Secondhand Children's Clothing — Dangerous?

by Katy on January 3, 2009 · 12 comments

Update: This ban has been changed to not include used clothing and toys, click here for more information.


Used Children's Clothing

Whether from a consignment shop or a thrift shop, one of the biggest money saving strategies a parent can utilize is to buy their children’s clothing from secondhand sources. Often the clothing is in like-new condition, and the savings are significant. (My area thrift shop has 99 cent Tuesdays for certain tag colors, and this is how I have always bought the kid’s coats and snowsuits.)

But I learned today of a soon to be enacted law that will require all children’s clothing to be tested for lead and phthalates in order to be sold. This includes used clothing. The “Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act” takes effect on February 10, 2009. 

An article in The L.A. Times outlined the issues surrounding this change:

The law, aimed at keeping lead-filled merchandise away from children, mandates that all products sold for those age 12 and younger — including clothing — be tested for lead and phthalates, which are chemicals used to make plastics more pliable. Those that haven’t been tested will be considered hazardous, regardless of whether they actually contain lead.

Clothing and thrift trade groups say the law is flawed because it went through Congress too quickly. By deeming that any product not tested for lead content by Feb. 10 be considered hazardous waste, they contend, stores will have to tell customers that clothing they were allowed to sell Feb. 9 became banned overnight.

This is a hard one for me. As a member of The Compact, (buy nothing new) I am a huge proponent of buying used clothing. Especially for kids who often grow out of clothes while they’re still in perfect condition.

However, my younger son suffered from lead poisoning when he was preschool age. We had the house tested, and did find some areas with lead paint, but they were not areas that he had access to. I have come to the conclusion that he must have sucked on some gum-ball machine charm or some such thing. He is ten-years-old now and doing fine. Although he’s smaller than most kids his age, and my theory is that he missed a few growth spurts when he was younger. He had to undergo multiple blood draws, and became phobic about going to the doctor. Something he still dreads.

I believe that the onus of testing needs to be with the original manufacturer, and not on the secondhand market.  

There does need to be testing of toys and clothing for children. Any parent can attest to how kids suck on necklines and sleeves, as well as toys. Even past that magical age of three when kids are supposedly no longer sucking on their playthings.

I will not start to buy brand new clothing for my kids, as that is too extreme a measure. (A single pair of $40 jeans is about what I spend on each kid’s clothing per year.)

This is certainly a complicated issue, for which there is no simple answer. 

I just hope this issue gets addressed  before the law goes into effect. Otherwise all children’s consignment shops will be forced out of business. Which would be a sad day for green living and frugal parents everywhere.

Katy Wolk-Stanley 

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

Thank you to Trent at The Simple Dollar for bringing this issue to my attention.

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

knittinnoodlin January 4, 2009 at 4:44 am

I agree with you completely…the original manufacturer should bear the burden of testing.

Now that I’ve digested the issue a bit after reading The Simple Dollar’s article, I think this legislation overlooks a really obvious source of potential clothing contamination — commercial laundry detergent and fabric softeners. They all contain nasty, nasty chemicals.

Will government next legislate that parents cannot wash their children’s clothing, but rather dispose of each garment when it gets dirty? It sounds like an extreme idea, but that’s the direction this legislation is steering us.


Dana January 4, 2009 at 4:52 am

This is something that I’m dealing with also. While I do buy most of my girls’ clothing secondhand, I also make children’s clothing, toys, and accessories to sell. This law has already been passed, and if it goes into effect as it’s written now, it will put thousands of craftspeople out of business because we cannot afford to have each element of an article tested. There are a lot of articles about this out there on the web.

Dana in IN


Wendy January 4, 2009 at 6:21 am

Somehow I missed hearing about this new law. I, also, have been dependant on second-hand clothing to outfit my two younger boys. Luckily, they just started fitting into men’s size small (which isn’t much different than a boy’s size 14)shirts and jackets. Still if this law goes into effect as is, I am thinking that most consignment shops only take higher-end, newer items, which at some point would have been tested the first go-around. However, I am concerned that this will pose greater issues for thrifts and charities that are more liberal in accepting used clothing than consignment shops.


CanadianKate January 4, 2009 at 6:35 am

Wendy, you say “luckily” the boys now fit into men’s clothing. That’s just lucky for you because you’ll be able to save money. Of course, men’s clothing will not be tested for lead.

Perhaps, that’s because it isn’t really an issue. At the Simple Dollar one poster pointed out that when seatbelts became mandatory we didn’t send all cars without them to landfill. Nor did we tear down houses with lead paint. So why are we sending all used clothing to landfill, while children are still exposed to cigarette smoke and allowed to consume junk food which is proven to be unhealthy?


Wendy January 4, 2009 at 7:48 am

I agree with your point CanadianKate; it was not my intention to sound insensitive or offend anyone. I am not happy about this new law at all. After several washes, one would think that lead in clothing is no longer a factor to be concerned about; also, school-age children do not put clothing in their mouth. I just posted my thoughts over on Simple Dollar as to what could be at play concerning this new law. “…. this law which was voted on several months ago likely has more to do with lobbying by clothing manufactures. Profits made on new clothing are down as more people turn to consignment shops and thrift stores for their textile needs [for a mix of reasons: environmental, simplicity, and to save money]. If this law was really about protecting the consumer, the chemical fluoride (used in rat poison, fertilizers, and banned in many countries) would not be added to our drinking water and dental hygiene routine, the base of food coloring dyes would not be made from coal tar, and cancerous agents would not be found in the ingredient label of most drugstore lotions.” Sadly, as with many things, the bottom line trumps safety, need, and practicality.

I am very troubled by this new law. Friends and family rely heavily on used clothing for their children, and this will place a greater burden on our already overtaxed environment.


mindfulmama January 4, 2009 at 8:28 am

I’m thinking, as I read the above comments, that the best we can do is speak up. Our thrift store merchants rely on folks like us to support them – there are so many more of us than them – so our voices as a group are louder. Perhaps if we tell our State Representatives how we feel about this law, we can spark some interest and support in our direction, and thus keep our local second hand stores open and safe from this type of micro- managing.


Wendy January 4, 2009 at 8:46 am

Mindfulmama, you’re right concerning our thrift store merchants relying on their local communities for support. Even though my local consignment shop caters to all ages, the store could lose a large portion of their customers if forced to stop consigning newborn to size 12 clothing. Of course the ultimate impact, beyond the environment, is a loss of local jobs mindful of the people that rely on employment in these places.


Marj January 4, 2009 at 8:14 pm

I, too, missed reading or hearing about this law. Was the law pushed through with a steamroller??? Mercy.
Is there such an existing law with bolts of fabric for making childrens clothing?
Does anyone know if sites, such as Freecycle, will no longer be able to give away childrens clothing?
I am thankful you wrote about this Katy.


mindfulmama January 4, 2009 at 8:28 pm

I did some sleuthing and found this information from the LA Times, dated 1/2/09. Not sure how to interpret how things will move from here, but thought it was interesting.

“There is the possibility of a partial reprieve. The Consumer Product Safety Commission, which is responsible for enforcing the law, on Monday will consider exempting clothing and toys made of natural materials such as wool or wood. The commission does not have the authority to change the law but can decide how to interpret it.

But exempting natural materials does not go far enough, said Stephen Lamar, executive vice president of the American Apparel and Footwear Assn. Clothes made of cotton but with dyes or non-cotton yarn, for example, might still have to be tested, as would clothes that are cotton-polyester blends, he said. “


Debineezer January 4, 2009 at 10:35 pm

How precisely would they be tested?


Charlotte January 8, 2009 at 1:49 pm

In case you haven’t seen it yet, there has been a clarification published. Used clothing stores are *not* required to test the clothing.


Cynthia January 15, 2009 at 7:02 am

CPSC Spokeswoman Chastises ‘Mommy-Bloggers’ On TV

Did you see the video from Baltimore Channel 11 where, for the first time someone from CPSC is interviewed on air? Yep. She disparages ‘mommy-bloggers’ for spreading ‘misinformation’ on the internet! Do you believe this? (Of course, the poor sacrifical lamb has already resigned, her last day is tomorrow) Gee, why do you think they picked her to go on camera?

There is a closed door Congressional Staffer meeting tomorrow about CPSIA. Today and tomorrow would be a REALLY good day to CALL, email and FAX everyone in congress you can think of as well as the CPSC.

We would also appreciate you continuing to spread the word to go to http://www.savekidsresale and Click! to vote (the petition has over 70,000 signatures) as we intend to print out all 500 pages and distribute it to Congressional members tomorrow. As you know, the CPSC has done it’s best to quell the uproar our little corner of this devil in diapers that is CPSIA by their infamous ‘Press Release’.

Thanks so much! Here’s the video


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: