Parents-to-be are often flooded with hand-me-down baby gear coming from friends, family, and neighbors. These secondhand items can save you a ton of money and help you tread lightly on the planet...but how can you tell for sure if they're safe?
Here's a close look at the pre-used cribs, toys, clothing and bath products that often make the rounds when a new baby is born and whether you should buy new or consider used.
Used baby bathtubs are fine as long as they aren't moldy or smell of mildew, advises Parents. Mold and mildew can be hard to remove, so it's not worth the effort or the risk. Also, skip new or used bath seats, bath rings and inflatable tubs that fit in the bathtub, as they can be dangerous for babies.
Consumer Reports doesn't recommend used car seats because it's nearly impossible to know for sure that the seat hasn't been in a crash. It's often difficult to tell just by looking at it. In addition, you may not be able to determine the expiration date and if it was ever part of a recall.
The only time it's safe to use a secondhand car seat, points out SafeKids Worldwide is if you know the entire history of the seat and are certain it was never in a crash. If you know, by reading the labels, that it was never recalled. And you know that it is not past its expiration date. Most car seats expire after six years or less. If you can't find an expiration date stamped on the restraint, you can call the manufacturer with the make and model number to find out when it should no longer be used.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) overhauled crib safety standards in June 2011, changing guidelines and putting an end to dangerous drop-side cribs. They can no longer be sold in the U.S. (so don't even think about buying them at a yard sale). CPSC says there's no way to retrofit these drop-side cribs to make them safe so they shouldn't be sold or donated.
Other important requirements, according to KidsHealth:
- The distance between slats must be no more than 2-3/8 inches
- The crib can't have cutouts in the headboard
- Corner posts must be either flush with the top of the headboard and footboard or over 16 inches tall
New CPSC standards go in effect mid-2019. The guidelines looked at the voluntary high chair recommendations that were already in place from ASTM International and made some modifications. They will require that all chairs have a three-point restraint system and a post that sits between your child's legs to keep him from sliding out, reports Good Housekeeping. Other new features will make it harder for a chair to tip over.
Until the new standards go into effect, it will be hard to tell whether current chairs meet those guidelines.
New CPSC stroller safety guidelines were put into place in September 2015. After that time, all strollers sold in the U.S. must be tested for hinge issues that pinch and even amputate fingers, seat belts that allow children to escape, parking brake failures, stability and other issues.
Strollers made after fall 2015 time are safe, but any stroller made before then — or any will missing, loose or broken pieces — is not.
Stuffed animals and most children’s books make fine hand-me-downs. In the case of lead contamination in used toys, there are many affordable home lead inspection kits which will tell you whether the toys are safe. 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.
Scientists in the U.K. tested used plastic toys from cars and trains to puzzles and found some had traces of hazardous elements like lead and barium. "Lego bricks from the '70s and '80s are the big fail," said lead author Andrew Turner, of the University of Plymouth, told the BBC. "Toys in those days weren't tested and now we're using them and handing them down."
As long as buttons and snaps are on tight and none of the thread is unraveling from the fabric, the used clothing is fine. Be sure to pass on any article of clothing with drawstrings because they pose a strangulation hazard.
Editor's note: This story has been updated since it was originally published in January 2009.