5 things you should never scavenge from an alley – Chicago Tribune
When folks get bitten by the spring cleaning bug, a simple walk around your neighborhood can turn into a scavenger hunt.
Every alley seems to offer potential: a couch in a passable shape just right for your living room; a slightly frayed carpet your kids would have a blast on; a rickety nightstand a paint brush away from looking vintage.
But before loading any of those things into your car, ask yourself why they’re there in the first place. They might turn out to be a Trojan horse for dust mites, bedbugs, mold, pet dander, lice and more.
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We asked experts to weigh in on what’s not worth salvaging from an alley.
1. Mattresses and box springs
Never pick up a mattress, said Dr. Neeta Ogden, an adult and pediatric allergist and immunologist in New Jersey. The issue? Bedbugs and dust mites, both hard to spot with a naked eye. “Dust mites are allergens every mattress has, but as they get older, they have millions and millions more than a new one. This causes nasal congestions and other allergy symptoms,” Ogden explained. Bedbugs, she said, leave behind traces of blood and fecal matters, but those can be minuscule and hard to pick up on. “Just assume the worst, and leave it there,” Ogden said, noting that an overused mattress might hurt your back too.
Another thing to consider? Biological contamination in form of skin cells, sweat or urine, added John Kane, entomologist with Orkin’s Midwest Division. “Sometimes alongside these are fungal colonies and bacteria, which can cause respiratory or skin problems.”
Upholstered furniture may look cozy, but if you pick it up, you may be inviting bugs and mildew into your home, Mireya Fouche of Monarch Thrift Shop, a nonprofit thrift store in Chicago.
All furniture should be thoroughly inspected, said Kane, as it often serves as a moving vehicle for mites (such as scabies), bedbugs, lice, cockroaches or fleas. There might even be mice nesting inside. “Check the bottom corners, crevices and sides for any signs of bedbug groupings, roach feces and mice dropping,” Fouche added.
3. Rugs and carpets
Carpet fiber is a dust mite’s heaven, Ogden said, “so unless it is a throw rug that you can throw in the washing machine at a high temperature, you probably need to get it professionally cleaned.”
4. Children’s items
Most abandoned kids’ items pose safety and health risks. “Ask yourself: Did the child who had that stuffed animal have lice?” said Ogden. Jim Bracey, a Salvation Army envoy in Chicago, advises against children’s clothes, cribs and car seats, which could have been recalled.
5. Sofas and pillows
A free couch is easier to pass knowing there’s a great likelihood that a pet napped on it for years. “The big thing with sofas is pet dander,” said Ogden. “Especially, cat allergens stay around for a very long time, for months or years, can make people have asthma.”
Similarly, linens and pillows might have belonged to a deceased or ill person, Bracey added, and could carry mold and fungus.
So what can be safely scavenged?
Experts recommend you stick to smaller items that can be scrubbed thoroughly. When disinfecting, use hot water and a mixture of soap and detergent, before spritzing some diluted chlorine. “Let the sanitizer sit for five minutes, then rinse or wipe it up,” Kane said. “Sanitizing or disinfecting agents kill microbes that can sometimes remain after cleaning.”
Some things that make the cut:
Lamps should be wiped off with bleach; the shade should be vacuumed
Stuffed animals, are best avoided, but if you must, throw them in a washing machine water should be at least 120 degrees to eliminate potential lice. Or, freeze them for 24 hours.
Throw rugs are safe to use after a hot wash cycle
Plastic items, such as patio umbrellas, can be cleaned with bleach products.
Plants, but change the pot and soil, as they might contain mold.
Books are OK, but wipe them clean.
Andreea Ciulac is a freelancer.
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