a bit more thorough. Lift up the cushions, look under the arm rests and peek into cracks. Bonus points if you brought a flashlight.
Since bed bugs are nocturnal, they can be hard to spot, but look for their telltale signs:
- Blood: small reddish-brown streaks of blood on the fabric can be a sign of bugs that have been squished between cushions.
- Eggs: bed bug eggs are tiny whitish/pale pin-sized balls that will be stuck to the sides of cushions/mattresses, again usually in the dark crevasses.
- Bed Bug Poo: bed bug poop is super tiny, but they make a lot of it. it will look like tiny brown spots, almost like pepper spray on the fabric.
- The Culprit: You might even see some bed bugs just chilling, being all infesting and gross. The adults are about 1/4 of an inch long, oval shaped and a reddish-brown color. Younger ones tend to be smaller and a more pale color. Basically, if you see any bugs of any kind anywhere on the furniture, just away. You don’t need to be an entomologist to see a bug and think “that is gross.” If it is gross, don’t buy it.
I’m not going to post photos of bed bugs or their remnants here because I’ve already been grossed out just Googling around for info to put in this article. But check out this guide, this even more detailed one, or the NYC.gov guide to Bed Bugs for photos and more detailed descriptions. Again, if you see anything that looks suspicious, do not buy it, don’t touch it and for the love of God, do not take it home.
4) Wash Everything.
Depending on what you’ve bought, you want to wash whatever you can before you take it into your apartment. Bag up cushions, covers or pillows- tie them up tight in a trash bag and take them to a laundromat. Wash and rinse everything you can with hot water and dry on high heat. Bed bugs won’t survive the high heat wash and dry. Even if the cover is made from something that can’t be washed, run it on high heat for 15-20 minutes.
This is not something you do “tomorrow” or “this weekend”. Do not take this stuff directly into your apartment until it has been cleaned. Even if you have a washer/dryer in your apartment (you lucky bastard, you), leave the furniture downstairs, bag up the covers and/or cushions and take them up to be washed. Then go back down and vacuum every crack, crevasse and hole you can find on the main piece of furniture. Use bleach-based cleaning spray to wipe down all the surfaces and scrub out the joints and every other part you can reach. And if you are saying “Oh no, that’s going to damage my wood!”- you are buying furniture on Craigslist, you are really going to start whining about the health of your chair’s framing? The death of bed bugs is more important than the survival of your chair.
Only when you have completely cleaned and washed everything possible should you take your new purchase up to your apartment.
5) Clean Yoself
After all of this, take off your clothes and either washer them immediately or bag them up for the next trip to the laundromat. Check your body for any bites you got while moving the furniture over to your apartment – and if you want to be even more thorough, take a quick shower just to be sure.
Hopefully I have made you paranoid enough about the fact that bed bugs will ruin your life, once you get them in your apartment, you might as well burn everything. But seriously, be careful about what you buy, where you buy it and take precautions against bringing them into your home and you should be fine. Now that you have gone through all of the preventative measures and used solid common sense, enjoy your newfound treasure. After all, the awesome part about Craigslist is getting great deals on stuff you might not be able to afford otherwise. Don’t be so terrified of bed bugs that you don’t ever go searching for something awesome. And now that you have it home, kick back and enjoy that great new IKEA chair that you just bought for $100 less than it costs in the store. That’s what I’m doing.