8 Kitchen Items You Should Always Buy At The Thrift Store

When it comes to the kitchen, new isn't necessarily better.

June 26, 2017
kitchen items you should buy used

When building a kitchen arsenal full of useful cookware that reflects your lifestyle and decorating style, it can be tempting to purchase new. But, when it comes to the kitchen, new isn’t always better. For pans that are better for your heart, and napkins you can reuse forever, check out your local thrift shop.

Trista Crass, owner of Bad Mother Vintage in Fairbanks, Alaska says “kitchen thrifting in general is a bit tricky, but if you’re paying attention you can score pieces at your local charity shop that’d go for hundreds online.” You just need to follow a few rules when shopping for kitchen essentials.

We suggest always avoiding non-stick coatings like Teflon which, when chipped, can be harmful to ingest. Vintage plastic is another no-go, and in general avoid anything with chips or cracks. With those rules in mind, start scouring your local thrifting haunts for the tools every kitchen needs. These are our top eight picks for thrifting kitchen necessities. 

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Cast iron pans are one kitchen item you should always buy at the thrift store.
Cast iron cookware

When properly cared for, a cast iron skillet can last you a lifetime. Usually if you find a cast iron beauty in your local thrift store it will be rusty from neglect or improper cleaning.

Cast iron skillets are a kitchen staple because they are extremely versatile for cooking everything from steaks to upside down cakes. Lindsay Jones, owner of Wanderlust Vintage Market says to not overlook rusty cast iron cookware. “You don’t need to be an expert to restore it to near-perfect condition—just a hot oven, patience, and elbow grease.” (Here's how to make a rusty old cast iron pan look like new.)

And, Jones says, vintage cast iron usually has a superior cooking surface and heat distribution over new, unused cast iron. “Vintage cast iron was hand-poured by makers into individual sand molds." Jones says. This makes vintage cast iron lighter in weight and thinner, plus it was hand detailed to be much more smooth and “naturally non-stick” than the factory-made cast iron of today.  (Read more about how cast iron pans used to be made, and how to pick a good one out at the thrift store.)

Jones recommends looking for the brands Wagner and Griswold. “You can often find the more ubiquitous styles and sizes for a reasonable price at your local vintage shop.” Plus cast iron is safe, and can even boost iron levels in your favorite dishes. 

Once you have your cast iron pan, here's how to season and clean it properly:

Stainless steel mixing bowls are a great thrift store find.
Stainless steel mixing bowls

In general, you’ll want to avoid pretty much everything plastic from the kitchen section of your thrift store. A UC Davis study found that bacteria can live on top of plastic surfaces, which is dangerous in the kitchen, especially when old plastic mixing bowls can have nicks and cuts that are difficult to fully clean.

Stainless steel is not only easy to clean, but it usually can’t hold onto germs like old plastic mixing bowls because it’s so much harder to cut or nick. Just make sure to avoid bowls that are rusty or have deep gouges that can make the bowl weak and more susceptible to irreparable damage. 

Related: 8 Invaluable Things You Should Always Buy At The Thrift Store

why buy vintage glassware at thrift stores
Massimo Ravera/Getty

Walk into any thrift store and you’ll easily find a full set of matching glasses for less than ten bucks. Or if you love the kitschy mismatched look you can choose a variety of different glasses. 

Vintage glassware is one of Jones’s favorite things to shop for. “My advice to new thrifters: find some local estate sales and go on the last day of the sale. You’ll usually get steep discounts on glassware—50% off or more—and it’s a great way to find complete, undamaged sets.” We recommend carefully checking glass for chips, cracks, and cloudiness which should be avoided. Cloudy glass is usually the result of staining that you may not be able to remove at home.

Related: 7 Genius Cleaning Tricks That Will Change Your Life

buy glass casserole dishes at the thrift store
Glass baking dishes

Glass baking dishes like Pyrex in thrift stores can go two ways: the old vintage styles with funky floral designs, or the modern totally clear style. Tempered glass can be pretty indestructible while cooking and can last longer than old thin aluminum baking sheets.

Crass recommends being extra careful when buying baking dishes. “Really give each piece a hard once-over, looking for chips, cracks, powdering of paint and labeling.” This is an important point because Crass says “once the paint starts powdering, there is no way to stop it” which means powdered paint can end up in your food which can be dangerous to eat.  (Read more about dangerous baking mistakes you might be making.) “Many baking dishes are made of tempered glass, so they are dishwasher and microwave safe, but make sure you’re buying pieces that fit your lifestyle” finishes Crass.

Related: Cooking In This Type Of Non Toxic Cookware Could Help You Live Longer

buy used mason jars at the thrift store to save money
Kimbra Ritchie/Getty
Mason jars

Not every thrift store carries mason jars but when you can find them, get them! Mason jars are not only useful for canning, you can use them all over your home as everything from flower vases to candle holders (here are 8 crafty ways to upcycle mason jars), or even as a substitute for a mixer for making whipped cream:

Of course, they can always be used for their original purpose too (here are 7 essential steps to home canning). Canning is not only fun but is a great way to have homemade jams, homegrown beans, or whatever food you can store all year long. Pick up jars from the thrift shop and new lids from the grocery store to make sure everything is clean and your jars can seal properly. 


wooden bowls are a great thrift store find
Wooden salad bowls

It’s almost impossible to walk through the kitchen section of a thrift store without seeing big wooden salad bowls. The reason why they’re donated or left behind by other shoppers is usually due to surface level imperfections.

So long as the bowl isn’t cracked or badly chipped, all it should need is a little TLC. Crass suggests looking for vintage wooden items because they were usually made with sturdy tropical hardwoods. And don’t be scared by a little stain or dent said Crass. “If there are dry spots or scuffs, go over the entire piece with 3000-600 grit sandpaper, and finish with either a drying oil like tung, or an inert oil like mineral oil.” (You can also condition it with a homemade wood butter–here's a recipe.)

Related: How To Restore And Clean A Vintage Wooden Salad Bowl

linens and kitchen towels are good thrift store buys
Jennifer Causey/Getty
Kitchen towels and table linens

Everyone can agree that throwing out paper napkins or paper towels every day is wasteful and bad for the environment. Just think about all that paper stacking up in a landfill. (Here's what happened when one writer blew her nose with cloth handkerchiefs instead of paper tissues for 3 months.)

Having lots of clean cloth napkins, kitchen towels, and even tablecloths makes any kitchen mess less stressful. Opt for 100% cotton cloth napkins and towels to clean, when you can. In a study from Applied and Environmental Microbiology, researchers found that cotton cloth removed more viruses from kitchen surfaces over terry cloth and microfiber cloth. Just wipe up any mess and wash to reuse.

Bonus: you can also use cloth kitchen towels as a makeshift salad spinner: 

vintage cookbooks are great thrift store finds

Cookbooks abound in every thrift shop book section. Skip Pinterest and take a peruse through a fun 1970’s party themed cookbook for a buck or two.

The cookbook section of your local thrift store is likely to have a wide variety of options. Everything from a ‘50s french cookbook to a brand new gluten free lifestyle can be found. Especially with older cookbooks, you’ll find classic recipes that are harder to find online.