Whether you just hit some yard sales and found a treasure trove of family goodies or you’re a mother-to-be and you’ve just been flooded with hand-me-down baby gear, secondhand kid stuff can be a blessing or a curse. These items are better for your bank account, better for the planet, and have generally off-gassed harmful VOCs (that “new” smell). But they may not always be the safest option.
The March 2009 issue of ShopSmart, from the publisher of Consumer Reports, placed pre-used cribs, toys, clothing and more under the microscope so you know when you can gratefully say yes and when you should gracefully say no thanks.
Here are their tips to spot unsafe hand-me-downs with some additional recommendations from Healthy Child:
- Safe: Used baby bathtubs are fine as long as the lining isn’t full of mold or mildew.
- Not Safe: If the tub has an odor of either of these, say no thanks because they can be hard to remove. Also, skip secondhand bath seats, bath rings, and inflatable tubs since they have been responsible for many deaths among babies.
- Healthy Child Recommendation: In addition to mold and mildew, look for scratches or other signs of wear and tear in the plastic. Old plastics are more apt to leach chemicals and the scratches can also be a harbor for bacteria.
- Safe: A car seat that has all its original parts and labels, has never been in a crash, and fits your car and child is OK.
- Not Safe: Products more than six years old are outdated, and most likely too run-down to be considered safe. Look on the underside of the car seat for an expiration date. Learn more about car seats from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
- Healthy Child Recommendation: It is dangerous (and illegal in some states) to reuse a car seat that has been in an accident. Only accept a hand-me-down from someone you trust. Don’t ever buy one from a yard sale or thrift store.
- Safe: Any crib that was manufactured after the year 2000 should be fine, as long as it is not broken or missing any pieces.
- Not Safe: Prior to 2000, cribs were held to different safety standards, and will not be acceptable for your baby, even if you slept soundly in them. Any crib with cutouts in the headboard, and corner posts over sixteen inches pose serious risks for a child’s safety.
- Healthy Child Recommendation: Use the money you saved on the crib for a nice organic mattress (or at least an organic mattress cover). Your baby will spend most of her daily hours with her face nestled into her mattress, so it’s worth it to invest in a healthy one.
- Safe: Say yes to a hand-me-down high chair if it has a five-point harness to prevent your child from climbing out and a fixed crotch post that prevents him/her from sliding out the bottom.
- Not Safe: Old-fashioned wooden high chairs with removable trays or arms are considered dangerous and uncomfortable for the baby, in addition to not being up to newer product safety standards.
- Safe: Strollers made after 2007, when new safety standards were published, are safe.
- Not Safe: Any stroller made prior to that date, or has missing, loose, or broken pieces is not.
- Healthy Child Recommendation: Go for the stroller, but ditch the PVC rain guard.
- Safe: Stuffed animals and most children’s books make fine hand-me-downs. In the case of lead in used toys, there are many home lead inspection kits which can be purchased for under twenty dollars which will tell you whether the toys have surface lead contamination.
- Unsafe: Avoid any toys that are chipped, as well as any small parts that can fit through a tube of toilet paper, since they present serious choking hazards for small children.
- Healthy Child Recommendation: Toss stuffed animals into a dryer on high heat or place into a freezer for 48 hours to kill any dust mites – especially if your child has dust allergies or asthma. Make sure books don’t smell moldy. Politely decline plastic toys, especially if they are worn or if they are made from PVC (#3), PVC (#7) or an unknown plastic.
- Safe: As long as buttons and snaps are on tight and none of the thread is unraveling from the fabric, the used clothing is fine.
- Unsafe: Don’t accept any article of clothing with drawstrings because they pose a strangulation hazard.
- Healthy Child Recommendation: Recently, many children developed rashes and skin burns from children’s tag-less clothing. Watch for these items and monitor your child for any reactions.
And, here’s my two-cents about secondhand safety: just as with many parenting issues, use your own best judgment. Items that you have a personal history with might fall outside of these guidelines (like using the same stroller or high chair for siblings). Take more precautions with items from thrift stores and yard sales.