Used Baby Items: What's OK to Use and What's Not

Safe and unsafe used baby gear

Verywell / Jiaqi Zhou

According to the USDA, in 2015 it cost an average of $233,610 to raise a child from infancy to the age of 18. That’s a lot of money! Now, that number is likely overstated: it doesn’t factor in things like location, overall income level, or individual choices (like whether to use a paid form of childcare), and the more kids you have, the more the per-child cost decreases.

But while many families get by spending much less on child-rearing, there are still expenses—many of them unavoidable and, yes, costly. Think medical bills, frequent clothing purchases for ever-growing bodies, tuition for schools, athletics, and extracurricular activities or hobbies.

If you can save some money by accepting secondhand items from friends and family members or buying discounted gently-used items, why wouldn’t you? (Used items also help you reduce waste and decrease your carbon footprint, if you need even more reason to get on the used item baby train!) 

That said, not all baby items are safe to pass down from child to child. Certain items, like car seats, should be thrown away or brought to appropriate recycling centers once they’re no longer usable—these items pose a health risk when not in brand-new condition. 

We’ve rounded up the most common used baby items found at tag sales, online marketplaces, and thrift stores; below, you’ll find a guide to which items are safe to use and which should be avoided (and why). 

Items You Can Reuse

Let's take a look at some of the types that are safe to reuse or pass down as a secondhand item:

  • Clothing and shoes
  • Cloth diapers
  • Infant Bathtubs
  • Books

Clothing and Shoes

This is one of the easiest ways to save money on raising a child! Because kids outgrow items so quickly, secondhand clothes and shoes are often sold in good or even like-new condition at a steep discount.

They’re also remarkably easy to find, both in person at thrift and consignment shops and online through Facebook Marketplace, eBay and Craigslist, and smaller boutique thrift companies like ThredUp and Kidizen. 

As long as the item doesn’t have visible stains, rips, or holes, you can safely outfit your child in hand-me-down clothes and shoes (including hats, coats, winter boots, swimsuits, and special occasion items). 

Cloth Diapers

This seems kind of yucky to think about at first, but there’s technically no reason why cloth diapers can’t be passed down. They work just like clothing: they don’t usually fit a child well for very long, so they aren’t typically worn that often before they’re outgrown.

You may want to run them through an extra wash cycle before you use them—or, if you have the option, use your washing machine’s sanitizing cycle—but once the cloth diapers have been cleaned thoroughly they are safe for reuse.

Infant Bathtubs

Don’t grab one with visible mold, defects, or sharp edges, but since this is such an easy-to-clean item, it’s generally safe to buy used.

Give it a good cleaning and be sure to never leave your baby unsupervised near water, even if it’s only a few inches in the sink.

Books

Feel free to build up your baby’s library with gently used books—there’s virtually no risk involved here. You may want to gently disinfect board books, which are often a favorite with gnawing, teething infants, but most germs can’t live for very long on the hard surface of a book, anyway.

Items That Are Usually Safe

The following items are generally safe to be given to family or friends, but some minor risks might come along with doing so. Here's a few of the items that are usually safe for reuse:

  • Toys
  • Baby carriers
  • Highchairs

Toys

For the most part, used toys are a great way to keep your curious child entertained without breaking the bank.

Be sure there are no loose or broken parts, no signs of battery corrosion (in electronic toys), and no chipping or peeling paint.

Stuffed animals can be tossed in the wash on a gentle cycle or in a lingerie bag and, in most cases, can be put in the dryer, too.

Baby Carriers

Whether they’re more structured, like an ErgoBaby, or a flexible sling- or wrap-style carrier, most of these items follow the same rules as clothing—in other words, check them for wear and tear, give them a good washing, and you’re good to go.

Just make sure you have or lookup the directions for use...it’s important to know how to use a carrier safely!

There is one extra step with baby carriers: test out any clips, rings, or buckles to be sure they’re structurally sound, and make sure there are no outstanding recalls for safety. If it passes those two tests, you can buy it used.

Highchairs

Unlike strollers and play yards, there aren’t quite as many potential pitfalls with highchairs (as long as they’re not ten or more years old, at which point it’s probably better to pass it up).

A used highchair needs to be stable, have a three-point harness, and a crotch guard to prevent your child from slipping out of the seat under the tray. As long as the chair checks all these boxes and is in good repair, you can usually buy it used.

Items That Are Sometimes Safe

The following list of items are only sometimes safe for reuse depending on the condition they're in at the time of purchase:

  • Strollers
  • Cradle, bassinets, play yards
  • Swings and bouncy seats
  • Nursery furniture

Strollers

Many strollers are safe to buy used, as long as they are in good working order and have all the appropriate parts and pieces. It’s a great way to save money on a typically-costly baby item, but you do have to consider when the stroller was manufactured. 

Generally, only strollers made after 2015 are safe to reuse. Several safety regulations went into place in 2015, to ensure that strollers have the right kind of infant harnessing capabilities and structural integrity.

Even if a stroller was made after 2015, you should still make sure the stroller has working brakes and buckles, folds up correctly, and that the seat reclines fully.

Cradles, Bassinets and Play Yards

Play yards manufactured after 2013, when new regulations went into effect regarding play yard safety, are often safe to purchase used. However, you should make sure the play yard folds easily the way it’s designed to and that the bottom feels sturdy.

As for cradles and bassinets, it’s 50/50. There aren’t as many things to be cautious about here as with cribs, but you’ll need to be sure the product isn’t damaged, missing any parts, or unstable in any way.

If it has slats, they should be no more than 2.375 inches apart per guidelines from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

You should also check for product recalls before purchasing, since your baby might be sleeping here and you’ll want to be sure it’s a safe environment. 

Swings and Bouncy Seats

These are fairly easy to clean and since they don’t contain a lot of mechanical parts, like a stroller, it’s not too difficult to make sure they’re in working order.

But the bigger issue here is recalls: these types of items, especially swings and rockers, are often taken off the market for safety issues. 

If you’re thinking about buying a used swing or infant seat, make sure to do your research beforehand; look up the item to check for recalls, and if you can, obtain the manufacturing information off the item itself (it’s usually on a sticker on the bottom) to verify it’s safety. 

Nursery Furniture

Changing tables, dressers, rocking chairs—these items can really add up when you’re decorating the nursery, so it makes sense to look around for gently-used deals. Thankfully, it’s also usually safe; as long as there are no missing or defective parts, wobbly legs, or peeling paint, you can save money with secondhand decor. 

Tip: Heavy and/or tall furniture items should always be anchored to the wall to prevent tipping injuries (yes, your child will learn to climb...and yes, they’ll practice this new skill on the furniture!).

If the used furniture you are buying doesn’t come with anchoring hardware, be sure to buy a replacement kit through an online or local retailer.

Items You Shouldn't Reuse

Let's take a look at some items that a generally not safe for reuse and items that are not safe to reuse at any time:

  • Crib mattresses
  • Breast pumps
  • Car seats

Crib Mattresses

There are both safety and sanitary reasons for skipping the used mattress. While newer-made mattresses aren’t likely to have been manufactured with harmful plastic chemicals, they can wear down over time and become too soft, lumpy, or uneven for your baby to sleep on (remember, they need a very firm sleep surface to reduce the risk of SIDS).

Crib mattresses are also subjected to a lot of bodily fluids, between diaper blowouts, bed wettings, and the occasional stomach bug. Since mattresses can’t be thrown in the washing machine, parents are usually forced to wipe them down with disinfectant or do their best to clean them with soap and water.

This is fine when it’s your own kid, but you don’t want your baby sleeping on a mattress previously contaminated with another baby’s bacteria. Bite the bullet and buy a new mattress.

Breast Pumps

Sometimes healthcare centers will rent out hospital-grade breast pumps for use, and those are okay—they’re manufactured in such a way that no cross-contamination can occur.

But personal use breast pumps are not safe for use with more than one person.

They’re not made to prevent any possibility of infection or contamination, so no matter how clean it looks (or how much the previous owner said they disinfected it) you should pass.

Car Seats

There are two reasons why you shouldn’t accept a hand-me-down car seat or purchase a used one. First, all car seats come with an expiration date; used items are more likely to be older, and it may not be easy to tell how old the seat is and whether it’s still safe for use. 

Secondly, unless you know the current owner of the car seat extremely well, you could be buying a car seat that was involved in a motor vehicle accident, rendering it unsafe for future use.

Unfortunately, a physical inspection doesn’t help you here: a car seat that doesn’t appear visibly damaged could still have structural weaknesses.

That’s why it’s recommended that you replace a car seat that’s been in any moderate or severe accident, even if it’s relatively new or doesn’t look damaged.

The bottom line? Car seats are one of the rare baby items you should always buy new.

Tips to Follow Before Using Secondhand Items

Whatever used items you choose to buy for your baby, you should take a couple of precautions before actually using the items in your home.

It’s smart to clean the items thoroughly, to remove dirt, dust, and any potential germs or bacteria, and in some cases, you should visit a reliable website to make sure your new-to-you item hasn’t been associated with any recent safety recalls.

  • Wash items with soap and warm water or bleach: Hard plastic items should be washed with warm soapy water or wiped down with a disinfectant cloth (or cleaning spray and paper towel). If you have a lot of items, like a bunch of plastic toys, you can throw them all in the bathtub with a little bleach and fill the tub; let everything sit for 10 minutes, then drain the tub, rinse the items, and let them air dry.
  • Use disinfectant wipes: Hard items that can’t be washed, like books or wooden highchairs, can be wiped down with a disinfectant cloth and left to air dry. 
  • Throw fabrics in the washing machine: Fabric items, like clothing, carriers, bedding, or stuffed animals, can be put in the washing machine. Check the wash instructions for the items before choosing your water temperature or spin cycle, but in most cases, these things can be washed in cold water with regular detergent on a normal cycle.
  • Separate mixed material items before washing: For mixed material items—for example, a stroller—remove as much of the fabric coverings as possible and wash them in the washing machine. The rest can be washed with soap and water outside, or wiped down with disinfectant. Reassemble when everything is dry. 
  • Check for product recalls: If the item needs to be used safely, like a crib or bassinet, look the product up on a web site like Recalls.gov, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, or Safe Kids Worldwide to make sure there are no current recalls of the product or other safety concerns. 
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Article Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. USDA. The cost of raising a child. Published Jan. 19, 2017.

  2. Federal Register. Safety standard for high chairs. Published June 19, 2018.

  3. Consumer Product Safety Commission. New stroller standard.

  4. Consumer Product Safety Commission. CPSC approves new federal safety standard for play yards. Published June 29, 2012.

  5. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Crib safety tips.

  6. NHTSA. Car seat use after a crash.