Rummage sales and garage sales can be a treasure trove of toys. Many are in great condition (or will be, after a simple washing) and are very, very cheap!
You can find great toys for your kids without hurting your budget, but be careful! You need to check if the toys are still safe. Use these tips to check the quality of the toy, so you can walk away with a good bargain and peace of mind.
1. Check if it’s age appropriate.
The recommended age is usually listed on the packaging, but you may not be able to refer to a box at a rummage sale. A good rule of thumb: check for choking hazards if your child is below three years old, and don’t give anything with a lot of loose parts if your child is below six years old. Think about your child’s motor skills and how well he plays with the toys he already owns. For example, a robot with a lot of movable parts will only frustrate a five-year-old if it falls apart if he pulls too hard, and needs an adult to put it back together.
2. Wiggle the parts.
A child can swallow small toy parts, which can cause choking, or become lodged in the ear or nose. Dangerous parts can include squeakers in squeeze toys, coins, marbles, pens and marker caps, button-type batteries, buttons and removable eyes and noses in stuffed animals and dolls.
When in doubt, do the toilet paper roll test: anything that can pass through a toilet paper roll is a potential choking hazard for a child below three years old.
3. Test battery-operated toys
It may seem cheap but if it’s totally broken you’ve thrown away your money. You should also check if the battery connections are loose and if the battery cover is intact and can still be screwed tightly. Children should not be allowed to play with batteries—and many curious kids will, if they can get their hands on them.
4. Check for safety labels
The safety labels are a sign that the toy manufacturer followed safety regulations, in terms of types of materials (some plastics contain carcinogen, and some paint contain lead), wiring, and manufacturing. Some parents cut these labels off, but you’re more or less assured if a big company like Chicco Leapfrog, Fisher Price, etc. produced the toy. If you’ve never heard of the company, and have no safety guarantee, walk away.
5. Run your hand all over the toy.
Avoid purchasing toys with sharp or rigid points, spikes, rods, or dangerous edges and wires that stick out. These can scratch a child, or poke the eye.
6. Ask if it’s washable/wipeable.
The toy must withstand washing, scrubbing and sanitizing (wiped with alcohol) without being damaged and without the possibility of water or cleaning fluid being trapped inside the toy. This is especially important since you’re buying the toy second hand—for hygiene purposes, you want to be able to completely clean it before giving it your child.
7. Smell the toy.
Don’t buy toys that have a nasty or chemical smell. Some stuffed toys and art materials like colored pens, clay and bubbles have this distinctive smell. The chemicals used in these items might give your child an allergic reaction on contact or, if ingested, could lead to food poisoning. If the toy is painted, make sure the finish is non-toxic.
8. Rub the toy against your skin.
This is very important for stuffed toys. Is the fur abrasive? Can it trap dust and mites? This is particularly important if your child is asthmatic or has sensitive skin. You may also want to check the washing instructions. Is it machine washable or does it need to be dry cleaned?
9. Listen to the toy.
Listen to the sound the toy makes. If it’s loud for adults, it’s definitely louder for children. A loud sound can damage sensitive hair cells that line the inner ear and perceive sound waves. Repeated exposure to this sound level can cause permanent hearing loss in your child.
You may also want to look at common toy safety hazards.