Must-Know Tips for Thrifting Furniture

Score secondhand treasures at a fraction of their original cost.

There's something thrilling about thrifting furniture and stumbling upon a one-of-a-kind treasure. It's an easy way to incorporate unique pieces into your home and create a collected, lived-in look. Plus, it's a good way to shop sustainably and repurpose items to give them new life. Then there's the added bonus of thrifted furniture already being assembled.

As vintage and secondhand decor becomes more popular, so has thrift shopping. Flea markets, thrift stores, and resale sites like Facebook Marketplace are filled with hidden gems. However, it does take a bit of patience to comb through items to score amazing finds. Whether you're looking to furnish your home on a budget or want to find unique furniture designs to incorporate into your space, here are our tips on what to look for (and what to avoid) when thrifting furniture.

warm rustic living room with poufs and fireplace
Dane Tashima

1. Make a Plan and Stay Focused

Always make a basic plan before you thrift for furniture. Decide what you're looking for and how much you want to spend. This will help you stay focused as it's easy to become overwhelmed when you first walk into a thrift store and see tons of furniture, piles of books, and artwork stacked against walls. With so many options, you can quickly forget what you originally came for.

If there is a specific item you're shopping for, make sure that you measure your space first. Always bring a tape measure with you so you can get accurate measurements of the furniture piece, and if you're shopping for a larger item like a sofa, bring a blanket and some bungee cords or rope to safely transport it home.

2. Know When to Pass

Look for furniture that has good bones. Chances are, most things you find will not be in pristine condition, which is when you need to evaluate whether the piece is worth the purchase. Consider whether you could easily and inexpensively repair it yourself or whether you would need to hire a professional. Some small blemishes can be easily repaired—a scratched wood surface can be sanded and stained; missing drawer pulls can be replaced⁠—but if you notice more serious issues, such as large, irreparable cracks, warped surfaces, or an overpowering odor, it's most likely a good idea to pass on the item.

Thrifting upholstered furniture can be tricky, as it's often more difficult to spot potential problems. Sit on the piece to check it for comfort and the condition of coil springs, Make sure there aren't any lingering odors or stains, and inspect every nook and cranny for bed bugs. If there are no major issues, consider whether the piece needs to be reupholstered, and whether it's something you could do yourself (such as changing out the fabric on a chair seat) or if you'd need to invest in professional reupholstering, which can be costly.

3. Get the Best Deal

Not all thrift stores have negotiable prices, but it doesn't hurt to ask. One of the best ways to figure out whether you're getting a good deal is to look online. If the piece of furniture you're considering has a label, look up the name of the manufacturer to see what the going price is for similar pieces. If there is no identifiable label, search for furniture with a similar design and materials to get an idea of what they sell for.

parisian inspired living room sofa
David Tsay

How to Inspect Thrifted Furniture

Once you've found a piece of thrift-store furniture you love, make sure to inspect it carefully. For example, if it's a dresser, look at it from all sides and open every drawer and door to see if they operate with ease. Take note of any stains or cracks, and whether there's any damage inside. Check for any foul odors, especially when it comes to upholstery. Pet and smoke odors can be extremely difficult if not impossible to remove and might be a deal breaker, especially if the item is at the top of your budget.

How to Clean Thrifted Furniture

Before bringing your thrifted treasure inside, give it a good clean in your garage, on your front porch, or in your backyard. For upholstered pieces, remove any detachable pieces, such as seat cushions, and vacuum everything thoroughly. To remove odors, sprinkle it with baking soda and let it sit outside in natural light for a few hours before vacuuming. If it needs a deeper clean, get it professionally steam-cleaned to sanitize it and remove any stains.

To clean hard surfaces, mix equal parts of water and white vinegar, then add a few drops of dish soap. Using a soft rag, wipe the furniture down with the mixture, getting in all the nooks and crannies to remove built-up dirt. If there are drawers or shelves, sprinkle baking soda inside and let it sit for a few hours to remove odors, then vacuum it out and wipe it down with a damp, non-abrasive rag.

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