Time Out New York tackles the New York obsession with free furniture

by nobugsonme on October 16, 2008

in bed bugs, bed bugs in the media, brooklyn, curbside, dumpster diving, furniture, mattresses, new york city

In a new article in Time Out New York’s Apartment section this week, entitled “Bugs in a rug … and everything else!” TONY teases readers:

Yeah, we know you love found furniture. We do too. But what’s hiding in that street-side score?

Good question.

Journalist Julia Schweizer tours the Lower East Side and Williamsburg, examining curbside freebies with local pest control pros. They find a folding chair, a mattress and box spring set, a desk, a carpet, and a cabinet.

None of the items is absolutely confirmed to have bed bugs, but only one item (the desk) is assumed (rightly or not) to be bed bug-free.

There’s some advice I don’t 100% agree with:

[Timothy Wong from M&M Pest Control] —and most other sane people—advise against taking mattresses off the street, ever. They’re called bedbugs, people. Nonetheless, he says, if the box spring, frame and mattress are out together, you can assume they’re infested (while if the mattress is alone, it’s more likely that it’s just been thrown out for a new one).

Well, this may be true in some cases, but there’s also been a trend the last 5-10 years or so towards using mattresses without box springs. I know this because a Rockaway Bedding employee talked me out of a box spring when I bought a standard depth mattress for a platform bed about 5-6 years ago. Yes, he actually tried not to sell me something (it worked!)

People with platform beds, captains’ beds, or slatted frames often don’t use box springs, and these frames are popular with space-limited city dwellers. Even with more traditional frames, the newer thick mattresses make the “box” less of a necessity.

The absence of a frame, too, is not necessarily proof. Some people seem to think bed bugs are a “mattress” or “mattress and box spring” problem; they might not discard a frame right away. They might not have one. A lot of people also think, wrongly, that metal frames are “safe.” Though it is true there are some frame designs which may be more salvageable or more easily inspected than a mattress or box.

All I am saying is, I don’t think it’s good to assume a mattress on its own is a “safer” find.

The article also has promising advice. Re: the desk, Schweizer says,

Wong had suggested inspecting wood or metal items by spraying the crevices with an application duster, like Falcon Dust-Off JR ($5 at Staples). If there is a pest problem, this will force the little buggers out of hiding.

This is something people can do at home when inspecting the crevices of wooden items with a forced air canister (but be ready to kill what you scare out: have a contact killer or something-to-smash-with handy).

And the article also contains sinister PCO anecdotes, like this one from Montag Hicham (of Abolish Pest Control):

“Sometimes I ask people if they will put a sign up [on discarded furniture after I exterminate their home] and they say, ‘No! I want someone to take it!’ I guess they don’t want their neighbors thinking they’re dirty.”

Yes.

We have a lot to do as far as educating New Yorkers about bed bugs. I am glad TONY is trying to help. I hope city officials will start taking charge on the bed bug issue. Don’t you? Well, then, tell them!

In a related article, “Pickup Tips,” Schweizer talked to managers of a dozen “big-name” secondhand shops all over New York City who

…all admitted to not doing much more than eyeballing an item before reselling it.

Nice.

The only thing that may change such attitudes is a bed bug infestation on the premises — one that is unpleasant, taken home by employees, noticed by customers. And given time, the likelihood is high.

Stores with good reputations ought to care. It makes good business sense, in the secondhand trade, to care if your stock and premises have bed bugs.

Personally, I was already spooked by bed bugs and so do not want to take the chance on secondhand items (sold or foraged) that I do not know for certain to be bed bug free and/or which I can’t seal in a sealed ziploc after acquiring, and stick into a hot dryer (or hot washer and hot dryer).

Ultimately, I am not sure the message of these articles is strong enough. There just isn’t any way to know an item is bed bug free by looking at it. Even if you collect it from the inside of someone’s home, and they do not know they have bed bugs, the item can have bed bugs. I can’t stress that enough.

If you have unfortunately already experienced bed bugs, you are more likely to be in the “spooked” camp. If you haven’t, and don’t know anyone who has had them and shared their story in some detail, you may not be able to really feel this concern.

Like the secondhand shop managers, it might take a full-on bed bug infestation — which costs you thousands and takes months to clear — in order to make you worry about this.

But I hope not.

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