Young humans seem to outgrow everything we buy for them very fast. Buying secondhand items for them helps to create less waste. But how do we choose which items are suitable as purchases for secondhand toys? And how do we clean those items so that they are safe for them to handle? Here’s my take on it.
It’s no secret, I thrift for everything – even toys for my son. I also recently hosted a swap for kids clothes, toys and books along with one of my favorite brick & mortar sustainable living shops, Crunchy Boutique and my friend, Tiyunna. Meeting up with the ladies of this family owned business and the thrift QUEEN Tiyunna of Thrift In Style to host events where we facilitate in people actually participating in a circular economy is a dream come true to me!!! I love it so much. I’m looking forward to all of the swaps we’ll host together because the previous ones have been very fruitful for all who join in.
After our toy swap, I realized that even though I tell y’all about the benefits of thrifting nearly everything for kids, I haven’t shared how I select toys or the cleaning hacks I use. Here are a few ways that we choose & clean our secondhand toy finds.
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Tips for Choosing Secondhand Toys
1. Wooden Toys
Wooden toys are especially helpful in allowing kids to grow their creativity. They basically have to make something out of very little since wooden toys don’t make noise or perform incredible functions. Wooden toys make great secondhand purchases because of how sturdy they are, and because of how easy they are to be cleaned and sanitized.
2. Completely Plastic Toys
Overall, I try to find wooden options for toys over plastic options. However, I still buy and swap for plastic toys. I try to only purchase plastic toys that don’t have many crevices, holes (ex: rubber ducks), or spaces too small to clean.
3. Check for Broken Parts & Extreme Dirtiness
Inspect all thrifted toys that you intend to purchase before you purchase them, if possible. Toys with jagged broken parts that may have slipped the sight of thrift store employees, toys that may have holes or be assembled in 2 or more parts loosely sealed together, and toys that have dirt and grime embedded in a way that seems too difficult to clean are some of the types of toys that I leave behind.
4. Incomplete Sets
Often, secondhand toys are missing several parts. It is up to you to decide if it is worth buying the toy without all of the parts in-tact. I found a Le Toy Van Honeybake Mixer with only the base. After walking around the store for several hours (hey, I had to record the videos, and I was having fun really exploring and visiting sections time and time again and seeing something new each time) I found the mixer bowl! Instead of being in the toy section with the mixer, it was placed with the dishes in the home section.
For me, it was worth buying these pieces, totaling about $3.50 altogether, in lieu of the missing pieces, including a milk jug, egg, flour carton, and sugar carton. I can easily find wood pieces shaped like bottles and boxes at a thrift store or craft store. Little boo already has wooden eggs from a craft store. He’ll be so excited to have the mixer, he probably won’t even miss the beater or any of the other parts!
5. Play with the Toys
On my “thrift with me” video for toys, you’ll see that I had an epiphany and discovered what a toy really was after I took the time to play with it! I was googling the toy trying to figure out if something was missing, but I couldn’t find it at all. When I slowed down and actually examined the toy, taking pieces out and putting it together how it naturally fit, it dawned on me that I was not holding a microscope, but a tabletop projector! They look similar, but gave me a reason to buy two new educational toys for Greyson since they were actually not the same item.
Secondhand Toys That I Won’t Buy
1. Plush, Fabric Toys
Personally, I don’t feel like plush toys are worth buying secondhand. There are too many variables and ways that they can be dirty without able to be cleaned. Fragrances and toxic particles from smoke or pet dander could be embedded into the fabric and stuffing.
2. Toys That Can Hold, But Not Remove, Water
Newer water toys are made to be all one part, but older toys have crevices and holes that may have captured water which can lead to mold growing inside of them. I don’t buy toys like these new or used.
3. Toys with Too Many Missing Pieces
Some toys just aren’t worth trying to play with if a lot of the components that make them fun are missing from it. Imagine finding a Mister Potato Head with not eyes, shoes, hat, or arms. Children lik really random things, so maybe your kiddo will fall in love with the potato. However, we all know there’s so much more fun to be had when one is able to dress Mister Potato Head with a small, expressive arms, and big eyes. For the majority of the time, I leave toys with too many pieces missing from them at the Thrift Store.
How To Naturally Clean Secondhand Toys
1. Determine the toy’s materials – that determines cleaning products that can work
What the toy is made of and how it is “finished” will be a big determining factor for what cleaning items will be best suited to clean it. For example, wood with a varnish on it can’t be cleaned with vinegar because the vinegar will strip the varnish.
2. Get ready to scrub
The thrift stores that I frequent usually use and oil based writing utensil to mark the price on toys and other hard products. It is very difficult to remove and requires scrubbing. Also, if there is any dirt or grime, I suggest scrubbing all over just to be safe.
3. Use Safe, Non-Toxic Cleaners
I use Counter Culture probiotic cleaners to help clean secondhand toys. Their formula works to kill bad germs and creates a balance by leaving good germs. It sounds weird, but it makes it a gentle, but tough cleaner. I spray the all purpose non-toxic cleaner on all hard surfaces of the toys and allow it to sit a few minutes before wiping it down. On the rare occasion that there is a fabric surface, I use the air+fabric refreshen spray. The lemongrass scent is my absolute favorite! You can order both, or select the lavender or geranium scents, in their “Baby got bac” 2 pack (get it? back for bacteria haha).