Snackdinner HQ is prepping for a cross-town move, so I’ve spent the past few months Kondo-ing my baby gear. Adorable, yet impractical and therefore pristine baby jeans? Brought to Once Upon a Child so another set of parents can use them for exactly one photo session. Stained footie pajamas deemed impossible to discard four years ago? Recycled at H&M and turned into insulation. Rocker, high chair, and jogging stroller? Sold through Craigslist bidding skirmishes.
At the time I posted my listing for our beloved-but-outgrown Babyletto, there were six other cribs available in the greater Cleveland area. We’re moving in part because there aren’t enough kids in our neighborhood, but I have to believe there are more than six toddlers here. I figured the low availability was a good sign for my ambitious asking price.
Weeks later, when I’d dropped my price and the crib still hadn’t sold, I started googling. Why aren’t parents selling or donating used cribs in 2019?
The short answer is 2011. Online parenting forums started in year portrayed used cribs as not just dangerous, but illegal. At What to Expect, posters thought it illegal to sell cribs at yard sales. At The Bump, posters asserted that even crib donations were illegal.
Given this assumed illegality, posters were also seeking advice about crib disposal. A Baby Center forum detailed all the ways parents ensured that new babies did not end up in their old cribs. One commenter threw away all the hardware separately so that treasure hunters wouldn’t be able to reassemble the crib pieces she’d left on her curb. Another put out just a piece or two of the crib in each week’s trash to deter trash scavengers.
The fear underlying this destruction was that a curb-shopping parent-to-be might see a crib part on the side of the road, bring it home, and return each week to collect a full set of crib pieces, then assemble the crib, have a baby, and lose the baby to SIDS or some other unspeakable tragedy, then sue the criminally-negligent previous owner of the crib who had so thoughtlessly left the pieces in the trash for anyone to find. Which is probably why another Baby Center poster skipped the trash completely and just set fire to her crib.
When you search for information about used crib sales in 2019, these discussion forums still top the results. Were these commenters right? Did I need to go full Office Space on my crib, and if not, why are so many parents convinced it’s illegal to sell, donate, or even throw away a used crib?
It is illegal to sell some cribs
The perception that it’s illegal to sell a used crib comes from 2011’s Consumer Product Safety Commission regulations that prohibited the manufacture of drop-side cribs and implemented additional safety features, such as the permissible width between crib slats. The fact that properly assembled and maintained drop-side cribs aren’t particularly dangerous seemed to escape the CPSC’s attention, but we’ll leave unnecessary panic about unlikely harms for now and focus instead on unnecessary panic about unlikely arrests.
For crib manufacturers and retailers, the rules were clear: all cribs sold after June 28, 2011 had to meet the new CPSC standards. Manufacturers, retailers, and individuals in possession of pre-standard cribs were advised to “discard” those cribs, which at least occasionally meant “export them to another country,” because crib manufacturers were permitted to offload cribs that didn’t meet the CPSC standards on other countries.
All of the above assertions about used cribs were true when they were published in 2011. A used crib could not be sold on June 29, 2011, and most likely not in July or August or September of that year, because it was presumably constructed before June 28, 2011, and therefore did not meet all of the CPSC’s new requirements. But those assertions were becoming less true once 2011’s infants started graduating into big kid beds, and are most likely untrue now, because many of today’s used cribs were produced after the CPSC guidelines went into place.
It’s illegal to sell some used cribs in some places
Terms like “infant” and “death” and “crib” made the CPSC standards big news, and many papers reported the impact of the CPSC standards on manufacturers or retailers. The lead for the Chicago Tribune’s June 28, 2011 story, for example, indicated that on the next day, “it will be illegal in the U.S. to sell or even donate a crib that fails to meet the toughest crib safety rules in the world.”
As the story moved across the country, the story became a game of telephone. The CPSC’s recommendation to “dispose of” or “discard” a crib, in the Tribune’s reporting, became destroy. What was true for manufacturers and retailers became true for individuals. Muskegon Chronicle ran its story with the headline “Reselling, donating old cribs now illegal under new federal consumer protection rules.” The piece warned readers: “If you're wondering what to do with that crib after your little one moves to a ‘big boy bed,’ you probably have only one option: disposing of it.”
Individual owners were not part of the CPSC regulations, but the CPSC did strongly suggest that parents not resell or donate cribs manufactured before 2011: “A consumer should not resell, donate or give away a crib that does not meet the new crib standards, such as trying to resell the product through an online auction site or donating to a local thrift store.”
“Should not” is not the as “can be prosecuted for,” and certainly not “will be prosecuted for.” The CPSC was not out to arrest parents for selling or sharing cribs; their mission was to make babies safer by regulating crib manufacture and retail. One small group of parents—people reselling their cribs on craigslist—fell in a legal gray area between the retailers and individuals. The CPSC considers craigslist listing to be a form of online retailing, which led them to send notices like this one to individuals who attempted to resell their pre-standard cribs online. Crib resales that took place right around this time led to panic, with purchasers demanding refunds from craigslist sellers whose cribs transformed overnight from beautiful deals to death traps.
Over the years, the game of telephone started by the CPSC crib regulations has generated two truths: 1) used cribs are dangerous and 2) no one may resell a used crib. Neither truth is actually true. Once 2011’s infants outgrew their CPSC-approved cribs, those cribs could be resold, whether the reseller was a secondhand shop or neighbor. It has never been illegal for an individual to donate a crib, nor has any individual ever been legally required to dismantle or incinerate a crib before disposal.
Armed with this information, you might feel compelled to buy a used crib on craigslist. But you can’t buy mine; I sold it to an attorney who thought it hilarious that so many people think selling secondhand baby gear is illegal.
The crib standards have unintended consequences
One consequence of the post-2011 crib destruction is less crib donation. The CPSC regulations have created problems for parents looking to resell or donate their cribs. Some organizations, not wanting to deal with the difficulty of determining when a crib was manufactured and the possible liability of selling a pre-standard crib, simply do not accept donations. Those individual buyers, charity organizations, and even state governments who do accept used cribs now often require a manufacture date. Ohio’s foster care system, for example, requires that any secondhand crib include the date of manufacture included on the crib, a fact I learned when trying to sell a crib online in the state.
Even if your child was born well after 2011, even if you can point to the sales receipt from when you bought the crib and at the crib’s former occupant who is still in toddler-size clothing, you may not be able to convince a person to take your perfectly-legal-to-sell-or-donate crib. Because so many individuals and organizations now require proof of the manufacture date, you’ll need to leave every sticker on your crib. If you take those stickers off because they were sloppily applied or incompatible with your nursery decor, you’re consigning that crib to a special trash pickup a few years from now. That’s, of course, assuming that you bought the crib yourself. If you received it from a friend or family member who assembled it for you, chances are those stickers—and thus your chances of giving the crib a second home—were Goo Goned before you even saw it.
But the inconvenience and waste of so many now unusable used cribs pales in comparison to a bigger problem: the crib standards have made parenting more expensive but not necessarily safer.
The CPSC at least seems to acknowledge that the crib standards are bad news for parents who cannot afford a new crib. Within a question-and-answer page about the crib standards, the CPSC offers suggestions for cash-strapped parents who have to make do with an old crib, like checking to make sure a crib has not been recalled, regularly checking the crib hardware to make sure it is tight and unbroken, disabling any drop-rails, and even using a new play yard instead of a crib. Even though it’s clear that parents who use old cribs aren’t acting illegally, the way we’ve been talking about cribs since 2011 sure makes it sound that way.