Second-hand products: should you avoid buying certain items?

Updated on 07 February 2020 | 0 Comments

Buying second-hand goods can help you save money and prevent products from being binned. But would you buy a used toilet? Piper Terrett was tempted…

I’ve been buying a lot of preloved items recently as my husband and I are trying to make home improvements on a budget.

As such, I have been scouring charity shops, eBay, Gumtree and recycling centres for things we can use. And I’m not the only one.

Second-hand goods accounted for 14% of London’s retail market in 2017, while Gumtree alone boasts over 16 million users a month, demonstrating there is a thriving preloved marketplace.

But how far should you go when buying used items and what should you avoid?

Buying second-hand can be a win-win

Purchasing preloved products can tick a number of boxes. You get what you want for a fraction of the price you’d pay for it brand new and you’re helping the environment because you’re recycling products.

It can be a lot of fun scouring second-hand shops or websites for what you want and scrolling through endless listings and photos, wondering what you might end up with.

Those, unlike me, who are crafty as well as frugal can also make use of their talents by decorating or upcycling items and getting something unique in the process.

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How I bagged a bargain dishwasher

So far in my spree, I have bagged some great bargains. A few weeks ago, our dishwasher was playing up again, so I booked in the engineer I usually call out.

Then, while I was looking at second-hand kitchens on eBay, I chanced across a nearby seller who was replacing her entire kitchen, despite it being quite new.

She was selling her one year-old dishwasher for £25. Even better, for another £10 she would deliver it.

A few days later, it was in our kitchen and operational after being set up by my hubby. I apologetically cancelled my engineer, saving us at least £70 in call-out fees.

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Piper's second-hand dishwasher. (Image: Piper Terrett)

When I told him that we decided to get a new one, he offered to supply us with one for £360 plus £60 for installation and removal of the old one.

In the end, we paid £63 (£35 for the dishwasher plus £28 for council disposal of the old one) – a saving of £357 versus a brand new one. 

When I decided to create a new dining area in our lounge and replace my little-used desk with a dining room table, I once again turned to online selling sites.

After a few failed bids, I bought a used solid oak table and four chairs for £126, plus £79 for delivery via

The dining set would have cost up to £1,000 new and, while there was a small crack in the tabletop as detailed in the listing, the chairs were immaculate – so I ended up saving hundreds of pounds.

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A used toilet too far…

I was so keen on buying preloved, I wondered if I could replace our downstairs cloakroom suite with second-hand items.

We already had a basin unit my hubby had been using elsewhere, so I looked online for used toilets for sale.

I was surprised to find many of them – in fact, entire bathroom suites in glorious ‘80s avocado – for sale in all kinds of states.

I was sorely tempted to buy a preloved toilet someone was selling nearby.

Listed for just 99p, it was almost new, but at the last minute, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it, despite often purchasing things from our local dump.

After all, we could afford a brand new one for £79 and it just felt a bit unhygienic – silly really when you consider that when you purchase a house, you are also buying your toilet second-hand.

On a practical level, I also wondered if it might end up costing me money as certain key bits such as waste connectors might be missing and be hard to replace.

Other buyers weren’t so fussy. The toilet sold twice – first for £20 and then again for £9.50. The first buyer withdrew as it turned out to be missing a toilet seat.

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Bicycle helmet. (Image: Shutterstock)

What shouldn’t you buy second-hand?

While it’s great to buy preloved items, there are certain things you might want to avoid purchasing.

Electrical items

Luckily, our dishwasher works brilliantly and is a big improvement on the old one, but I was taking a risk buying an electrical item like this second-hand.

If you buy preloved from a retailer you have rights. By law, they must ensure that anything they’re selling meets legal safety requirements and is correctly labelled.

But according to Electrical Safety First, all the individual private seller I purchased from was obliged to do was to describe the product accurately.

So, they could refuse responsibility for its quality. All we could rely on was the desire most sellers have not to lose their online buyer satisfaction rating. 

If you’re unhappy with an electrical item you’ve purchased second-hand, you can take up your complaint with the seller first. Then you can get advice from Citizens Advice  or the auction site if you purchased the item from there.

If you paid more than £100 for it by credit card, contact the credit card company, which may be able to take up your complaint and give you a refund under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act.

Children’s car seats

Unless you’re buying from an honest friend, it isn’t a good idea to purchase a second-hand child’s car seat.

That’s because it might not be up to current safety standards and it’s impossible to know if it has already been used in an accident.

When we bought our son’s baby travel system second-hand, it was obvious the car seat that came with it had been in circulation for a while, so we took it to the dump and purchased a new one.

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Bicycle helmets

It’s also unwise to buy preloved bicycle helmets, especially for children. They may have been damaged or have problems with the straps and therefore be unsafe.


You should avoid buying mattresses second-hand, especially if they are for a baby.

Mattresses have an eight-year shelf-life and older ones could aggravate back problems, plus they could harbour bed bugs or other nasties, as can bed sheets.  

Overall, I’m pleased with my preloved bargains but in terms of other items, including electrical products, I think I’ll err on the side of caution from now on.


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