Today show recommends sharing used mattresses on Craigslist, Freecycle

by nobugsonme on November 6, 2007 · 12 comments

in bed bug epidemic, bed bugs, consumers, craigslist, curbside, furnishing bedbug-free homes, mattresses, new york, spread of bed bugs, used furniture

On the Today show this morning, Katie Couric Meredith Viera said, “You can’t live in New York without finding old mattresses and TVs along the curbside because people don’t know what else to do with them. But there is someone who will take them.”

Her interviewee, Chip Giller of, suggested going to Craigslist or to offer your mattress to others.

Grist says in the related article their website,

In most areas of the U.S., you can’t recycle your mattresses, and they’re even hard to give away — charities like Goodwill often refuse to take them. Old TVs can be tough to unload too. But if your items are still in functional condition, consider that other R, “reuse,” instead of just “recycle.”

One of the best ways to give new life to your old belongings is through the Freecycle Network, an online community with chapters all over the U.S. and around the world, through which people offer up items they no longer want and other people happily snap them up. (Read an article about Freecycle’s founding.) The online bulletin board Craigslist, which also has hundreds of local versions, has a section where you can offer things up for free too. You can get rid of just about any usable item (and some items you didn’t even think were usable) via Freecycle and Craigslist, and you can find great free stuff too.

While this may seem like a good idea, these days mattresses you see curbside (and there is one pictured in the Grist article linked to above) are often there because people had bed bugs and threw them out. While tossing out mattresses and furniture is not usually necessary (or even a good idea), it is a really common reaction to discovering bed bugs.

While Giller and Viera might assume that people would not offer their bed bug-infested mattresses on these online communities, the sad fact is that you can easily have bed bugs without knowing it–a significant percentage of people do not react to their bites.
(I’ve heard estimates from 30% to 70%, but I don’t think there is good data on this yet.) Mattresses and furniture items do not always look infested. And bed bugs are spreading at an alarming rate, all over the US, from New York to Cincinnati, San Francisco to Boston, as well as in other countries.

This is probably why Goodwill does not accept used mattresses. (It’s likely they have enough trouble keeping bed bugs out of their shops and warehouses due to donations of furniture, clothing, and other items they do accept.)

While I strive to be as Green as I am able to be, I can tell you that getting bed bugs can do some serious damage to the environment, in the form of tossed out, destroyed, and replaced items, the use of plastic bags to isolate infested materials, the unusual amount of laundry, not to mention the spraying of pesticides.

A typical bedbugger’s XL ziplocs used during an infestation would probably make for a nice little landfill mountain. Bed bugs are not easy to get rid of, and spread easily to neighbors and others. One bed bug-infested mattress can lead to many people getting bed bugs and tossing out lots of otherwise-good stuff. So encouraging people to reuse and share mattresses, when this can spread bed bugs further, just does not make sense. The best thing for the environment would be for fewer people to get bed bugs in the first place.

Avoiding someone else’s Craigslist or Freecycle mattress is a good idea, because you cannot be certain it came from a bed bug free home, and neither can the person who donated it.

Caveat dumpster, and Caveat Craigslist.*

If you’d like to drop Today a note about this concern, as I did, you can email them:

*Yes, I know my Latin is not grammatical. It should be Caveat Dumpster-Diver. And Caveat Cragislist-user. But it’s catchy don’t you think? ,

Thanks to poorBugger for mentioning this segment in the Forums.

1 parakeets November 6, 2007 at 4:55 pm

What about the mattress sellers who let customers sleep on a mattress for 30 days and then let them return them? Those mattresses are eventually re-sold. (One mattress seller in the Boston area brags that they don’t do that as a selling feature!) The whole mattress thing is making me very squirmy.

Actually, the good advice in this post should also apply to not taking ANY bedroom things in second hand–bedding, pillows, nightstands, headboards, bedside clock radios, even stuffed animals that might have been on the bed.

2 hymenoptera November 6, 2007 at 6:53 pm

Ahh used mattresses; the gift that keeps on giving.

3 James Buggles November 6, 2007 at 11:05 pm

Since when did Katie return to the Today Show? Anyway, irresponsible journalism.

4 James Buggles November 6, 2007 at 11:07 pm

Most states prohibit the resale of returned mattresses as new. They are probably sold through other channels. Always buy new.

5 lieutenantdan November 7, 2007 at 11:19 am

Listen to this! A couple of weeks before we had discovered our infestation our young yuppie neighbors had family coming to stay with them so these fools who find and do everything by computer got the brainstorm to use a company that they found on the www that will RENT you a mattress. They did. Did we get our infestation from that, I do not know, they claim that they check and have not seen any bed bugs and have not been bitten. Even though at that time the news on bed bugs was not like it is now I though it a foolish idea.
Who in their right mind would sleep on a rented mattress anyways, I never liked sleeping on a hotel mattress before I even knew of bed bugs. Remember the stories in the news when the reporter inspects with a black light and finds all kind of disgusting stuff?

6 pleasehelp November 7, 2007 at 12:49 pm

This is shocking. I’m writing to the Today Show & beg for a follow-up to set the record straight & try to mitigate what they’ve done… But the correspondent was Meredith Viera, not Katie Couric.

7 nobugsonme November 7, 2007 at 2:03 pm

It absolutely was Meredith Viera, my error. Corrected. In my defense, I was watching on a very, very small screen. 😉

8 Rick July 21, 2008 at 11:42 am

I realize all of you on this website have been “bitten”, but reusing is good advice. If every person who moved to New York City for any length of time bought all new cushioned furniture, I can’t imagine the pile of waste we’d be looking at. Do you never sleep in hotel beds? Or a friend’s or extended family member’s bed? Do the best dilligence you can and get a zippered mattress encasement.

9 anthony barbuto December 14, 2009 at 5:04 pm

There is an asnser to the bed bug problem. You need not throw away bed bug infested matresses or rugs, etc. Do what motels and hotels are doing. Have them HEAT TREATED. The process was created in CA., where they were looking for a method to kill pests, without spreading poisonous chemicals around the environment. The answer is HEAT. Every living thing has a temp over which it can not live it will die. This eincludes bed bugs, roaches, mice rats etc. The company I work for Expediant Environmental Solutions uses this CA process, Therma Pure Heat to kill “critters”. The room is raised to the proper temp and held for a certain time…and the critters and their eggs are killed. Even toxins are gassed off. Go to our web site… or call for a free estimate…845 229 1437..We are in Duthcess County, NY, but service NYC and 5 states…thanks…approved by NYC Board of Health and CA as safe and effecetive pest control methods…see web sites…

10 Jen December 16, 2009 at 11:00 pm

Exactly what Anthony said. I know a shop nearby that is state-certified to clean mattresses and will sanitize ANY size mattress for $25.

11 nobugsonme December 17, 2009 at 12:49 am


Don’t count on it.

anthony describes a thermal treatment process which should be 100% effective.

I suspect that your local shop is not using such a process. New York laws may require resellers to “sanitize” and label used mattresses, but it gives them no guidelines on how to effectively sanitize them. In fact, it appears most resellers spray mattresses briefly and call this “sanitizing.” It’s not enough to kill bed bugs. It is cheap, however.

If any shop in NYC is using thermal methods to effectively treat single mattresses for $25, I would love to hear about it.

Check out this post for more.

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