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One man’s trash: Safety tips for secondhand furniture and toys

Sometimes sticker shock can be deafening, especially when the price for that couch you want or that baby’s crib you love creeps into the hundreds — or even thousands. That’s why so many people turn to antique shops, secondhand stores and even Craigslist to find better prices on gently-loved big ticket items. However, before you get excited about your new bargain buy, there are some safety questions to ask when purchasing secondhand furniture and toys.

Does it meet current standards and guidelines?

Baby toys and furniture are expensive, and every parent knows that their child will quickly outgrow their love or need for most things. Why not buy secondhand when you can save hundreds of dollars?

However, what do those hundreds of dollars actually cost you in terms of peace of mind for the safety, security and stability of your purchase? One way to make sure is to educate yourself on the standards and guidelines that this item should meet.

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For example, let’s say you find a great deal on a baby highchair, but you notice right away that some of the standard safety recommendations are missing, like a restraint system with a secure harness. Taking the time to fully examine the highchair from top to bottom gives you more insight: you may find wheels that no longer lock in place and a jagged corner that could cut your little one’s fingers.

Child toys are another used item to approach with caution. You’ll have to pay close attention to broken or missing parts that could pose a choking hazard. Another good idea is to research what the newest version looks like so you can compare, and to read reviews on the toy to see if buyers have reported that any hazards emerge from regular wear and tear.

There is some furniture out there — like beds, cribs, strollers and playpens — that could have been made before safety standards came into play. For example, you’ll want to avoid buying a used stroller made before 2007, when safety regulations became standard for them. It’s generally a good idea to avoid buying a used crib, but if a friend has one to pass on to you, be sure it was made after 2011, when current crib safety standards went into effect.

Does it come from a home with smokers and pets?

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Maybe that used bed or couch’s past life means nothing to you, but for the 24 million Americans with asthma, it could mean a great deal. If you’re buying a new-to-you couch off of Craigslist, it’s much easier to find out what kind of home it’s coming from. You may go directly to the house to pick it up or, if not, you have access to the original owner to ask some background questions.

Even if he or she swears it’s from the cleanest home in the state, you should still consider a deep clean. If the item comes from a thrift store, where you have no idea about its previous life, you’ll want to treat it for bugs and steam clean it for pet hair, smoke and stains. In addition to allergens, you could be bringing unwanted guests into your home, such as:

  • Fleas: If you suspect the piece of furniture is coming from a home with pets, that means there could be fleas. Fleas are tiny insects with itchy and sometimes painful bites who reproduce quickly. Because of that, once an infestation starts, fleas are really hard to get rid of. If you bring in a piece of secondhand furniture with fleas, you could have to treat your pets, your house and yourself.
  • Roaches: If the used furniture came from an old house or one that wasn’t kept clean, you could also risk bringing in roaches. This could be especially true if you’re buying a secondhand kitchen appliance where food was stored or cooked.
  • Bedbugs: Bedbugs are extremely difficult to get rid of; in fact, sometimes the only way to remove them permanently is to throw out your bed and other infested furniture. Don’t just think of bedbugs when considering a secondhand bed, either. Mattresses in sleeper sofas can be contaminated as well.

Bringing in a piece of furniture that can irritate your skin or allergies can be a huge letdown. The money you save on cost could come back to bite you when you have to have your home bombed for bugs or cleaned top to bottom.

Could any damage cause harm, or bring mold or mildew into your home?

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Sometimes a good deal happens because an item isn’t so much used as it is slightly damaged. A tear on the back of a couch, a mattress with the tag sewn on wrong, or children’s clothes with uneven seams are all ways you can get a good deal on almost-new items. It’s important, however, when buying used clothes to make sure the damage isn’t in the form of stains or smells. A lot can be done with a used dress and a good scrubbing, but some stains will never come out. Inspect used clothing closely.

The same can be said for purchasing slightly banged-up furniture from a thrift store. You’ll need sharp eyes to spot damage that has resulted or could result in jagged edges or pointy corners that can snag clothes or cut skin.

In addition to visible damage, there could be other kinds of hazards lurking beneath the surface. Let’s say you do find that great used highchair, one with all the bells and whistles, but it hasn’t been cleaned in months. That could mean it harbors mold or mildew that you can’t even see. Plastic toys, especially bath or pool toys, are a breeding ground for mold and mildew. While many of these types of toys can be sterilized, mold or mildew could be hard to spot and even harder to remove.

Will this last as long as a new version?

Purchasing used furniture can save you money upfront, but how will the used item last in the long run? If quality isn’t a concern, then you should be fine. But if you’re hoping to find a piece with character that lasts, you need to know your brands. Many antiques and older furniture are actually more sturdy than some low-quality, DIY brands — so knowing which brands to buy and which to avoid is important when considering secondhand purchases. Some of the better quality used brands include:

  • Stickely
  • Henkel Harris
  • Ethan Allen
  • Durham

Likewise, if you want a piece that is going to last a while, you’ll likely want to avoid secondhand furniture with veneer, which is typically used to cover low-quality wood, and joints that are glued, stapled or nailed.

When it comes to buying used toys, keep in mind that electronic parts and pieces can wear down over time. You may think you’re getting a steal on a used LeapPad, but if it’s a decade old, there may not be much juice left in it. Equally as important is to do your research. A newer version of something may be fine, but an older model could have been recalled for numerous reasons. Not all recalls are for hazardous or dangerous situations, but it’s still better to know what you’re getting when it comes to items your family will use often.

Buying used furniture, toys and clothing can be a great way to save money, but it’s important to do your due diligence before purchasing something that could bring unwanted pests into your home or cause your family harm. Ask yourself the right questions while you’re shopping around and be sure to do your research, and you just may find some fantastic pieces at great discounts.