How to Make Sure Your Secondhand Baby Gear is Safe

How to Make Sure Your Secondhand Baby Gear is Safe

Is your budget stretched thin as a parent?

My partner and I knew that expanding our family would mean stretching our expenses. The panic set in when we saw the price of a box of disposable diapers. Knowing we’d be going through several boxes a week for the first year, we looked for ways to provide a comfortable environment for our baby on a budget. We saved thousands of dollars on our nursery and other gear by inheriting hand-me-downs and buying used. We focused on saving money while paying special attention to safety. Here’s how you can do both with some essential baby gear.

Make Sure Your Crib Is Safe

Before my son was born, I had not one, but TWO used cribs offered up by dear friends who were excited for his arrival. Both cribs had been sitting in storage for at least four years. That being said, both were in beautiful condition.

We ultimately chose one that converted from a crib to a toddler bed, and later  to a full-size bed. This ensured longevity; my son could use it for years to come.

However, that’s not what sold me on this particular crib in the first place. The most important features were the fixed sides, as opposed to drop sides. Drop sides are especially dangerous. They are banned as a type of safe crib by The US Consumer Product Safety Commission, because they are responsible for hundreds of infant deaths by strangulation and suffocation . 

Our fixed-side crib was doubly convenient, because it had a ladder which one could climb in order to safely snuggle the baby into bed. Fortunately, our friend still had the ownership manual, and all of the parts. The slats were solid too, which gave me peace of mind. There were no cracks, chips or flakes in the wooden frame.

If you choose a secondhand crib, make sure that:

  • It was not recalled by the CPSC.
  • It has no chips or cracks in the painted wooden surface.
  • The slats are not too wide.
  • The cribs bars are not loose or missing.
  • The crib can be fully assembled and comes with instructions.

Avoid using cribs from generations past. I know that it’s a sentimental tradition for some families to have babies sleeping in the same cribs as their parents slept in. However, this is often unsafe. Cribs that were used two decades before are likely to miss the safety mark due to age and style.

Changing table

You will be spending a lot time on this piece of furniture, especially the first two years of your precious one’s life. It needs to have a sturdy foundation, so it won’t tip or move around as you place your baby on, and lift them off of, it. Check for stains and chipped paint. If there are shelves, check the stability – the last thing you want when changing a sleeping baby is for the shelf to collapse while reaching for a wipe and waking them up. Make sure drawers slide in and out smoothly and fit properly in place when closed.

Playpen/play yard

By the time we had our kiddo, playpens evolved from netted, round-sided squares to ones with music, mobiles and a tray-like attachment for a bassinet and changing table. The fact they fold up to a super compact shape and with handy travel bags and wheels added to the awesome portability factor. We liked having the kiddo with us in other areas of the house, and not simply left on a blanket on the floor. But with millions of recalls on the most recognizable brand names because of protruding rivets, choosing a used playpen means looking past the cool attachments. You’ll want the instruction manual just to figure out how to unfold it and open it up, and to make sure that every part is included. The side rails should be strong and not collapse easily, the legs/wheels and the bottom should be solid without chips, and the mesh should be free from tears and holes.

Rocking chair/glider

Admittedly, this one was more for me than the baby. It was comfortable, and comforting. And the soothing motion did help get the baby (and me) back to sleep thousands of times. (Not that a sleep deprived mother needs anything to help us get some zzzzz’s!) Don’t choose this chair like you would for your front porch. Remember: you’ll likely have an infant in your arms, and maybe juggling a bottle or other items in your hands. Look for well-built frames. If it reclines, test how easily it opens and closes – and make sure it locks in whichever setting you choose at the time. We used ours a lot during feeding time, so also having removable, washable covers extended the longevity and cleanliness of ours.


I was floored that prices for strollers ranged from $10 to more than monthly car payment. Sure, I wanted my baby to ride in style, but I just couldn’t bring myself to pay more for the stroller than I would have for a crib. Strollers manufactured after 2007 are considered generally safe for resale.

In addition to cost, factors most important to us included the weight, the wheels and handling, how easily it collapsed and folded, how much it reclined, how big the canopy was, storage options, and most important for my husband was an adjustable handle bar. (There’s more than a foot difference in our heights.) All three strollers we bought were previously used, and for different purposes – strolling, jogging, and traveling.

But was consistent is how we inspected each one. We confirmed the frames were attached or screwed together tightly with no missing parts. The wheels were in good shape – no chips from the plastic or rubber wheels, and air-filled tires were full (no leaks). The seats weren’t detachable, but easily spot-cleaned. We gave them all test runs to make sure the handled well. And we looked closely at the straps. The clips all worked; the straps were adjustable but held firmly once fitted properly to our child.

Bed rail

Before you know it, your newborn will graduate from the bassinet to a bed. Whether it’s age or agility – you might have a climber! – bed rails can be a great solution when the kiddo naps on an adult-size bed. Bed rails are easy to install and portable and prevents them from rolling off of the bed. They’re made of plastic, metal, mesh, and a combination of all of these. Usually the arms that slide between the mattress and box-spring fold up when not in use. Make sure they don’t have any dents or cracks. Make sure the joints – where the arms meet the mesh framing – aren’t compromised. The mesh should be free from tears and holes. For additional safety assurances, look for the ASTM and JPMA seals.

Soft carrier

I miss the days that I was like a kangaroo and carried my baby in a front pouch. I never the hang of the slings that were long pieces of cloth that you need to wrap around your body and tie in cute strong knots to hold the baby close. I was more the structured-pouch-with-straps-and-clips type. Fortunately, all types are machine washable, and that’s the first thing we did with the second-hand ones we used. When buying yours, check for holes and tears, look for frayed fabric, and made sure the seams and stitching, especially around the clips, are tight. The clips should be in tact – nothing broken or cracked, and they should fit tightly and securely. You don’t want any part of the carrier to unravel or detach while you’re carrying the baby!

Baby bathtub

They’re only this tiny for a short period of time, so it makes sense not to splurge on this item. Look for stains, cracks, chips, mold and mildew. 

High chair

I understand why some parents opt for the solid wood or plastic versions – they’re easier to clean (or hose down?) after an epic meal that’s shared everywhere, except the baby’s mouth. But we found the one with padding was more comfortable for our little one – and machine washable. Check the five-point harness to make sure the straps don’t have any rips or fraying, and the clips are solid. For chairs with removable trays, check that the trays slide on and off easily, and that it locks in place once it’s on. You don’t want the tray to go flying off with the food!

Baby swing/vibrating chair

The appeal is understandable: they play music as the baby gazes at a whimsical mobile while being rocked slowly. They can cost hundreds brand new, and like a baby bath tub, they’re not used for a long time. Buying these used makes sense. For safety, make sure the legs are stable and locked in place. Confirm joints where the swing attaches are solid and that no parts are missing. The covers should be removable and machine washable. Check the straps for tears, make sure the clips work, and refer to the Consumer Product Safety Commission for recalls.


Around the time our baby was born, friends found a stash of childhood toys hiding in their attic and sent them to us. They included painted, wooden and metal trains from my friend’s boyhood days. They were in decent condition, but they likely contained lead in the paint, and the wood was splintered in some places. The Centers for Disease Control note that the use of lead in children’s products wasn’t banned until 1978. As much as we cherished the memories the toys brought to our friend, and his hope that it would bring the same joy to our baby, we had to return them with great appreciation.

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