old videocassette player with old videotapes on a wooden cabinet
Henri Leduc//Getty Images

Upholstered Sofas and Chairs

“I would be very leery of picking up a sofa from the side of the road or street corner,” says Debbe Daley, a Portsmouth, New Hampshire-based designer. “I’d be afraid of bringing it home because of hygiene issues, bed bugs, pet dander, and unremovable stains.”

Plus if the furniture’s fabric isn’t in good shape, you’re looking at a costly project. Once you add up 15 to 30 yards of new fabric, your upholsterer’s charges, and new cushions, the project could easily run you $2,500, says Caroline Kopp, an interior designer in Westport, Connecticut.

rugs carpetsTatabrada//Getty Images

Area Rugs

Just assume that the wool area rug you see on the sidewalk is there for a reason, Daley says. “It may be dirty, stained, or moth-eaten.” Even if they look pristine, area rugs might also hide microscopic dust mites, a major allergen source that can also worsen asthma. Or, the tossed out area rug is possibly just worn or outdated, Daley says, and not worth the extra money it will take you to get it professionally cleaned.

old mattress on street
thenakedsnail//Getty Images


Although free mattresses could save you hundreds or even thousands of bucks, they just pose too many risks, and could lead to some costly infestations. Bed bugs thrive in a variety of materials, but, true to their name, they really love hanging out in mattresses and bedding. “These small, parasitic insects can quickly infest a home and are notoriously difficult to eradicate,” says Ricky Young, of UK-based Young’s Pest Control.

Not only can free mattresses be hiding bed bugs, but they could also be infested with fleas brought to bed by a previous owner’s pet.

monstera trees planted isolated on white backgroundIssarawat Tattong//Getty Images


While it may seem like a fantastic idea to grab an abandoned plant to add to your growing collection, it’s possible the greenery out for the taking could be harboring pests, which you don’t want to introduce to your yard or home, Young says. Beetles, leafminers, gall wasps, slugs, and other pesky invaders can all spell trouble for plant health.

furniture maker sets wardrobe
fotokostic//Getty Images

Particle Board Furniture

Cape Cod, Massachusetts Interior Designer Molly McGinness has a few rules for a street find: Regardless of monetary value, it should be something that catches the eye and the construction should be solid. Mass-produced furniture made with particle board just isn’t worth it, she says.

“I would never waste my time with pressed particle board furniture,” she says. “It is just too junky, can’t be refinished, and was never top quality in the first place.”

On the other hand, solid wood pieces, like mid-century dressers, on the other hand, can be great finds.

pile of old booksSEAN GLADWELL//Getty Images

Old Books

Silverfish are primitive wingless bugs that get their name because of their metallic color and fish-like movements. They can live in most climates, Young says, but they like dark and damp areas in homes like basements or attics. Typically they get into homes through cracks, but they might also be hiding out in an old stack of books. “Silverfish are particularly drawn to the glue in the bindings of old books, and they love the taste of the paper itself,” says Young.

Once in your home, these uninvited hitchhikers can feast on wool, cotton, and silk, leaving holes in your clothes and also make their way into your pantry, burrowing in opened boxes of dried grains and pasta. Other common places to find silverfish are in storage boxes, bookshelves, wallpaper, or under sinks, Young says.

old videocassette player with old videotapes on a wooden cabinet
Henri Leduc//Getty Images


Before you think about picking up a retro video gaming system or an old cassette player, consider this your warning: Roaches and other pests can hide in the crevices of old electronics, Young says.

“These items are particularly risky because roaches can lay eggs inside, leading to a sudden infestation when the eggs hatch,” says Young, adding that electronic devices offer warmth and darkness, which are ideal conditions for these prehistoric insects. Of course, getting rid of cockroaches is no easy task because they are resilient, breed rapidly, and can become resistant to some pesticides, so the last thing you want is a family of roaches moving in and getting comfortable. Shudder.