One of the wonderful things about living in Brooklyn is the myriad gemachs. You have a gemach for everything: furniture, weddings, clothing, sheitels, shoes, cakes (yes, cakes, can you believe it?), etc. If you think of anything associated with a frum life, there's a gemach for it. It's truly wonderful, and really helpful when you're starting out building a home, or otherwise need assistance obtaining goods for yourself and/or your family.
Recently a hidden "perk" arrived courtesy of my husband's workplace; his co-worker runs a clothing gemach. I saw a sample of the clothing, and it's really nice stuff. So I asked him to put me in touch with his co-worker's wife, who runs the women's/children's part of the gemach. She wound up being a very nice woman, very committed to the cause of not wasting anything as precious as clothing. She even has a next-day return policy for all items, because she doesn't want to compromise the quality of thereof. I really appreciated her devotion, as someone who grew up in a family where waste is a major aveirah.
However, given that I have recently been hearing way too much about bed bugs, lice, and other creepy-crawlies, I enquired as to whether the gemach launders the items before dispersing them to their new home. Turned out the answer, which was to be expected, was "No". So I found myself wondering whether simply washing the items in cold water would sufficiently rule out the possibility of any "problems". I began to do a bit of research on thrift-store shopping, and the rise of bug problems in North America. And surprise, surprise- nowadays, if you can't wash the items in hot water, forget about them being suitable for wear.
I consequently let my fingers do the walking and found a convenient way to "sanitize" clothes without washing them in hot water. It seems that the main problem with shrinkage and other destructive aspects of laundering on fabrics happens when fabric is wet. Therefore, if you throw the items while bone-dry into a dryer on high (or whatever setting translates into 50 degrees celsius) for 30 minutes, presto! The stuff is ready to enter your abode, and you can wash it using whatever method you want. :) That said, if you are like me and without a washer/dryer in your building, it is suggested that you keep any clothing your purchase/receive in a tied plastic bag until you can get it into the dryer.
So there you have it. Hopefully this information can help you all participate in the joy of second-hand clothing while avoiding any associated headaches. I know I'm totally psyched about wearing my new blazer this Shabbos!