How I Clean our Secondhand Treasures

posted by Andrea | 01/22/2018

It’s no secret that we almost always buy used… in fact, as I look around my home, almost everything I see was purchased secondhand or acquired from friends, relatives, neighbors, etc.

The exceptions are my computer, Dave’s computer, our IKEA sectional couch, mattresses, socks and underwear, water bottles and sippy cups, and our dishes/silverware.

We are so fortunate to have 3 fabulous thrift stores right in our small town (2 are walking distance from our house). In fact, as I was writing this post, I did a mental tally, and off the top of my head, I can immediately name 10 different thrift stores within 10 miles of our house!

Each store is very organized, well managed, and has such amazing deals (clothing for $0.50 each, 1/2 off days, tag sales, etc. etc.)

The older kids and I love browsing our local thrift stores to see what deals we can find — and because we shop regularly, we almost always find exactly what we need and/or want at rock bottom prices — like this puppet theater for $3.00!

I recently purchased all of Simon’s birthday gifts used (I can’t believe he’ll be 4 in just a few weeks!)

I found this tin of LeapFrog Card games — including his requested “Go Fish”, a pair of bright blue “comfy pants with pockets”, this Paw Patrol backpack water squirter, and a massive tub of 250 Mega Blocks — all for $5.50 total!


Of course, whenever I buy used, I know part of the deal is that I will need to thoroughly wash everything I buy.

I promise, I’m not a complete germaphobe, but other people’s germs and grossness are too much for me! I don’t know where these items have been, what type of homes (or garages) they’ve lived in, how old they are, or what gross germs they are covered in.

So my kids know that whenever we buy anything from the thrift store, they need to put it on the counter in the laundry room right after they walk into the house. Once it’s clean, I will return it to them (or put it in hiding for the next upcoming birthday or Christmas celebration).

If you’re new to buying thrift store items or if you’re interested in how exactly I clean our thrift store finds, I will hopefully cover most items in this post!


When I’m shopping for clothing, I try to remind myself to look for stains as well as to make sure all zippers, buttons, and snaps are in working order.

When I get home, I check all the pockets (and usually invert the pockets out of the pants so they wash better) and dump everything in the washer.

I usually don’t buy many other fabric items, but in the past, I have purchased curtains, table clothes, and towels from thrift stores — and I treat them the same way as secondhand clothing.

I almost always wash all our secondhand finds with hot water with a little bleach (or color-safe bleach) added in.

Once everything has been washed and dried, it’s good to go.

The items pictured above cost me a grand total of $4.00!



I NEVER buy any fabric toys that have battery components (like a talking stuffed animal) because they can’t be washed well. And even though my kids know that I usually don’t like to buy plush toys or animals (even without batteries) they almost always come home with 1 stuffed animal because our favorite thrift store gives each child a free stuffed animal after every visit.

Depending on the stuffed animal they get, we either trash it upon arriving home or I wash it with hot bleach water the next time I’m washing towels or rags.

Also, if the toy has hair (like a My Little Pony or a Barbie) I soak the hair in liquid fabric softener to comb out any snarls. Then rinse with warm water and lay the hair flat on a towel to dry.

NOTE: As I type this, I’m thinking there are probably better things I can do with my free time than soaking and combing pony hair! Clearly I love my children!



One of my kids favorite “chores” is to wash their toys 🙂

They love wiping them down with disinfectant wipes or washing them with soap and water in the sink or bathtub.

Depending on what types of toys they are, we usually just wipe them down with disinfectant wipes and use a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser to remove markers, or any other stains (seriously, those erasers really DO erase almost everything!)

If the toys have batteries, I always make sure to change the batteries and “clean” the battery area to remove any battery corrosion (I explained how to quickly do this last month).


We don’t have too many of these yet, but Simon is getting a HUGE set of Mega Block for his birthday and they were really REALLY dirty (I suppose that’s what you get for $2!!

I have a few different methods of washing small plastic toys:

  1. Put them in a mesh bag in the washing machine (dry on low heat for just a few minutes if necessary). This is my personal favorite method.
  2. Put them in the top rack of the dishwasher (in a mesh bag if necessary) and do NOT use the heat dry function.
  3. Wash them in bleach water or soapy water in the sink or bathtub.

I use all 3 methods for different toys — if I only have a couple toys to wash, I throw them in the dishwasher or washing machine with whatever else I’m washing. If I have tons of toys to wash, I usually opt for the washing machine.

However, when the toys need a REALLY good soak and scrub, I usually go with the sink or bathtub method (which is what I did for Simon’s Mega Blocks).



I’m more relaxed about the cleanliness of outdoor toys, but I still usually like to scrub them down with soapy water and spray them off with a hose — especially if it’s for a younger child who puts things in his/her mouth.

Here’s a full post I wrote about exactly how we clean our outside toys, strollers, and other bulky baby items.

Here’s another post about how we store and organize all our outdoor toys.



Almost all the furniture in our home is used… but I’m definitely pretty picky about buying used upholstered furniture.

Anything with a solid surface (wood, metal, plastic, etc.) can easily be cleaned with soapy water and disinfectant wipes. However, if I buy secondhand upholstered furniture, I do more than just wipe it down.

I usually start by vacuuming it really well, then cleaning any spots or stains with fabric cleaner (or carpet cleaner). Then I spray the entire piece with Lysol fabric spray. The furniture I buy is usually in very good condition, but you could also pay to have secondhand upholstered furniture cleaned by a professional carpet cleaner.

It’s probably worth noting that I will not buy any furniture from a smoking home and I won’t buy upholstered furniture from a home with pets, so I’ve never paid to have upholstered furniture professionally cleaned  — however, I have gotten several custom slipcovers made for our furniture. It’s amazing how fabulous an old chair can look with a new slipcover!

Read more about our slipcovers in this post.


I’m sure there are more things I could add to this list — but as I thought through all the used items we have in our home, these are the main categories that came to mind.

If you have questions about how I clean other types of secondhand items, leave them in the comments and I’ll try to answer them!

Also, if you have any tips for how YOU clean up secondhand purchases, please share those in the comments too!


Filed under: Kids StuffCleaningFrugal Living

Leave a comment


  1. Kimberly Southwell


    Hi! I couldn’t help but notice you said that you usually just bin the stuffed animals, but I was curious as to why you choose to do that instead of declining the stuffed animals in the first place?


  2. Liz Baran


    Hi Andrea,
    This is a first for me – writing to an online person for advice.
    I love your site which I came across when googling how to sanitize playing cards for toddler.
    I am Grammy to 2 1/2 year old Ethan who is coming to visit in a few weeks. Because he loves books and puzzles I went second hand shopping for a few items. All were wooden and cleaned up beautifully with Clorox disinfecting wipes. I’m wondering about the Go Fish I Spy (by Scholastic) cards though. They are sturdy and in great condition, but still would like to sanitize them. Any thoughts on how to do that without harming the cards? They do not seem to be a hard plastic material that I expect to stand up to wet wipes, more of a sturdy cardboard I think. I read about cornstarch etc, but don’t think that would actually remove germs.
    Thanks so much for your help!


    Andrea Reply:

    Hi Liz!
    I would use a sanitizing wipe to clean the cards (like Clorox wipes) That’s what I do and it doesn’t seem to hurt the cards.
    have fun with the grandkids!


  3. Roberta Lott


    I once found a huge tub of beanie babies in one of my sister’s rental properties. Took them home, put them all in mesh bag, washed and dried them. Not one was damaged or harmed in any way and I gave them away for free when we had a big family yard sale. I was really surprised and pleased because there was no way those things were not going to get a bath!


  4. Sarah


    I sometimes buy ‘pre-loved’ too but I’ve always been cautious about toys that little ones chew on, so what we bought for our kids at that stage was always new. I regularly get rid of bath toys as I’ve yet to find a way to get rid of the black mould that grows inside, yuck.

    This article on the BBC about recent safety testing of older plastic toys is interesting reading:

    A few years ago my colleague was given a chest of drawers from her friend who was returning to Australia after a few years of working in London. It turned out that the drawers contained bed bugs and my colleague had a terrible time. She was bitten badly (although her husband was hardly bitten) and it took months of expensive chemical treatments, new carpets and bedroom furniture before her house was clear again. She thinks the bedbugs may have arrived via back-packing friends visiting her Aussie pal who had stayed in youth hostels across Europe. It makes me itch to think about it still…


    Andrea Reply:

    oh my word — you’re giving me the creeps! how could bed bugs be in wooden furniture??? I thought they only lived on fabric — SO gross!


    Kimberly Southwell Reply:

    Hi, just wanted to chime in, bed bugs can be in A LOT of things, including books! Most public libraries (should) have a plan for bed bug problems and such and even have info on how to spot them in books and what they do about it!


  5. Emma


    I love this! I love the idea of thrift shopping but I am kind of a germaphobe! I started buying used furniture when we moved last year because we needed furniture, but we followed the tips in this article to get them clean. I will have to start using these tips to branch out and buy more thrifted toys and kids clothes. Thanks!


  6. Allison Achinapura


    How would you clean the inside (fabric lining) of a previously owned purse? I don’t think it can be thrown in the washer because of the leather trim/strap. Right?


    Andrea Reply:

    hmmm… that’s a tough one. If it’s actually stained or soiled, I would mix a little oxyclean with hot water and scrub it with a cloth or brush dipped in the cleaning solution. If you’re worried about germs, you could spray the inside fabric with lysol fabric spray and wipe the leather parts down with sanitizing wipes. And if you’re worried about lice or other microscopic “bugs” you can put it in a sealed bag and pop it in the freezer for a day or so. That will kill anything living in the fabric!


  7. Jenny


    This was a good post with hints for cleaning many types of used stuff! I am a little bit of a germaphobe, but I have MANY pre-owned things ( clothes, furniture, a camper!) and I just do most of the same things you do. I hear people say “I never buy used _______ because it’s dirty or gross or unsanitary” but to me, I feel it’s clean because I know I cleaned it! Do people think new things from stores are really clean? Think about it! Have you ever seen the floor of a factory? How about the back room of a store? Who tried on that _____ right before you did? Who just touched that kids’ item before your child? So I assume most things are in need of a bit of a cleaning, do it, and all is well!


    Andrea Reply:

    yes exactly! I actually wash most of the toys and ALL of the clothing we get from stores before we wear/use it too!


  8. Mandy


    Would you mind sharing the names of the thrift stores you frequent? We’re in GR. I usually go to the Salvation Army on Alpine but it’s really disorganized!


    Andrea Reply:

    Revive, Love inc, Bibles for Missions, Salvation Army, Goodwill (2 of these), Bid to Benefit, Nice Twice…

    These are all in the Grandville, Jenison, Hudsonville areas!


    Mandy Reply:

    Thank you!


  9. Karen


    I wipe down the covers of books with rubbing alcohol. Also, game and puzzle box exteriors. It gets rid of that grimy feel.


    Kate Reply:

    I even wipe off our library books! It is amazing how dirty some of them are.


    Andrea Reply:

    I’ve often thought about doing this — but we get so many library books every single week that it just seems like a lost cause for me. If they are visibly dirty or sticky, I will wipe them down, but otherwise, I just hope they aren’t too germy!


    Akilah Reply:

    As a librarian I will tell you we usually have volunteers who wipe down books in the back with some sort of cleaner and/or disinfectant. We TRY to keep the books clean, really we do!


    Andrea Reply:

    Yes, I wipe down books and playing cards — I hate it when they are sticky!


  10. Amy


    I also don’t buy the stuffed animals. However, once I did come across 2 REALLY nice teddy bears that had obviously been taken very good care of. I didn’t think they would do well being submerged, so I double wrapped them in plastic bags and left them in the freezer for several days. Then, I took them out and washed them down with soap and water by hand and let them dry in the sun. That’s been my only exception so far!
    I love thrifting as well. It saves so much money, and is so much better for the environment! I love that so much from your pretty house has been thrifted!! People often look at me funny when I tell them most of my furniture is from Craigslist or thrift stores.


    Andrea Reply:

    Nora actually found a Build A Bear one time (completely free) — so we washed it up really well and she loves it!