Updated on 01.09.09

Update on Reselling Used Children’s Clothing

Trent Hamm

After my recent article about new restrictions on used children’s clothes from the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA), I received a flood of correspondence from angry and confused readers who were quite upset with the proposed changes. I compiled a number of these emails and forwarded them on to a few email addresses at the Consumer Product Safety Commission and to my local congresspeople.

On January 8, the Consumer Product Safety Commission issued a clarification of the law (emphasis added):

The new law requires that domestic manufacturers and importers certify that children’s products made after February 10 meet all the new safety standards and the lead ban. Sellers of used children’s products, such as thrift stores and consignment stores, are not required to certify that those products meet the new lead limits, phthalates standard or new toy standards.

The new safety law does not require resellers to test children’s products in inventory for compliance with the lead limit before they are sold. However, resellers cannot sell children’s products that exceed the lead limit and therefore should avoid products that are likely to have lead content, unless they have testing or other information to indicate the products being sold have less than the new limit. Those resellers that do sell products in violation of the new limits could face civil and/or criminal penalties.

What does this mean?

Used children’s clothing will still be available at Goodwill and other places. These stores can continue to sell the clothing even without lead and phthalate testing. This would also apply to people who resell used children’s clothes on eBay and so on.

However, items that do not meet the new standards for lead and phthalate content are still banned. Even though you can re-sell used children’s items without testing, that does not mean that you can legally sell items with too much lead and phthalate content. If you’re selling them, you may be fined.

What’s the solution? Simply avoid reselling items that may have high lead or phthalate content. Most clothes should be fine, but you may want to be careful about reselling toys. The CPSC offers a bit of guidance in that press release:

While CPSC expects every company to comply fully with the new laws resellers should pay special attention to certain product categories. Among these are recalled children’s products, particularly cribs and play yards; children’s products that may contain lead, such as children’s jewelry and painted wooden or metal toys; flimsily made toys that are easily breakable into small parts; toys that lack the required age warnings; and dolls and stuffed toys that have buttons, eyes, noses or other small parts that are not securely fastened and could present a choking hazard for young children.

Your best tool, if you’re considering reselling such items, is the internet. If you’re suspicious that an item you are considering reselling may have high lead or phthalate content, do an internet search and see whether your suspicion is true. If I were considering reselling children’s items, I would probably just avoid the categories mentioned by the CPSC above.

So, what did I learn from all of this? My biggest lesson was that there are sensible people in charge of consumer issues. This was really the most sensible solution to the problem – it protects kids without driving resellers out of business. The CPSA was on the ball here in clarifying the rules.

Another lesson was that awareness helps. This issue affects a lot of people – virtually all parents, as well as anyone working for a clothing resale organization, were affected by the basic interpretation of that ruling. I was one of many blogs that chose to talk about the issue – many newspapers and trade groups also spoke out loudly on the topic. Awareness attracts attention, and attention gets things done.

Normally, I won’t delve into specific consumer issues like this one, but I felt that it was a good example – from beginning to end – of how consumer laws affect everyone (sometimes in surprising ways) and how speaking out about things can help bring about a better solution.

At the very least, now I can resell my kids’ outgrown clothes without worrying a bit about the CPSIA.

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  1. B says:

    I was hoping your biggest lesson would have been to gather all the facts before posting. A quick read of the statute would have drastically reduced the fear mongering tone of your previous post. Contacting the CPSC for more information prior to posting would have cleared up a lot of your misinformation.

    I always enjoy reading your blog, but did find your original post on this subject to be pretty irresponsible. Please consider getting a law degree or additional information before posting legal commentary in the future.

  2. Marsha says:

    This is great news – thanks for posting this update!

  3. I just want to note that while this is good news for sellers and buyers of used items, there are still issues for crafters, sewers, etc., who run small businesses making and selling items for children. As the law stands now, they would be required to have items tested, which is expensive and would likely drive many small businesses out of the market. CPSIA post

  4. DrPr says:

    I’m happy that the rules have been clarified.

    My concern however, is that I’ve seen a large amount of anger from people who wanted to be able to sell items that were possibly lead-filled because staying in business was more important than protecting children from lead. They’d rather remain blissfully ignorant of lead in their items than spend money making sure their items are safe.

    I understand the importance of making money, but it saddens me that there are people so concerned with making money off of thrifty and/or poor folks that they will sell toys and clothes that may have lead. After all, these same entrepreneurs say that if money were not a factor, they’d be happy to refrain from selling possibly contaminated items. Since money is a factor, however, they’d prefer to sell these same possibly contaminated items.

    When the economy is bad, our desire to protect one another at the expense of our own income decreases. When the economy is great, we are more willing to be conscientious at the expense of our pocketbooks, since it’s not as great of a pinch. It’s sad that income is such a factor in our acts of goodwill towards one another.

  5. Laura in Seattle says:

    Good to know common sense has not completely fallen by the wayside at the CPSC. Hopefully there will also be an exemption forthcoming for crafters and small manufacturers — I would hate to see my friends who knit sweaters and baby clothes lose their side hustles!

  6. bay says:

    Glad to see this. Your first article really had me worried ;)

  7. tjwriter says:

    I’m with Laura. This still doesn’t address the small business area where it is not economically feasible to do the required testing.

    Hopefully, something will be forthcoming. Another website I read said that even if you used materials certified to be lead free, you would still have to do the testing. I think restricting where small businesses could buy materials from would be enough. I hope they send these changes through soon.

    Nothing like leaving a law wide open to broad interpretation.

  8. Michael says:

    I hope small businesses are able to break this law and all the ones like it the new administration will force on us. Economically this is not a good time to increase oppression of families, neighborliness and entrepreneurship.

  9. ckphoto says:

    But, say Goodwill sells something, untested, but they thought was in the limit. It gets tested by someone. Goodwill or you, could still be fined. That is what the second paragraph says. Basically, it is sell at your own risk.

    As others stated, small businesses and home crafters are still out of luck. The law needs more defining.

  10. Brandon says:

    For small businesses wouldn’t you just only buy your materials from approved vendors? If all the materials are OK, then the end product would be ok. Much cheaper than testing.

  11. Kathleen says:

    Again, this is an oversimplification. Speaking of, I notice you didn’t publish the comment I made to that effect on your last entry. Listen, we’re glad you’re publicizing this but the truth must be heard.

    It is the legal opinion of attorneys experienced with this law that the PR did little more than reiterate the law that it was the equivalent of telling your kids they don’t have to brush their teeth but then spanking them if they have bad breath. Here’s one attorney’s take on it:

  12. lurker carl says:

    Could such a law could ever be enforced? I doubt it. It’s another instance where those who make the rules don’t need to play by them.

  13. gabrielle says:

    This is great news for those of us that depend on buying used children’s clothes. I don’t know how I would have clothed my kid were it not for consignment shops and church sales! :)

    I also hope that small-scale crafters can get an exemption as well.

  14. Erin G says:

    I was one of those many household managers who emailed my congresspeople, too. I saw that the new rules came through this weekend – thank goodness!

  15. Amy B says:

    Lead and phlalate exposure pose serious hazards to infants and developing young children. I am troubled that your readers seem so cavalier about exposing children to these toxins, and also troubled that the thrift stores resist sensible efforts to protect children from these hazards.

  16. rebecca says:

    We went to several thrift stores today and only 2 (of five) had any children’s clothes available. Two of the others had big empty racks were the kids clothes used to be.

  17. Jason says:

    I am very glad to hear that they clarified the ruling in this way. Yes, I feel that it is important to protect people from these harmful substances, but to demand that thrift stores and such discard all of their inventory just because it hasn’t been tested for them, just doesn’t seem to make much sense. The likelihood that these chemicals are in a large number of garments is I’m sure very, very small, so what a waste it would be to get rid of otherwise useful clothes.

  18. Wendy says:

    There is still an issue with public libraries and questions about whether they will be forced to test items (including books) in the children’s section.

  19. MN Scout says:

    It still sounds like if someone happens to buy childrens clothing from a thrift store and it ends up having lead or is hazardous in some way that the thrift store will still get in trouble.

  20. Heartland Canuck says:

    I emailed my Congressman, too. The news is great with respect to used kids’ stuff, but what about small businesses in America that make organic items? The testing would be expensive and silly.

    And what about “fudged” test results from overseas factories? Lest we forget the “government inspected” milk products that killed all those babies.

  21. Cynthia says:

    So very sorry – so upset gave wrong link to Howard Beale clip:

  22. Jason says:

    @ Brandon: Unfortunately, small business cannot use “third party testing”. So even though you used supplies to make your product that had all been independently tested and certified, your final product has not been certified. The law SHOULD have been written to accept third party testing, and we need to work with Congress to make this happen.

  23. Karen says:

    In keeping with the “awareness helps” line of thinking, I’m going to repost the link that I attempted to post when this issue first surfaced. (For some reason my comments were never posted.) If you look at the stats on the CDC website you’ll note that the number of children with high levels of lead in their systems has dropped dramatically since 1997. http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/surv/database/State_Confirmed_byYear_1997_to_2006.xls

    I also take issue with the statement “there are sensible people in charge of consumer issues.” Yes, they came up with a sensible solution this time, but this ridiculous law should never have seen the light of day. I believe they should focus their efforts on testing goods imported from other countries. Lead poisoning occurs through ingestion. Lead based paint was banned in the US in 1978. The culprits are the foreign importers. We need to tighten our regulations on these imports, or just stop buying foreign products. And if your home was built before 1978, have the paint tested.

  24. Carmen says:

    Still does nothing for small businesses or individuals creating hand made items. What a shame.

  25. Cynthia says:

    I am so sorry Trent that you felt the need to delete my post. Due to the efforts of customers and fans, and (previously) with support of fans from your site, we have managed (miraculously) to schedule a Congressional Staff Briefing this week, in which we hope to give them better information on how to guide their legislators on the issues of the day. I do thank you for taking up my original post, but I am saddened that you chose to edit my response (delete/not post it) entirely. I was one of your biggest fans.

  26. Niiice – just what the current world economy needs. Tons of self-employed people and microbusinesses forced to go out of business and on welfare.

    Way to go, politicos!

  27. AnnJo says:

    I disagree that resellers are not affected. While they may not be required to test, if they are still subject to fines and liability for sales of contaminated items, the only resellers who will take the risk are those who have nothing to lose.

    I also looked up the numbers on lead exposure at the CDC, as Karen did. They indicated that in the period from 1976-1980, more than 88% of children had levels above those now considered tolerable,compared to 1.6% of children in the 1995-2002 period.

    This decline took place BEFORE the implementation of this new law. From more than 88% to less than 2% is pretty impressive. (That also means that most Americans over the age of 40 or so had blood lead levels as children that are now considered dangerous, and we mostly survived.)

    Obviously, the lead-reduction measures taken in the past 30 years (notably the elimination of leaded gasoline and of lead-based paints) have worked very well.

    Diets ample in calcium and Vitamin C also have protective effects, and may have been more widely shared in recent years than before although a large percentage of children still don’t get enough calcium. Calcium prevents the absorption of lead from the intestinal tract.

    My father was a third-generation commercial painter who used red lead paint daily throughout his life and my childhood. We were around it all the time, with no discernable ill effects cognitively or otherwise. Some of his crew who neglected wearing their masks would come down with symptoms of lead poisoning, which a gallon of milk daily for a few weeks seemed to take care of (although there may have been subtle long-term effects and of course, the workers were not children).

    This new law is probably going to cost far more than the value it will add to further reducing lead exposure. Personally, if I had a child to protect and a limited budget, I’d rather put the money into a safer vehicle, protective sports gear, plenty of milk, more fresh fruits and vegetables,good dental care, rather than certified tested lead-free clothes. To minimize lead exposure I’d check my pipes to make sure lead is not present, dust frequently, wash the dust rags, and use a good HEPA vaccuum cleaner.

  28. Katie says:

    This doesn’t save handcrafted children’s toys and clothing!

    Ironically handcrafted, made in the USA toys saw a huge boost in sales from the lead scares. Now they might be driven out of business entirely.

    This law favors the big toy manufacturers who were responsible for the lead scare anyway. The ones who make mass produced toys in China are the ones who can afford to get their products tested.

  29. Elizabeth says:

    This statement doesn’t actually legally clarify the law, since it is a statement from the CSPC not actually changing the law.

    I think even more information is needed since resellers can be fined or jailed for selling items that are untested if they contain higher lead counts even if the reseller has no information on the lead count (as in that information is not available).

  30. DeeDee says:

    Does anyone have any actual statistics; not lab stats or hypothetical stats, regarding the adverse effects on any flesh and blood children due to the “lead” in their clothing? We’ve raised 4 children and now have 3 grandchildren and all of them are in the best of health. As were their friends, their classmates, their significant others, and their friends and classmates. This is a ridiculous and wasteful abuse of government resources. If our elected and appointed officials had too much time on their hands, perhaps they should have spent both reinforcing the quality of our children’s education, or their safety from predators. They should not take it upon themselves to make a decision of this magnitude that affects us all. I would think that the very MOST they should have done would be to require manufacturers to post a warning label on clothing stating “This garment may contain lead; a product known to have adverse effects on the health…”. Like the warning posted on cigarettes and alcohol. The government presumes too much power. It’s unconstitutional, and an absolutely awful obstacle to put in the path of our small business owners in a time when they so desperately need not only our support; but that of the government as well.

  31. I’ve read all the way through your blog, and the comments after it. I’m not sure which frustrate me more — the original comments or most of the responses.

    The concern about CPSIA is not “much ado about nothing”. The January 8th clarification from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) only “clarified” that resellers didn’t have to test. But we never thought we had to test. We only have to “know” that the products we sell are lead-free. You make that sound so simple. I called the CPSC and asked them for recommendations on what we could safely sell. They had an easy answer: “Test it”.

    If you want to see the not so long list of safe to sell items straight from CPSC, try this document from February 6th: http://www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/prerel/prhtml09/09120.html

    The list includes: “(1)a children’s product to the extent that it is made of certain natural materials, such as wood, cotton, wool, or certain metals and alloys which the Commission has recognized rarely, if ever, contain lead;
    (2)an ordinary children’s book printed after 1985; or
    (3) dyed or undyed textiles (not including leather, vinyl or PVC) and non-metallic thread and trim used in children’s apparel and other fabric products, such as baby blankets.”

    That notice came out days before the law went into effect. That was when we found out that books printed before 1986 were not safe to sell. It’s also when the CPSC made it very clear that we could safely buy and sell children’s clothes — as long as they are simple items like blankets. Guess what, as soon as you add snaps, zippers, even screen printing, the chances of having too much lead go way, way up!

    So, no, it is not safe to sell children’s clothes right now. At least not according to this law.

    And as far as the sensible people making this type of law. Yes, lead poisoning is a problem. But, as a previous poster mentioned, we have to be concerned about lead being ingested. Children are not getting poisoned from their clothes, or their books, or their bicycle tires, or many of the other items that are no longer legal to sell.

    Never mind what this will do to the prices of new items that will have to be tested, that shouldn’t be, after February 21010…And the products that small manufacturers can’t afford to make after February next year.

    So, please keep looking, and consider updating your information once again.

  32. Michelle says:

    This is so FRUSTRATING!!!! I can’t believe some of the posts I have read. Everything is not ok for resellers of children’s items. Anyone who thinks it is, has not read the law and actual information put out from the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). I have a children’s resale store. We check all recalls, and would never sell anything that we thought could possibly harm children. In my experience as a mom and grandmother, my children have never eaten their clothing. From what I have read about lead poisoning, it has to be ingested, and not just a one time thing either.

    The CPSC issued Guidelines. The section for retailers and resellers of children’s products, including thrift stores, consignment shops and charities gives us Table C: Commonly Resold Children’s Products and Materials. It lists out 10 different common type products and tells whether it is ok to sell.

    Since in reality, there are few clothing items that do not have buttons, zippers, snaps, decorations of some type, etc., CPSC’s guidelines say to Test, contact the manufacturer, OR NOT SELL, this makes most all products for children potentially “hazardous” whether they are or not. It is not realistic for a resale shop to test, or contact the manufacturer for each and every piece of their merchandise. Seriously, that pretty little dress or suit is dangerous to our kids just because it has buttons and zippers????? Oh, and how about don’t sell toys that could have small parts come off of them and that children under 3 could choke on? Obviously these toys are not intended for that age and the parents should not be letting their children play with them.

    It really annoys me that some posts say that resellers are putting profits above safety. Have Americans lost all their common sense? The items we have in our store have not injured the prior child that wore them, why are they not safe (hazardous) now? I guess some of these posters don’t know how much it would cost to test every item. It isn’t profits over safety! Why would anyone with any sense test an item that they will sell for $2.00 when the testing for that one item would be more than $200. Common sense people! Who out there would do this when the possibility of that item being unsafe is slim to none. Most resellers, including us, wouldn’t have ANYTHING in our store that we think has an actual chance of being not safe.

    Parent’s need to be responsible for their children. Don’t buy things for your children that you think could harm them. Don’t let them play with toys that aren’t safe for them. Don’t let your children eat their clothes! I fully believe in protecting our children, but I think this law, as it stands, is ridiculous.

  33. Terry says:

    As in most investigations or even “crimes” as this could be considered (crime against the people that is) – follow the money trail, and the motivation. Is this really a law designed to help and protect children and future children while still allow freedoms to the average citizen or is it a law, based upon a principle of protection, that favors big business – especially business that would suffer during planned recessions? A major recession/depression obviously changes things for the average citizen and for many big businesses. It changes mentalities. It changes buying habits of the average consumer. The major percentage of our consumer-based laws do not mostly help the average consumer, only come under the guise of helping the average consumer. The average consumer law typically provides no real enforcement on behalf of the consumer, but there’s plenty available to companies with resources. The list of laws passed for the consumer but without adequate protection/enforcement for the consumer is substantially long…FDCA (fair debt collection practics act) has no real enforcement outside of court, bankruptcy laws favor the banks and lawyers now, reduction in federal monetary support (tax based) for state/county schools across the nation, etc. Follow the money and who stands to gain and you’ll typically find how the laws really came into effect. The recent cash for clunkers program is an example. Is it really environmentally friendly or is it an extra incentive for the car companies that just got a massive bailout, now the gov’t has provided incentives to purchase new cars…and people going into debt to acquire them. Mutual benefit is wonderful, BUT it’s rarely equivalent – the auto makers just got cash from our taxes and the best advertising program ever also fueled by our taxes. Americans have the power to vote with their dollar – so laws will go into effect to channel which way those votes go.

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