inspectors find 600 unsanitized mattresses at Charlotte, N.C. used furniture store

by nobugsonme on February 26, 2007 · 16 comments

in bed bugs, consumers, government, how to avoid bed bugs, legal aspects of bed bugs, mattresses, north carolina

A lot of the bed bug stories we see from around North America and the UK are the same old stuff: from the local subject, surprised to find he had bed bugs, to the “Be careful while you travel” box of tips, to the “Don’t let the bed bugs bite,” closing, it can be a pretty redundant genre of news journalism.

However, this isn’t one of those stories. This is new news.

The Charlotte Observer reported Sunday that inspectors found 600 unsanitized mattresses at Advanced Hotel Services on Sugar Creek Road, Charlotte, N.C., a used hotel furniture store, during monthly spot checks in 4 months (October through January). “Used hotel furniture” is sounding like such a bad idea right now.

Some mattresses had fake tags that indicated they were sanitized when they were not. The inspectors do not know how many mattresses were sold in that condition.

Two different owners each say they never sold any, though an inspector was told by workers in January that some mattresses were set to go to a motel chain.

After failing to clean the mattresses following four inspections, the state ordered Advanced on Jan. 22 to destroy 374 mattresses on its sales floor, a state inspection report said.

Workers cut the mattresses, but an additional 200 or so in the store’s stock room were not destroyed because an owner said he was dumping those, Anderson said.

N.C. law requires sellers to sanitize used mattresses, couches and recliners at 230 degrees for two hours to kill bacteria and bed bugs, Johnson said.

Used bedding also cannot have stains, and sellers must glue on a yellow label that says the items are used. Sellers must sanitize even relatively new bedding — such as mattresses returned after a 30-day trial, Johnson said. The law does not apply to private, individual sales.

Most of us did not get our bed bugs from unsanitized mattresses, but they’re certainly a way in which bed bugs may have been spread initially. Especially if they’re making their ways into hotels. Or (in the case of other resold mattresses) the homes of our neighbors and co-workers.

My own city’s officials balked at a ban on reselling mattresses because of a sense that the poor really needed to save $50 by buying a used mattress.

Back in September, the NYTimes reported that

… Andrew Eiler, director of legislation for the city’s Department of Consumer Affairs, expressed uncertainty about the [proposed NYC] bill [to limit the re-sale of used mattresses]. A twin-sized mattress without a box spring can be bought for $40 from the Salvation Army, or about $50 less than a new mattress. “While $50 may not appear as a significant difference to some, it may be an unbridgeable gap to consumers with limited incomes,” he said.

I am sorry, but that’s bull. The poor really do not need bed bugs. I spent several years sleeping on a 3″ futon (not the futons most people in the west use, but the thin ones). It was immensely comfortable. I was somewhere between a cheap new mattress and a reconditioned mattress for cost, and I’d sleep on one forever rather than have bed bugs.

Shame on these foolish, foolish businessmen. And shame on the system:

After failing to clean the mattresses following four inspections, the state ordered Advanced on Jan. 22 to destroy 374 mattresses on its sales floor, a state inspection report said.

Workers cut the mattresses, but an additional 200 or so in the store’s stock room were not destroyed because an owner said he was dumping those, Anderson said.

If they can be given four months, four inspections, and still have the mattresses in the back room, maybe the inspections system is faulty.

Ever bought something special from the backroom of a store? In this case, it was no bargain.

And the article says that the majority of used mattresses sold elsewhere are also unsanitized:

About 60 percent of the mattresses inspected at stores and flea markets have not been sanitized properly or at all, Anderson said.

1 hopelessnomo' February 26, 2007 at 11:22 am

This sucks. The whole industry needs a wake-up call. This comment is about the consumer mattress business, not the hotel bedding business, but I’ll put it here: some time ago I wrote to an organic mattress purveyor because their website touted the old-mattress pick-up thing as a perk. Organic mattresses are highly expensive and sought by people with allergies and other sensitivities, so I figured I’d have a receptive audience. In their reply they explained that not picking up used mattresses in the same truck was “probably never going to happen” as too many people are too old or not strong enough to carry large, heavy mattresses to the curb. It was a somewhat thoughtful response but I think they clearly think it’s a “New York” problem. They said maybe if the mattresses (already covered in plastic and inside a box) were covered in plastic again (outside the box) it would help. It will be an incredible challenge to change such a widespread business practice like this, one that is moreover viewed as a convenience by consumers (judging from internet discussions on the subject of mattresses, I think there are consumers that are like bedbuggers in reverse and will NOT buy a mattress from a seller that will not also take away the old one).

(Hi Jess and buggedinbrooklyn!! I’ve missed you too. Sorry for the delayed response, internet access is one of the sacrifices I’m making in order to live without bedbugs.)

2 nobugsonme February 26, 2007 at 12:47 pm

Hey ‘Nomo, we’re really glad you’re back.

The consumer mattress business–and the “we take away your old mattress for you” alleged “perk” in particular–is a huge problem.

It could not hurt for them to place another bag over this box, and seal it (though I am not sure that’s what they meant), but if the delivery guy is dragging around bed bug-filled mattresses, it’s not necessarily going to solve much.

If the problem is that people can’t take their mattress to the curb, it would be a slight help if the delivery guy took the mattresses to the curb and did not place it in the van to be taken away, which allows old and new mattresses a lot of time together. (And not just mattresses, but all kinds of furniture are sometimes delivered in the same vans). But this would still expose the delivery man to bed bugs.

3 hopelessnomo' February 26, 2007 at 3:32 pm

All kinds of furniture, all kinds of goods. What is so disheartening about the NC story is that there will always be a market in used furnishings–virtually all retailers allow returns. What becomes of things that are returned? Macy’s sells 30-day-comfort-trial rejects “as is” in its warehouses. Even National Allergy has a no questions asked return policy. Don’t even want to think about what they do with returned mattress encasings! I bet they don’t trash them, or do they? They might donate them to hospitals! Shudder. (Of course, I have no idea what they do, and it’s unfair to speculate.)

Thanks, nobugs, feels like home, where everyone understands where you’re coming from.

4 jessinchicago February 26, 2007 at 9:10 pm

Man, we really need some public education, don’t we? If there were a couple billboards in every major city that read “Think you won’t get bedbugs? Think again” and then had little pictures of the easiest ways to get them- a hotel room, a used furniture store, a person taking items off a street corner, maybe even a child carrying a backpack or a businessman carrying a briefcase off a plane… Well, maybe people would take notice, and the consumers would start to make decisions for these industries, instead of the other way around.

5 hopelessnomo' February 27, 2007 at 9:50 am

At least NC has a sanitization law! Illinois doesn’t have one either.

Summary of secondhand laws here: (from something called the International Association of Bedding & Furniture Law Officials)

6 Cody June 7, 2008 at 1:21 am

Well one good thing to keep in mind over the reselling of matresses is it helps the environment by reducing waste and landfill. I don’t see the problem if people want to buy them and they’ve been sanitised / heated properly. The problem here appears to be that a few dodgy businesses are cutting corners. Hopefully (and probably) the rest are more ethical than that.

7 nobugsonme June 7, 2008 at 11:32 am


I am all for helping the environment.

If mattresses are indeed being heated to 230 F for hours, as Johnson in the article quoted claims, then this would certainly seem to render a mattress “sanitized.”

Unfortunately, here in NYC, there is no law about how mattresses should be treated before resale. NYC mattress resellers typically spritz mattresses with Steri-Fab, recover them, and sell them.

This in no way ensures the mattress is bed-bug-free. It is not a good solution, hence my comments above about poor people in NYC not “needing” to save $50 on a refurb mattress.

Here in NYC, and I’d assume a lot of other places, “refurbished” mattresses are potentially– no, make that likely– bedbugged mattresses.

And I don’t need to tell you how bad the spread of bed bugs is for the environment (all those extra plastic bags being used and tossed out, repeated pesticide applications, furniture and other items being thrown away needlessly).

8 Cody June 7, 2008 at 1:06 pm

I will sure be turning a blind eye to mother nature with the number of plastic bags *I* plan to be using during MY bed bug epidemic 😉

9 Kevin November 22, 2008 at 12:57 am

Before buying a new mattress i suggest you ask the company if they have a comfort exchange policy. If they do, they sell used mattresses as new after re-bagging the ones that look clean from exchanges.

Also, if someone is out to buy a used mattress, they want a nicer one for cheaper, or for whatever reason, it is ridiculous that you would think of banning that freedom due to your own personal preference.

If the govenment wants to make sure used mattresses are sold as used, good. But to take someone’s freedom to buy second-hand product is going too far. Buying second-hand is an important aspect of business and retail. It’s also an crucial aspect of recycling, charity, and life below middle class.

I love my used mattress, but it was up to me to inform myself about it before purchasing. I got a 4k mattress for $150. I sleep like a baby and i have money to save for my chidren’s school.

10 nobugsonme November 22, 2008 at 10:26 am

We do get the idea of saving money. It matters to us too. You may not have read any other posts on this site, but it is a website about bed bugs.

They weren’t very common until recently, but are spreading like wildfire. News reports have investigated how the used and refurbished mattress trade helps facilitate this. And a bout with them can cost you thousands of dollars.

The article above said that 60% of mattresses sold as used or refurbished are not sanitized. There’s no easy way to “sanitize” a mattress with bed bugs. Your odds of picking them up from a used mattress are probably pretty good.

You may feel that buying one from someone on Craigslist, or one returned under a “comfort guarantee” means it won’t have bed bugs, but this is not necessarily so.

I am glad your used mattress was okay, but you’d be singing a very different song right now if you were one of the unlucky ones.

11 Sweet Dreams Mattress May 1, 2009 at 1:53 am

How apalling. Just goes to show buying a new mattress as we recommend for our Mooresville mattress clients is the best course of action. You never really know if a mattress is properly sanitized after having been used.

12 nobugsonme May 4, 2009 at 1:16 am

Hi Sweet Dreams,

I agree that buying a used mattress is not a good idea.

However, readers should be aware that many retailers of new mattresses deliver them in the same trucks used to cart off used mattresses or other items. In these situations, bed bugs on used mattresses may crawl onto new items being delivered, and thus infest a home.

Consumers should do their research before buying even a new mattress, to make sure the mattress seller does not offer customers the “courtesy” of removing and carting off the used mattress.

13 Kenneth Nance October 22, 2009 at 8:47 am

I would like to Know where I could Have Used Mattresses sanitize at. I have a thrift store in N.C.
and people ask me all the time about buying them but I can’t fine a place that sanitize
them. I would like to sale them . Most people can’t afford new mattress.Please Help!

14 nobugsonme October 22, 2009 at 10:38 am

I commend you for caring about this. It is vitally important.

I would suggest that you might look into professional thermal equipment. Therma-Pure and Temp-Air are two companies who make heat treatment technology.

There is no way I know of to reliably kill all bed bugs and eggs in a mattress using sprays.

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