If buying used toys, make sure they haven’t been recalled first and clean them well.

Raising a child is an expensive business. To save money, parents often like to buy used items. However, sometimes secondhand isn’t always the best choice.

The safest and most common secondhand items parents look for are baby and child clothing. Kids grow quickly and don’t get much use out of their outfits, so a good washing usually is all it takes to prepare them for another child. Dr. Cynthia Brownfield of Heartland Pediatric and Adult Care says to watch out for loose buttons, broken zippers, drawstrings and other choking or injury hazards and to send the clothes through at least one hot cycle in the washing machine.

Books are another item Dr. Brownfield recommends parents buy used. Thicker cardboard and vinyl books are durable and hold up well to multiple owners. Just be sure they’re cleaned thoroughly, since babies like putting things in their mouths.

“As long as they’re clean and wiped down, viruses don’t live that long on books,” she says.

For the most part, toys are OK to buy secondhand, especially if they’re newer models. Again, they should be thoroughly cleaned with a bleach solution or disinfectant wipes before being played with. However, Dr. Brownfield says parents should be wary of possible lead paint contaminants in older metal and wooden toys. Those who are worried about BPA also should pay attention to warnings and recalls for certain plastic toys. At Once Upon a Child in St. Joseph, the store takes care of that step for you.

“I do believe that most toys can be reused and save our landfills and just save the family money,” manager Julie Wood says. “... We do watch BPA and lead warnings.”

Since the secondhand shop is a national chain, she says the store gets daily alerts from its headquarters in Minnesota about current toy and equipment recalls. Employees also regularly check the Consumer Product Safety Commission website for facts about older items. Ms. Wood says the store generally avoids accepting secondhand items that are more than seven years old since safety standards change constantly.

Parents should be vigilant about larger equipment like strollers and high chairs. While these generally are considered OK if they’ve had a previous owner, it’s important to make sure they haven’t been recalled. Parents can check www.cpsc.gov to look up items they own and determine if there are any warnings or recalls associated with them. When in doubt, err on the side of caution.

“If there’s a potential for harm, new is better unless you specifically know who owned it, you know its past and it’s been taken good care of,” Dr. Brownfield says.

Baby and child items that almost always should be purchased new include mattresses and breast pumps for hygiene reasons, and cribs, bike helmets and car seats for safety reasons.

Dr. Brownfield says CPSC officially banned drop-side cribs in 2011 because of numerous injuries and complaints. While it’s tempting for grandparents or siblings to want to pass on older cribs to their relatives, it’s strongly discouraged by experts. Ms. Wood says Once Upon a Child doesn’t offer cribs because there have been too many recalls.

Dr. Brownfield says helmets and car seats are similar in that they’re both designed for only one impact. Once they have been in a crash, the materials they’re made from can weaken and crack, often without you realizing it, which compromises future safety. This is why Ms. Wood says her store never sells car seats, either.

“For car seats, the recommendation from MoDOT is one owner, so we try to follow that,” she says.

Sue Lober, traffic safety coordinator with the St. Joseph Safety Council, says low-income families who can’t afford a new car seat have options. The safety council accepts referrals for free car seats from two different organizations, the Community Action Partnership and Catholic Charities. In both cases, families present their financial information and go through a screening process to determine if they’re eligible for a car seat. If so, they’re provided one through the safety council.

“What we give out is called a convertible seat. It’s rear-facing and can be turned around when it’s time to turn it around. It will take from birth up to 40 pounds,” Ms. Lober says.

She reiterates the importance of new car seats, noting that most seats have expiration dates after they’re six years old. The only exception is if you are receiving a seat from a close family member, you know its history and are sure it’s never been involved in a collision, and it’s under the six-year mark. She also stresses the importance of installing a car seat correctly.

“When properly installed, it should not move more than an inch in any direction,” Ms. Lober says.

When you get a new car or booster seat, she recommends registering it online in accordance with the directions it comes with. This ensures that if any recalls connected to the seat happen in the future, the company will notify you directly.

For more information about recalls and safety standards, visit www.cpsc.gov, www.recalls.gov and www.nhtsa.gov (for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration).

Brooke Wilson can be reached

at brooke.wilson@newspressnow.com.

Follow her on Twitter: @SJNPWilson.