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Baby Hand-Me-Downs: What's Safe to Keep and What's Not?

by Vannessa Rhoades 27 Aug 2023
Baby Hand-Me-Downs: What's Safe to Keep and What's Not?

Raising kids is expensive. In fact, from birth through age 18, you’ll spend about $310,605 — or about $17,000 a year, according to a new Brookings Institution analysis of data from the U.S. Agriculture Department. Of course, the exact amount will vary depending on how much you earn and where you live. While many families successfully manage to spend a lot less on child-rearing, there are still unavoidable expenses that can be quite costly. These can range from medical bills, new clothing, tuition fees for schools, and expenses related to sports, hobbies, and extracurricular activities – just to name a few!

Budget savvy parents consider these expenses and plan accordingly, but it's also worth noting that there are lots ways you can help mitigate costs and make child-rearing more financially manageable. One of those money-saving strategies is by using baby hand-me-downs. 

While reusing baby items is a common practice, it's important to note that not all items are safe to pass down from child to child. So how do you know which items are safe? We’ve put together a list to help you navigate the world of used baby items commonly offered by helpful friends and family or found secondhand at tag sales, online marketplaces, and thrift stores. 

Reusable Baby Items

There are several types of items that are perfectly safe to accept when shopping or asking for baby hand me downs.


You can confidently expand your baby's library by including gently used books, as there is minimal risk involved. While it is advisable to gently disinfect board books, particularly since infants often enjoy gnawing and teething on them, most germs cannot survive for extended periods on the hard surface of a book.

Shoes and clothing

Little ones outgrow shoes and clothing fast. So fast, in fact, that they’re commonly sold in nearly-new condition at thrift stores for a big price reduction. Whether its from a social media marketplace, a used clothing store boutique, a thrift or consignment shop, or from a generous family member or friend, gently used clothing and shoes are pretty easy to come by. As long as the items are clean and in good condition, this is a sensible hand-me-down option. 

Baby Hand-Me-Downs: What's Safe to Keep and What's Not?

Infant bathtubs

When purchasing a used bathtub, avoid ones with visible mold, defects, or sharp edges. That said, infant bathtubs are relatively easy to clean, so using them secondhand is generally safe. Before using a hand-me-down bathtub, give it a thorough cleaning to ensure it is free from any dirt or residue. 

Cloth diapers

While the idea may initially seem off-putting, there is no inherent reason why cloth diapers cannot be passed down to another child. Similar to clothing, cloth diapers often have a limited period of optimal fit and are not worn extensively before being outgrown.

Before using secondhand cloth diapers, be sure to run them through an additional wash cycle. If your washing machine has a sanitizing cycle, utilizing that option can provide an extra level of cleanliness. Once the cloth diapers have been thoroughly cleaned, they are safe for reuse and can continue to serve their purpose effectively.

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Hand-Me-Downs That Are Typically Safe to Reuse

If it’s coming from a trusted friend or family member, these items are probably okay to reuse. Be aware, though, that a few minor risks may come along with doing that.


Unlike some other large baby gear items, highchairs have fewer potential concerns (provided they are not more than ten years old). A hand-me-down highchair should be stable, equipped with a three-point harness, and have a crotch guard to prevent your child from slipping out of the seat under the tray. As long as the highchair meets these requirements and is in good condition, it is generally safe to use it secondhand.


Used toys are generally an excellent cost-effective option to keep your inquisitive child entertained. However, it's essential to inspect them before use. Ensure that there are no loose or broken parts, as these can pose a choking hazard. In the case of electronic toys, check for any signs of battery corrosion, which could affect their functionality. Additionally, examine toys for any chipping or peeling paint, as this may contain harmful substances. When it comes to stuffed animals, you can typically toss them in the washing machine inside a lingerie bag on the gentle cycle for a deep clean. In most cases, they can also be safely dried in a dryer. By being mindful of these considerations, you can provide your child with enjoyable and safe play experiences while making the most of used toys.

Baby carriers

Whether you're considering structured carriers or flexible sling- or wrap-style carriers, the same guidelines that apply to clothing generally apply to these items as well. Inspect them for wear and tear, give them a thorough washing, and then they should be good to use. Just be sure you have access to (and refer to) a copy of the directions for use – understanding how to use a carrier safely is paramount. You’ll also want to test any clips, rings, or buckles to verify their structural integrity and check if there are any safety recalls associated with the carrier. If the carrier passes these two tests and is in good condition, it can be safely used secondhand.

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Hand-Me-Downs That May Be Unsafe

The safety of the following items for reuse depends on their condition at the time you acquire them.

Bassinets, play yards, and cradles

Play yards manufactured after 2013 (when new safety regulations were implemented) are often considered safe to purchase used. However, it's important to verify that the play yard folds easily according to its intended design and that the bottom feels sturdy. When it comes to cradles and bassinets, the safety aspect is more of a mixed bag. While there are fewer concerns compared to cribs, it is essential to ensure that the product is undamaged, has all its parts intact, and is stable. If the cradle or bassinet has slats, they should adhere to the guidelines set by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, which state that the slats should be no more than 2.375 inches apart. It’s also essential to check for any product recalls, particularly because your baby will be sleeping in this environment and their safety is paramount.


Accepting a hand-me-down stroller can be a cost-effective choice, provided it is in good working order and includes all the necessary parts and components. Generally, only strollers made after 2015 are considered safe for reuse. This is because safety regulations implemented in 2015 ensure that strollers meet specific standards for infant harnessing capabilities and structural integrity. Even if a stroller falls within the post-2015 range, it's crucial to conduct a thorough inspection. Check that the stroller has functioning brakes and buckles, collapses correctly for storage and that the seat lays back fully. 

Swings and bouncy chairs

Swings and bouncy chairs are relatively easy to clean, and since they have fewer mechanical parts compared to strollers, it’s pretty easy to make sure they’re in working order. The bigger problem is the possibility of recalls. Swings in particular are often subject to safety-related recalls. If you are considering buying a used swing or infant seat or accepting a hand-me-down, do some research beforehand. Look up the specific item to check for any recalls that may have been issued. 

Nursery furniture

When furnishing the nursery, items like changing tables, dressers, and rocking chairs can get expensive quickly. It’s definitely worth exploring gently-used options for cost savings. The good news is that, in most cases, it is safe to acquire these items secondhand. Just be sure there are no missing or faulty parts, check that the legs are stable and not shaky, and inspect for any signs of peeling paint. 

Baby Hand-Me-Downs: What's Safe to Keep and What's Not?

Hand-Me-Downs to Avoid

Let's examine a few items that are generally unsafe for reuse, as well as items that should never be reused under any circumstances.

Car seats

Car seats are one of the rare baby items you should always purchase brand new. There are two important reasons why it is not advisable to accept a hand-me-down car seat or buy one secondhand. Firstly, car seats come with an expiration date. Used seats are more inclined to be older, making it difficult to determine their age and safety status. Secondly, unless you have a high level of trust in the current owner, there is a risk that the car seat has been involved in a motor vehicle accident, making it unsafe for future use. Even if a used car seat appears undamaged on the surface, it may still have structural weaknesses that are not visible to the naked eye. 

Crib mattresses

There are both safety and hygiene concerns when it comes to using a hand-me-down mattress for your baby. While more recently made mattresses may not contain harmful chemicals, they can deteriorate over time, resulting in a squishy, clumpy, or irregular surface that’s not suitable for safe sleep. (Babies need a firm sleep surface to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS).

Furthermore, crib mattresses often come into contact with various bodily fluids, including diaper leaks, bedwetting, and periodic illnesses. While parents may attempt to clean the mattress using disinfectants or soap and water, it can be challenging to completely eliminate bacteria and contaminants. You wouldn't want your baby sleeping on a mattress that was previously exposed to another child's bacteria. To ensure the safety and cleanliness of your baby's sleep environment, it is recommended to invest in a new mattress. 

Breast pumps

Renting hospital-grade breast pumps from healthcare centers is a safe option. These units are specifically designed to prevent cross-contamination. However, personal use breast pumps should not be shared among multiple users as they are not manufactured to guarantee protection against disease or contamination. Even if a used personal breast pump appears clean or the previous owner claims to have sanitized it, it is best to avoid using it.

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