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Are used baby products safe?

Baby Safety Month highlights risky hand-me-downs

Published: September 19, 2013 10:00 AM

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Which used baby products are relatively safe bets—especially if you want to help save money and the environment—and which should you avoid, even if they’re free? Here are some guidelines from Consumer Reports and the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA), an industry trade group, for Baby Safety Month and beyond.

Hand-me-downs worth considering

This year’s theme for Baby Safety Month is "Green is the New Pink and Blue" and focuses on recycling or reusing baby products. But think twice before accepting any second-hand baby gear as not all products meet today’s stricter safety standards.

Baby clothing. Gently used baby clothes can be softer and more comfortable, since they’ve been washed a few times. And because children outgrow them so quickly, you can easily find used clothes in good condition. But watch out for these hazards.

  • Drawstrings and toggles, which can pose a strangulation hazard, and violate the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s standards.
  • Sewn-on decorative elements, snaps or buttons that pose a choking hazard if swallowed.
  • Loosely knitted sweaters, booties, or hats that can trap a baby's fingers or toes.
  • Tight elastic bands on the sleeves, legs, neckline, or waist, which can restrict circulation.
  • Sleepwear that isn’t flame-resistant (check the label).

Books. Baby books routinely make their way into babies’ mouths. If the books or other child gear are grimy, you can wipe them off with a mild cleaning solution. But most bacteria and viruses don’t survive long on such surfaces. So even if the book has been lovingly chewed, it should be safe to pass along, especially if a lot of time has elapsed since a baby played with it.

When you’re safer buying new

Consumer Reports tests cribs, strollers, and car seats and recommends many affordable models. All of these items are better bought new.

Car seats. Of the more than 50 child car seats we test each year, some are easier to install than others. And while all seats must pass minimum safety standards, some provide more crash protection. That and continuous improvements make a strong case for investing in a new, top-performing model. If you do accept a used car seat—or simply want to pass one down from an older to a younger child—ask these questions.

  • How old is it? Most car seats have a six-year service life, which accounts for possible safety improvements and for wear. You’ll find a car seat’s expiration period in the owner’s manual and on labels on the seat. If you can’t find it—or the seat is older than six years—pass on it, even if it’s free.
  • Is it from someone you trust? You’ll want to know that the car seat wasn’t in a major accident. While most car seats can be reused after a minor fender bender, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommends replacing a car seat if it’s been in a collision that involved injuries, air bags that deployed, required the vehicle to be towed, or damaged the seat or nearest door. (Telltale signs of damage to a car seat include cracks, loose parts, and worn straps and fasteners.)
  • Has it been recalled? Check the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) website, the agency that recalls child car seats, for any car seat recall and defect investigation. You can also check the manufacturer’s website to determine if it’s been recalled.

Strollers.  As with car seats, strollers have improved over the years—and some have proven to be safer and much easier to use than others in Consumer Reports’ stroller tests. So think twice about used strollers. If you do opt for a hand-me-down, get it from someone you can trust and confirm that it wasn’t misused or damaged. Check www.recalls.gov to be sure it wasn’t recalled. And if the stroller came as part of a travel system, check the NHTSA database for related car-seat recalls.

Cribs. In 2011, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) banned drop-side cribs  from the market after more than 30 infant and toddler deaths from suffocation and strangulation and hundreds of incidents that were caused by or related to the drop-side detaching from the crib. The latest rules also include more rigorous durability testing, improved warnings and labeling, and better mattress support, slat strength, and structural integrity. Even a crib you used for one of your older children may not meet the latest safety standards. So think twice about buying or accepting a used crib. And, for sanitary reasons, avoid reusing crib mattresses. (See our cribs buying advice and Ratings.)

Toys. New toys must meet certain federal safety standards, including tougher lead paint regulations. Because it’s difficult to tell if there is lead paint in a used toy, it’s best to avoid them.

—Artemis DiBenedetto

   

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