Easy Answer: You can. You just need to be diligent. And don't pick up that couch you find on the street.
All my reading got me wondering whether it was safe to shop for second hand furniture? I'm a big Craigslist fan. I found my dining room table on Craigslist. I recently bought a couple great World War II era trunks at a yard sale. Should I stop hunting for second hand treasures? I really don't want bedbugs in my apartment.
I called up Jeffery White from BedBug Central to find out.
White says there are safe ways to buy second hand furniture. The first, and most reassuring, is to find a furniture dealer that heats the furniture before it resells it. Bedbugs don't like heat. If you can find a place that "bakes" furniture before reselling it, you should be OK.
He says you can also inspect any furniture you buy. Here's a video he made about inspecting couches for bedbugs:
Bedbugs are visible (they look a little like apple seeds) so if there's a serious infestation you should be able to spot it. But not necessarily. There is some risk with any piece of furniture you bring into your house without first heating or fumigating it.
The furniture most likely to harbor bedbugs: anything people sleep on. Couches, upholstered furniture, beds, mattresses are all prime suspects. Sure, a bedbug could sneak in on a table leg, but it's far less likely.
Finally, White said--you should never pick up furniture someone else has thrown away. They might have tossed it because it had bed bugs, you can't be sure. So as much as that couch on the street looks just fine--you probably want to walk away.