If you’re a parent or you’re expecting a baby, chances are you’ll have been offered baby hand-me-downs from well-meaning friends or relatives – or even searched online to buy them yourself.
While it can be a great way of saving money and preventing products from going to waste, whatever the situation, you need to know whether it’s safe to use them.
Read on for more information on this.
Baby items that are NOT safe to use second-hand
Car seats can be expensive so maybe it’s not surprising that parents might consider buying one second-hand.
However, it can be hard to know the history of it or tell if it’s been in an accident – and therefore whether its integrity has been compromised.
To the naked eye it might look fine, but even a small hairline crack somewhere within it could mean it won’t provide your little one with protection in the event of a vehicle collision.
Not only that, but second-hand car seats will have wear and tear that could affect safety, such as a harness that is deteriorating because harsh chemicals have been used to clean it.
Older seats might also fail to comply with the latest safety regulations and might be missing the instruction booklet that tells you how to install the seat and adjust it safely.
Wondering what to do with your old car seat? Here’s how to dispose of it safely and sustainably.
It is not advisable to use cot mattresses second-hand. Although the link is not yet proven, the Lullaby Trust charity state research has found an increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) when a second-hand mattress had been used.
However, our February 2021 survey of 1,878 parents who owned a cot mattress revealed that almost two in five respondents use a second-hand one.
While nearly two thirds said they bought a brand new mattress, over a third revealed that they’d used a second-hand one – and, worryingly, around nine in 10 of them had problems with it.
Broken zips or shrunk mattress covers, and a mattress that was sagging or indented were the main problems reported with second-hand mattresses, all of which could be potentially hazardous to little ones.
If you opt for second-hand rather than new:
- Make sure the mattress previously has a waterproof cover on it. This will reduce the risk of unhealthy bacteria lurking in it.
- Test to see if it lies flat and is still firm when you press down on it. It should be firm and spring back immediately after you remove your hand. A sagging mattress won’t provide enough support and it could prove to be a suffocation risk if a baby ends up face down in the sagging area.
- Make sure it fits the cot bed. Measure the length and width at multiple places to check there aren’t any places where there could be a gap between the mattress and the cot frame. The standard size mattress for a UK cot bed is 140cm x 70cm but check exactly what size your cot bed needs.
- Clean the waterproof layer and air-dry it thoroughly before reusing the mattress. This is to make sure you get rid of as much dirt and bacteria as possible.
In much the same way as car seats, you might not be able to see whether a bicycle helmet has been in an accident.
Therefore, if you’re buying for your infant – whether they’re riding on your bike with you or cycling on their own bike – it’s best to buy new.
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) recommends a helmet be replaced immediately if you’re involved in a collision or it’s dropped with enough force to cause internal weakness, as well as if it is starting to show signs of wear and tear.
Children’s helmets adhere to the standard EN1080, which is different from the EN1078 standard for adults, because the chin strap is attached differently to enable it to snap off during a collision to prevent choking or strangulation if the helmet snags. Check your child’s helmet to see if it’s made to this specific standard.
Baby items that ARE safe to use second-hand
Buggies, pushchairs and travel systems
Research by Which? reveals that nearly two thirds of parents use a second-hand pushchair without encountering any problems.*
However, if you’re planning to do this, it’s worth being armed with this information:
- Look for a safety label confirming compliance with BS EN 1888:2019. This is the British Standard for safety testing. If you can’t see one, be wary.
- Check that the product hasn’t been involved in a product recall. You can do this by searching for the product online or contacting the manufacturer.
- Make sure the brakes work properly, the fold is smooth and there are no finger traps and sharp points.
- View an item before parting with your cash. Proving how popular it is, our research revealed that almost one in five respondents sold their old pushchair on an online marketplace. Most sellers are genuine but for added reassurance, see it for yourself before you buy.
The only part of a travel system you shouldn’t buy second-hand is the infant carrier car seat because you can’t tell if it’s been in an accident and is internally damaged in some way.
If you are offered this component as part of the second-hand deal, don’t be tempted to take it.
*Survey carried out on 2,021 parents with a child under the age of five in February 2021.
Cots and nursery furniture
When it comes to solid furniture such as cots, changing tables and chests of drawers, it’s fine to buy or receive these second-hand, especially if they were recently manufactured by a reputable brand and bought from a trusted outlet.
However, RoSPA says that second-hand cots should be approached with caution because they might not reach the standards you’d get with one bought from new.
- How old is it? If the cot or nursery furniture was made before 1973 it may contain lead-based paint.
- Look for a cot bed that conforms to British Standards BS EN 716 as a cot, and BS 8509 as a bed. The distance between each bar shouldn’t be less than 2.5cm or more than 6.5cm, so that your baby’s head can’t get trapped.
- Check the drop-side mechanism (banned in the US but not in the UK) to ensure fingers can’t get trapped. It should have a lock when in the lowered position.
- Remove any old stickers or decorations that have become loose and could pose a choking hazard.
- Check they are solid and have been put together properly and that there aren’t any nails sticking out or parts that have become loose.
- Contact the manufacturer, who should also be able to point you in the direction of usage and assembly instructions.
Although it should be fine to acquire a second-hand cot, second-hand mattresses are a different matter (see above).
Stair gates are usually safe to get second-hand and you’ll find plenty of them in online marketplaces.
However, check there are no areas where the gate has become weak from being repeatedly shoved open or rattled by a determined toddler.
Try to buy a gate that still has the original instructions and fixings, especially if you have a screw-fit gate. If the screws are missing, check with the manufacturer as to which ones you need so they’re long enough.
For pressure fit gates, make sure that spare sticky pads and screws (if required) to hold the wall cups in place are included. If not, you’ll have to source replacements.
Whatever stair gate you’re buying, try to locate a sticker that indicates that it conforms to current safety standards BS EN 1930:2011.
Make sure your stair gate is safe and sturdy – take a look at the ones we’ve tested and declared a Which? Best Buy stair gate
Chances are you’ll be offered some second-hand clothing for your little one or you might get it from an online marketplace that deals in second-hand goods.
Here’s what to look out for to ensure they’re safe to use:
- Check the labels on nightwear. See if they say ‘Keep away from fire’ and ‘Low flammability to BS 5722’. If they don’t, they might not meet the latest standards.
- Check for choking hazards. These can include draw strings and loose buttons – especially important on older clothes and home knits where safety standards don’t necessarily apply.
These can also be bought second-hand, which could be a real bonus as the initial outlay can be quite costly. Plus using something second-hand that is already a sustainable choice is great for the planet.
If you can, check the condition of the nappies, asking for photos and a detailed description of any wear and tear if you’re not going to see them for yourself before buying.
Look out for fabric balding, where the velcro tabs no longer ‘hold’ as well as they used to.
You might also want to check how many children they’ve been used for – the more baby bottoms they’ve serviced, the less life they’ll have in them!
Baby items that MIGHT be safe to use second-hand
There are some categories of baby product where it’s not so clear cut as to whether you should buy or use them second-hand.
These can be a great way of keeping an eye on your little one.
However, if you opt for a smart baby monitor model that doesn’t have proper security features, your baby monitor could get hacked and potentially pose both a privacy and security risk.
Also, if you’re buying or acquiring a device to monitor your baby, make sure it’s a proper monitor and not simply a wireless security camera – there are plenty of these being sold on online marketplaces that claim to be suitable for use as a baby monitor when in reality they’re not.
If it’s a conventional video or audio baby monitor, it should be fine to use.
Baby slings or carriers
Baby carriers aren’t cheap, so choosing a second-hand one is a popular option for parents.
However, look out for fake baby slings and carriers. In a Which? survey of 2,021 parents with children aged up to five years carried out in February 2021, we found that almost one third of respondents had accidentally bought a fake baby sling or carrier from an online marketplace.
When they realised, almost a quarter got rid of the carrier or sling but, worryingly, one in 10 kept it and used it, while almost one in five gave it away. Only one in 10 reported it to Trading Standards.
Not all second-hand items will be fakes, but here’s what to look out for to help guard against buying a dud:
- Inspect any second-hand carriers for signs of wear and tear. This is because they can deteriorate with heavy use whether they are real or fake.
- Ask non-authorised sellers for proof of authenticity. Ideally, they should also be able to provide you with original receipts and, at the very least, serial numbers and detailed photographs.
- Cross-reference with our photographs. Check our guide on how to spot a fake baby carrier or sling, which has photos to help you spot a fake.
Breast pumps and bottles
The problem with breast pumps is that although there are parts that may be removed and thoroughly sterilised, there are also parts that aren’t so easy to deep-clean, such as the charging point or pump mechanism.
Bacteria can still lurk, despite your best efforts to clean them away.
Before you use a second-hand breast pump, thoroughly wash the pump parts (in a dishwasher if possible).
Then sanitise or sterilise the parts by either boiling them for at least five minutes, sanitising in a microwave or electric steam steriliser, or using sterilising fluid.
When it comes to second-hand toys, some are safe and some are potentially hazardous so it’s important that you check for their safety.
RoSPA says: ‘Although a toy may look pristine, the structural integrity and inner workings of the product might be questionable, especially if it has been squashed, bashed around and generally well-loved by a child.’
Here’s how to check if your second-hand toys are suitable for your child:
- Check whether the parts still fit together properly, if it feels strong and sturdy and doesn’t have any sharp pieces that could harm your child.
- Gives stuffed toys a hot wash. This will help to reduce the bacteria on it.
- Check for a CE Mark. In most cases, this indicates that the product complies with European safety requirements.
- Check for chipped paint or stickers that are coming loose. These could be a choking hazard, plus the paint might not be lead-free if the toys are vintage ones.
- Check to see if they have been the subject of a recall. By searching for the product and the word ‘recall’, you should be able to see if the toy in question has been recalled by the manufacturer at all.
- Search for instructions online. Some toys require instructions so if your second-hand toy doesn’t have any, visit the manufacturer’s website to download them to make sure you’re going to be using the toy safely.