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CPSC Study of Hazardous Products in Thrift Stores


  • The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) conducted a national study of thrift, consignment and resale ("thrift") shops from May through September 1999 to determine the extent to which thrift stores sell hazardous products.
  • The specific products targeted in the study were banned, recalled or did not meet current voluntary safety standards. Throughout this study, these products are referred to as hazardous because they pose a danger of death or serious injury.
  • CPSC visited 301 randomly selected thrift stores across the country. Much of the market is held by local and independent stores, which accounted for 72 percent of the sample. The national organizations, including the Salvation Army and Goodwill, made up 28 percent of the sample.
  • Overall, 69 percent of the thrift shops visited had at least one product that was hazardous.
  • The top three hazardous products CPSC found in thrift stores were drawstrings on children’s outerwear, including jackets and sweatshirts that could lead to entanglement or strangulation; hair dryers without protection against electrocution; and cribs that do not meet current safety standards.
  • There are more than 9,000 general thrift stores in the United States that sell the type of products targeted in this study. Based on this survey, CPSC estimates that about two-thirds of these thrift stores sell at least one of the study's targeted hazardous products.





Each year CPSC recalls 250 to 300 potentially hazardous products. CPSC gets recalled products off retail shelves, but CPSC cannot go into consumers’ homes and remove the products. Recalled products can end up being donated or sold in the second-hand goods market, including thrift stores. Because they sell used products, thrift stores are likely to carry older products that do not meet current safety standards or that have been banned.

CPSC conducted this study to gain an overview of the extent to which certain hazardous products that have caused injury to consumers could be found in thrift stores. The CPSC study results serve as a basis for developing guidance and providing safety information to assist customers of thrift stores; consumers who might wish to donate products; and thrift store owners and managers who sell these products.

Many people shop at thrift stores and it is a growing market. CPSC believes that many consumers and thrift store owners and managers may be unaware of recalls, product standards or bans on consumer products offered for sale in the thrift stores. The purpose of this report is to present results of the study, which can be used to assist in preventing the sale and/or purchase in thrift stores of potentially hazardous products which could cause injury or death.



 The National Association of Resale and Thrift Shops (NARTS) estimates that there are over 15,000 thrift shops across the country, including specialty product thrift stores. More than 9,000 general thrift stores sell the type of products targeted in this study.

Local and independently owned and operated thrift stores make up 72 percent of the market. National organizations make up the other 28 percent of the market. National organizations include the Salvation Army, Goodwill, St. Vincent De Paul, and Savers.

CPSC visited 217 local and independently owned and operated stores, which accounted for 72 percent of the sample. CPSC visited 84 national organizations, which accounted for 28 percent of the sample.

Description of Study  

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) conducted a national study of thrift, consignment and resale ("thrift") shops to identify potentially dangerous products currently for sale. The product areas targeted in the study were selected hazardous consumer products that pose a danger of death or serious injury.

CPSC field staff visited 301 stores throughout the country from May through September 1999. The participating stores were randomly selected from a national compilation of thrift and consignment shops. The sampling method used in the study allows CPSC to make statistically valid national estimates of the number of thrift stores that carry hazardous products and the number of hazardous products for sale in thrift shops across the U.S.

CPSC's field staff used a prepared checklist to observe the products in the thrift stores. If any hazardous products were found, store personnel were given information about the products and asked to remove and destroy them or contact the manufacturer regarding repair, replacement or refund. Information from the checklists was entered into a database for further analysis. While CPSC was looking for a targeted list of products, it should be noted that other hazardous products are likely being sold in thrift stores.


CPSC found most of the targeted consumer products in one or more of the thrift stores visited. Based on this survey, CPSC estimates that approximately 69 percent of the general thrift stores in the U.S. have at least one of the study's targeted hazardous products.


Results of Study


Results for each product area are discussed next and include death and injury information and the hazard patterns. Unless otherwise stated, the following information refers to national estimates. These estimates are based on data from 301 general thrift stores in the study. For a summary of the findings, refer to the attached chart.


  • CLOTHING DRAWSTRINGS: 51% of general thrift stores sell children's upper outerwear, including jackets or sweatshirts, with drawstrings at the waist or neck.


This hidden hazard can lead to death and injury when drawstrings catch on such items as playground equipment, bus doors and cribs.


Since 1985, CPSC has received reports of 22 deaths and 48 non-fatal incidents involving the entanglement of children's clothing drawstrings.

In 1995, CPSC issued guidelines to consumers and manufacturers to help prevent children from strangling or getting entangled in the drawstrings of garments such as jackets and sweatshirts.

As a result of CPSC working cooperatively with industry, manufacturers agreed not to make children’s outerwear, including jackets and sweatshirts with drawstrings at the neck, and now adhere to a voluntary safety standard. Waist drawstrings are now limited to 3 inches in length. Retail stores have agreed not to sell new garments that do not meet the voluntary standards.

  • HAIR DRYERS: 20% of general thrift stores sell hair dryers without protection against electrocution.


Older hair dryers pose a risk of electrocution.



In the early 1980s, there was an average of 18 electrocutions each year involving hand-held hair dryers. Most of these deaths occurred when the hair dryer fell or was pulled into a bathtub.

In 1990, the industry adopted a voluntary standard for hair dryers that gives added protection against electrocution. To comply with the voluntary standard, hand-held hair dryers must protect against electrocution if they fall into water with the switch in either the "on" or "off" position.

CPSC recommends that consumers buy hair dryers that comply with the voluntary standard. This protection is provided by a large rectangular-shaped safety plug at the end of the cord.

  • CRIBS: 12% of general thrift stores sell cribs that do not meet current federal and voluntary safety standards.


Older cribs can present many dangers to children, including strangulation and suffocation.


More babies -- about 40 each year - die from injuries associated with cribs than from any other piece of nursery equipment. Most of these deaths are associated with older, used cribs. The study projects there are approximately 1,400 used cribs for sale in thrift stores throughout the country that do not meet current safety standards.

The cribs found during the study violated current federal regulations for slat spacing of full-size and non-full size cribs (the most frequently found problem) and mattress size. The study also revealed non-compliance with voluntary safety standards, including corner posts and finials on full-size and non-full size cribs. Other problems found with cribs in thrift stores included missing hardware, metal knobs and chipping paint.

Children can strangle in older cribs when their bodies slip through wide openings between the slats, but their heads get caught. Children can suffocate when their faces and noses become wedged between a loose-fitting mattress and the crib. Catchpoints and cornerposts pose entanglement hazards; children can be hung when caught on these protruding fixtures. The current federal and voluntary standards have effectively addressed many safety hazards associated with cribs.

  • HALOGEN TORCHIERE FLOOR LAMPS: 10% of general thrift stores sell halogen torchiere floor lamps without wire guards.


Wire guards and lower wattage halogen bulbs reduce fire hazards associated with halogen torchiere floor lamps.



CPSC has received 65 reports of fires resulting in 6 deaths involving halogen torchiere floor lamps since April 1998. The most common problems associated with these lamps are fires resulting from unintended contact between the lamp and combustible or flammable materials and the tipping or knocking over of lamps igniting these materials.

In 1997, CPSC and the industry recalled for repair 40 million lamps, manufactured before February 1997. Free wire guards are available by calling (800) 523-5702 x592. Installing the wire guard over the bulb shield and using a bulb of 300 watts or less will reduce the potential fire hazard by making it harder for flammable materials to touch the lamp's halogen bulb and ignite. Lamps sold in retail stores today are manufactured with a glass or wire guard and have been improved to prevent tipovers.

  • PLAY YARDS AND PLAYPENS: 7% of general thrift stores carry recalled play yards and playpens with protruding hardware or rotating top rails.


Protruding hardware poses a strangulation hazard to toddlers playing inside and around play yards and playpens. Play yards and playpens with rotating top rails that do not lock automatically into place upon setup could collapse and strangle a child.



CPSC has reports of eight toddlers who strangled in their play yards and playpens when pacifier strings or their clothing caught on the play yard's or playpen’s protruding hardware. CPSC recalled these products and is currently working with industry to develop voluntary standards and testing procedures to prevent further injury or death.

CPSC is aware of 13 children who suffocated in collapsed play yards and playpens that had rotating top rails. The top rails collapsed and entrapped children in the folded "V" formed by the rails of the product.

These play yards and playpens were set up by rotating each top rail. Current production play yards and playpens have top rails that automatically lock into place when the play yard or playpen is fully set up.

CPSC and manufacturers have recalled more than 10 million play yards and playpens with protruding hardware or rotating top rails. Recalled brands include Bilt-Rite, Evenflo, Gerry, Graco, Kolcraft, Playskool, Pride-Trimble, Strolee, Century, All Our Kids, Home and Roam, and Baby Express.

  • CAR SEAT CARRIERS: 4% of general thrift stores have recalled car seat carriers for sale.


Infants can fall from carriers if the handle disengages.



 More than 1 million car seat carriers have been recalled because the handle disengages. Evenflo’s On My Way model resulted in 89 injuries when the handle unexpectedly disengaged, causing the seat to flip forward. Cosco’s Arriva and Turnabout models resulted in 29 injuries. Manufacturers supplied a retrofit device to secure the handle in a locked position while in use. In the investigations of the thrift stores, only one recalled carrier was found equipped with the retrofit device.


  • TOY BASKETBALL NETS: 3% of general thrift stores nationwide sell recalled toy basketball nets.


Recalled toy basketball nets present a strangulation hazard to children.



Children can strangle on loops or openings in the nets of youth or toy basketball sets that come unhooked from the rim or have knots that slide. If children put their heads into these openings, the net can get tangled around their necks. Children, standing on the base of the basketball set, have put their head up through the bottom of the net into the openings, then twirled around and fell with the net twisted around their neck.

Since 1988, CPSC has received 20 reports of children under 5 years old getting their heads and necks caught in the nets of toy basketball sets subject to the recalls. In 1992, an 18 month-old child died after becoming entangled in a partly unhooked net.

More than 10 million nets on toy basketball sets have been recalled. Recalled brands include Ohio Art, Little Tikes, Today’s Kids and Fisher-Price.

  • OTHER HAZARDOUS PRODUCTS FOUND DURING STUDY: The following products and their associated hazards were found in thrift stores during the study. Altogether, they account for about one percent of products found.


  • Lawn darts are responsible for the deaths of three children when darts punctured their skulls. CPSC banned the sale and production of lawn darts in 1988. 
  • Ride-on battery powered vehicles made by Fisher-Price and Peg Perego have caused over 180 fires and at least 10 children have suffered varying degrees of burns. More than 10 million of these vehicles have been recalled. 
  • Bean bag chairs. Five children suffocated on the small pellet foam filling of bean bag chairs and at least 27 children recovered from injuries involving zippered bean bag chairs. More than 12 million zippered bean bag chairs have been recalled.
  • Cedar Chests. Between 1977 and 1999, seven children became entrapped and suffocated inside Lane cedar chests that latch (lock) automatically when the lid is closed. Lane recalled 12 million chests made before 1987 and offered a redesigned latch that allows the lid to be opened from the inside.
  • Infant swings are associated with four deaths and 50 injuries resulting from strangulation, hardware failure and seat support failure. More than 1 million have been recalled, including Century’s Lil’ Napper, Cosco’s Quiet Time and several Graco models.
  • Bunk Beds are associated with 57 entrapment deaths, 55 of which were to children 3 years or younger when children became entrapped and strangled in the bed’s structure or wedged between the bed and wall and suffocated. More than a half million bunk beds have been recalled. 
  • Loops in window blind cords pose a strangulation hazard to children. CPSC is aware of at least 194 deaths since 1981 from this hazard. Safety tassels are available free of charge at window covering retailers. Call (800) 506-4636 to order free tassels. Because of CPSC's work with the industry, all loops on mini-blind cords sold new in retail stores have been eliminated.
  • Child safety gates can protect children from hazards, especially falls down stairs. But old accordion-style baby gates are dangerous because a child’s head can become entrapped in the gate’s openings. CPSC knows of nine deaths and 25 near misses because of the entrapment hazard of these gates. Parents and caregivers should shop for and use newer-style safety gates.





After visiting a sample of 301 thrift stores nationwide, CPSC estimates that 69 percent of general thrift stores in the U.S. sell at least one hazardous product. These products present a risk of injury or death.

CPSC’s study indicates that store owners and managers, and consumers may not be aware that many of the products being donated to or sold in thrift stores are hazardous.

CPSC seeks a commitment from thrift stores to stop selling hazardous products.






As a result of this study, CPSC has prepared a Thrift Store Checklist for consumers and thrift stores, and model legislation for state governments. Anyone who donates, sells, or purchases a second-hand product should check with CPSC to determine if it is hazardous and if so, whether a repair is available.

CPSC has prepared a "Thrift Store Checklist" for consumers and thrift store owners and managers, which it is releasing with this report. The checklist includes information on how to contact CPSC to check on product recalls, bans and current safety standards. The checklist is easy to use and should be consulted before making purchases or donating consumer products to thrift stores. Thrift store owners and managers should use the checklist before accepting donations, accepting consignments or purchasing inventory for the store. CPSC is distributing this checklist to the National Association of Resale and Thrift Shops (NARTS) and national organizations. CPSC also is giving this information to state and local governments for distribution to the local and independently owned and operated thrift stores.

CPSC has drafted model legislation for state governments to adopt to make it illegal for commercial entities who sell or provide children’s products for public use, such as thrift stores, to sell or distribute certain hazardous products. The model legislation focuses only on children’s products which violate federal safety regulations or have been recalled for safety reasons. Thus, it is narrower in scope both in terms of the types of products and in the types of hazards it would address than the full range of hazardous products found in thrift stores in this study. The scope of the legislation was narrowed to ensure that the most vulnerable population affected by unsafe products - children - would be protected, and for ease of enforcement by state governments. CPSC will distribute this model legislation to organizations such as the National Association of Attorneys General and the National Governors Association.

These publications may be obtained from CPSC in the following ways:

Toll-free hotline: (800) 638- 2772
Mail: U. S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Washington, DC 20207












Product and 
Hazard Type

(i.e. Thrift store has: )


Study Counts
(stores in study=301)


National Estimates
(stores in country=9,547)

Number of Stores with Product

Number of Products Found in Stores

Estimate of Number Of Stores with Product

Percent of Stores with Product

Estimate of Number of Products in Thrift Stores

Drawstrings around the hood or neck of children's outerwear:


Strangulation hazard






Hair dryers without protection against electrocution:


Electrocution hazard






Cribs that do not meet current safety standard:


Entrapment hazard






Halogen torchiere floor lamps without wire guards:


Fire hazard






Recalled play yards/playpens with protruding rivets or rotating top rails:


Strangulation and entrapment hazard






Recalled infant car seat carriers:


Fall hazard






Recalled toy basketball nets:


Strangulation hazard






Report an unsafe product