Guide to buying secondhand toys

Safety info, advice on where to buy and what to pay for secondhand toys, plus toys you should never buy pre-loved

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Having a baby can be expensive and toys are typically a costly area.

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Babies and toddlers quickly outgrow toys developmentally, and let’s admit it – some toys are so lovely, it’s hard to resist buying them for your child.

Secondhand shopping is an ideal alternative to buying toys new and can save your budget from total blow-out, but is it worth the cheaper price, and are they any safety risks?

Here’s what you need to know about secondhand toys…

What can toys can you buy secondhand?

Charity shops will sell both soft and battery-operated toys, but they won’t always have been checked to see if they’re working, especially if the items are dropped off without batteries. They also sell books.

If you are buying online, from places like eBay, the seller should clearly state the condition of the toys, but you can ask questions if you have any doubts.

How much should you pay for secondhand toys?

This ultimately depends on where you shop. The cheapest places will be jumble sales and car boot fairs, while eBay and private sales will be more expensive.

A good idea is to never pay more than a third of what the item would have cost new. For example, if a large soft toy was £12, you should be looking to pay £4.

Where can you buy secondhand toys?

You are only really limited by your own imagination, as the list is vast, but try these:

  • NCT sales. You don’t have to be a member, but they get first dibs on sale days.
  • Charity shops. Check out your local high street.
  • Car boot fairs. See your local free paper for details of your nearest.
  • Jumble sales. Ask at your local church or look in the free paper.
  • eBay. Worth checking out ‘job lots’, as it will work out cheaper with postage.
  • Preloved. Online site of classified ads.
  • Nappy Valley. Online market place.
  • Freecycle. A free site where you can post ads for items you want to give away or are searching for.

Some areas also have a mobile toy library, like the mobile book library. This usually works by paying an upfront fee, around £5, and then you can borrow up to 2 different toys for 4 weeks for free. Ask at your local Sure Start Centre or council offices for details of where it stops.

Are secondhand toys safe to use?

secondhand toys

In January 2018, headlines warned that some older, plastic secondhand toys might pose a safety risk to children – as they could contain traces of hazardous chemicals like chronium, selenium and lead.

The study, published in the Environmental Science & Technology journal, looked at 200 toys taken from homes, ‘thrift shops’ (so charity or vintage shops) and nurseries in the South-West of England.

20 of them were found to contain all 9 of the chemicals tested – some with levels that would fail to meet the safety standards set out by the European Council’s Toy Safety Directive. (The guidelines on chemicals in toys have been in effect since 2013.)

Researchers determined that if one of these toys were to be chewed (rather than touched, for example) over a period of time, the exposure could be “chronically toxic” to a child.

We all know how much little ones love to chew their toys… so we reckon that sounds pretty scary 😨😨😨

But really, the research is simply saying that we just can’t know exactly how some older toys were made, unless we’re scientists with fancy kit

So, all we can do is be vigilant as thrifty toy shoppers, and keep a close eye on the things mum and dad want to hand down.

👊

Safety checks for secondhand toys you can do:

  • Make sure you keep an especially close eye on hand-me-down LEGO bricks from the ’70s and ’80s. Dr Andrew Turner, from the University of Portsmouth, who conducted the above study, found them to be the “big fail” of the test. Particularly red, yellow and black bricks.
  • Any toy that has small parts should be considered with caution. Pull at the parts to see if they’re coming loose. In particular, check the eyes of soft toys.
  • To test if an item is too small to give to your child, draw an oval 1 3/8 inches x 2 inches on a piece of paper and cut it out. If any part of a toy can pass through the hole to a depth of 1 3/16 inches or more, this could choke your child.
  • Be careful with any painted toy. If you’re worried that the toy has been finished with a lead-based paint there’s a test kit you can buy, but really it’s best to leave it on the shelf. New toys should be made with non-toxic paint. Also check to see if paint is flaking off.
  • Also think about how fragile the toy is. Check the toy won’t shatter or break if dropped.
  • For toys with clothes on or stuffed toys, you need to check the material is flame-resistant.
  • If the toys has sharp or pointed edges, avoid it, or see if the sharp edges can be filed down. If it’s a wooden toy that feels rough, you can sand it.
  • Be cautious of any toy that needs a battery to operate. Check you can access the battery compartment to change the batteries. Some soft toys have batteries sewn in. You need to look out for battery leakage around the compartment. Finally, check that if you need to take a screwdriver to the battery compartment, the screw hasn’t been rounded off with use. If in doubt, leave it on the shelf.

What about recalled toys?

When a product is recalled there will always be a certain amount that aren’t sent back, so be careful when you’re buying secondhand toys that you’ve done your safety checks first.

If a recall has been announced recently, posters will be displayed in toyshops and supermarkets and if the recall is for a substantial amount of products it will also feature on the news. Recalls may also be displayed on the Trading Standards site and Recalled Products could help. You can also sign up to receive an email list of new recalls at UKRecallNotice.

If there’s a certain brand of toy you’re on the look out for, you can call the manufacturer’s customer care centre and ask about recent product recalls, so you don’t buy them by mistake. Also check the major manufacturers’ websites.

What safety markings should toys have?

There are two well-known symbols that can be found on toy labels:

  • The Lion Mark. Developed in 1988 by the British Toy and Hobby Association it is a symbol of toy safety and quality.
  • The CE Mark. This along with the name and address of the supplier is required by law to be on all toys sold in the EU. It means that the supplier has stated that the toy meets the safety requirements of the European Toy Safety Directive and can be moved and sold throughout the EU. It is a Trading Standard mark and therefore not a claim of quality or safety, so always look for the Lion Mark.

How should you clean toys?

secondhand teddy

Don’t rely on secondhand toys to be clean and germ-free when you buy them.

Cleaning soft toys: Most soft toys can be sponge wiped with a disinfectant spray and pegged out on the line to dry and some can even go around in your washing machine.

Check the label first though, and make sure you put them in a pillowcase, so small parts, such as eyes, don’t damage the drum. Some newer washing machines have a special baby-and-toddler cycle for a deep clean.

To kill off dormant bugs, put soft toys in a bag and put in the freezer overnight.

Cleaning hard toys: To clean hard toys, remove any batteries and wipe down with a clean cloth, hot water and disinfectant.

Bags of plastic building bricks, for example, could be cleaned in a shallow bath with a disinfectant product.

How do you ensure the toy is age appropriate?

If a toy is beyond your child’s development level they’ll get frustrated quite quickly and may even cause themselves harm if a toy is misused. Most secondhand toys are sold without boxes, so here’s a general guide as to what is suitable for your child:

Baby to 12 months

  • Soft toys without stuck-on embellishments, such as eyes
  • Small, lightweight toys
  • Mobiles
  • Rattles
  • Teething rings
  • Mirrors
  • Balls with noises and moving pieces

12 months to 18 months

  • Push and pull toys
  • Toys that open and close
  • Large blocks
  • Stacking toys
  • Riding toys if your child can walk

18 months to 24 months

  • Telephone toys
  • Shape-recognition toys
  • Action toys, for example push-pull bus with people
  • Pounding toys, for example a toy tool set
  • Riding toys
  • Activity toys

2 years to 3 years

  • Talking dolls
  • Toy dashboards
  • Trucks
  • Wind-up trains
  • Puzzles
  • Dressing up toys

What can you do when your baby’s outgrown the toys?

If you’re planning to have more children, simply put the toys in cardboard boxes and stow in the loft or garage. If you aren’t or have no storage space and the toys are still in good working order, try giving them to friends or relatives, a children’s centre, donating to charity shops or you could try to make some money selling your old toys on eBay or at a car boot sale.

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