But before you park the car and browse bargains, know how to identify safe and potentially hazardous items that could be on sale. These simple tips provided by Doniese Wilcox, Certified Family Life Educator at Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center, can give you that edge.
Items typically OK to buy
In general, toys are OK to purchase at garage sales. However, check over each item carefully, looking for loose wheels or parts, long strings, cracks and sharp edges. If it isn’t in good condition, move on.
“The thing about used toys is that you don’t get the age recommendation usually printed on the box,” said Wilcox. “Age recommendations let you know of any safety concerns, such as small parts that your child can choke on.” It’s also difficult to know whether that particular toy is on recall.
Before buying large equipment, such as pack and plays, exersaucers, swings, baby bathtubs, plastic outdoor pools and potty chairs (without cushiony seats), do a little investigating. Look for an attached sticker with an 800 phone number. You can actually call right there at the garage sale and see if a recall has been initiated for that item.
Used clothing, boots, coats and snowpants are also safe and good for the pocketbook. Wilcox recommends avoiding any articles of clothing with drawstrings as they can easily get caught on playground equipment.
Items to avoid
Some things are just better to buy new.
Since 2011, drop-side cribs have been federally banned from store shelves and donation sites due to the high number of infant injuries and deaths in the last 10 to 15 years. The constant up-and-down of the side rail weakens the hardware over time, making it susceptible for accidental drops.
Along with cribs, crib mattresses should be avoided as well for health reasons. “Like adult mattresses, child mattresses get soft and don’t adequately support the child while he sleeps,” said Wilcox. “It also may not fit right in the crib, creating a gap that the child may roll into and get stuck.”
Pass up car seats. Truthfully, car seats should never be sold at garage sales. Not only will buckles and latches be missing, but it most likely will be past its expiration date. And you’ll never truly know if it has seen a crash. Much of the same can be said about bike helmets.
Used breast pumps are iffy, too. “Even when thoroughly cleaned, small flecks of breast milk can settle in the mechanical parts of the pump, raising the risk of contamination.”
Cleaning your purchases
Wash and sanitize your treasures soon after bringing them home.
Clothing, of course, can be easily tossed into the washer and dryer. Most stuffed animals can also be washed and dried at high temperatures. If the stuffed animal’s material cannot be machine cleaned, put it in a sealed plastic bag and toss it in the freezer for a day or two. This should take care of any mites or germs.
Toys made of hard material can be sent through the dishwasher if they’re heat resistant.
Big play equipment should be taken outside and wiped down with a bleach-based cleaner. But don’t forget to thoroughly rinse it off; very young children tend to “taste” everything!
Apply these guidelines in other settings as well. “Stay alert when browsing secondhand or consignment shops, Craigslist or Facebook rummage sale groups,” said Wilcox. “The two takeaways are one, checking for recalls, and two, sanitizing items you purchase.”
Happy bargain shopping!