Q: I really need furniture at a good price because I'm in grad school. I'm all grossed out, though, because my friend bought a super-cute couch from a vintage store and it ended up being infested with fleas. She had to treat her dogs and her whole apartment twice before they were gone. If I shop at a vintage store or garage sales, how do I know there aren't any fleas or something?
A: Fleas are certainly disgusting, but with a little diligence, you can get rid of them from your furniture. Search online for general ideas and less-toxic options. Talk with local pest-control companies and your veterinarian if you have pets.
I love your idea of using vintage furniture. It's a fun way to save money and add a personal touch to your decor. But be cautious. When shopping, ask the staff specifically about the store's acquisition and cleaning policy. Hopefully, they have a process for inspection and pest control.
It's still a good idea to look closely at any potential treasure, especially if it is upholstered. Other undesirable pests could include bedbugs, termites, spiders, and mice. Take along some white latex or nitrile gloves, a flashlight, eight or 10 pieces of white paper, and a magnifying glass.
For sofas and chairs with removable cushions, look underneath for excess dirt, dust, or hair. Make a big rectangle on the floor with the paper. Take the cushion and tap it onto the paper to see what falls out, and decide whether you can live with whatever you find. With your flashlight, look closely at the edges where the flat deck meets the arms and back. Also look for stains, mold, and mildew.
If possible, check out the underside and the wood frame. Bugs hide in the joints, behind nail heads, and holes. Look for tracks, soft wood, or accumulations of wood dust that may indicate termites or carpenter ants.
Let me know how it goes and send pictures of your finds.