Buying And Selling Of Second-Hand Goods

The sale of second-hand articles occurs on a relatively large scale throughout South Australia. Retail outlets for second-hand goods fall into two categories;

  • commercial enterprises
  • charitable organisations.

Second hand goods can also be purchased at garage sales, car boot sales, fetes and on the internet.

Second-hand goods are often donated and are generally found to be in a good state of repair and cleanliness.

Second-hand goods are generally presented for sale in a good state of repair and cleanliness, but should be thoroughly cleaned before use.

Is There a Risk to Health?

There is a small risk of infection or infestation from second-hand clothing or bedding.

Bacterial organisms such as streptococci and staphylococci are very unlikely to survive on clothing or bedding in sufficient numbers and long enough to cause a health risk to the purchaser.

Parasites (including fungi) however, may survive for extended periods of time. While transmission of these organisms is also unlikely, some second-hand goods may result in a risk to health if they are not thoroughly cleaned before use.

See below for more information on the common parasites and bacteria associated with second-hand goods.

Common Parasites and Bacteria

The common risks when purchasing or selling second-hand goods includes:

Further Information

For further information on buying second-hand goods, contact:

For consumers

Most of the parasites and bacteria commonly associated with second-hand goods can only survive away from the human host for a few days (except bed bugs and tinea) so contaminated items remain a risk for a very limited time.

Washing second-hand clothing and bedding in hot water (hotter than 60oC) and detergent kills these disease-causing organisms.

Items that cannot be washed such as toys, pillows and delicates can be dry cleaned, sealed in a plastic bag for five days or placed on high heat in a tumble dryer for 10 minutes.

As the risk to health associated with second-hand goods is very low, thorough and hygienic cleaning is all that is required to eliminate the risk of transmission.

Many charitable organisations and second-hand dealers ensure that items are washed or clean before offering for sale to the public.

What to look for

Checking second-hand items thoroughly before purchase is a good idea.

Bed bugs, lice and their eggs and/or waste products may be evident in the seams and creases of second-hand goods (although they usually scurry away and hide when exposed to the light).

Examining the article will give you an indication of its general cleanliness and quality but not necessarily reveal a health risk.

Most of the parasites of concern are so tiny that they cannot be seen with the naked eye. For this reason it is important that all items are treated as potentially contaminated and washed before use.

Items that are grossly soiled or contaminated should be discarded.

Washing items before sale

There are no specific laws in South Australia that require second-hand dealers to clean goods before they are offered for sale to the public.

It is common practice in many charitable organisations and second-hand stores to make items look clean, but the standard of cleaning practices may vary from store to store. Some stores wash all stock while others wash only items with noticeable marks or odour.

Store cleaning policy may also vary depending on the item in question, such as washing all socks when they come into the shop but giving shoes just a wipe over (exterior surface) if they look 'dirty'.

Second-hand jewellery

Although second-hand jewellery is often inserted into the body, it poses no more of a risk than clothing or bedding and requires the same standard of cleaning.

All second-hand jewellery items should be washed in warm water and detergent to remove any visible soiling, then rinsed in warm to hot running water before use.

For retailers

Processing second-hand goods

All second-hand articles should be treated as potentially infective during the sorting process. There are some precautions that can be taken to reduce the risk to staff handling such items:

  • Cover all cuts and abrasions with a suitable waterproof dressing before handling goods.
  • Wear gloves.
  • Look inside the item thoroughly before inserting your hands. For example, remove shoe laces and pull the tongue back to inspect shoes instead of putting your hand inside.
  • Wash your hands after handling second-hand goods and before eating, drinking or smoking.

Second-hand goods should be sorted as they arrive to ensure that clean goods are stored separately from those requiring cleaning and repair. Needles, pins or other sharp or dangerous objects should be carefully removed from goods during the sorting process. Grossly contaminated items (such as items with blood, faeces or vomit present) should be discarded and not offered for sale.

How to Clean Second-Hand Goods

Washing items in hot water (at least 60oC) and/or heated tumble drying or ironing is adequate to ensure second-hand items are clean and present no risk to health. Items that cannot be washed such as toys, pillows and delicates can be dry cleaned or sealed in a plastic bag for five days or placed on high heat in a tumble dryer for 10 minutes.

Chemical disinfection can also be considered for articles that cannot be washed. This method should only be used when necessary and disinfectants need to be carefully selected for their suitability.

Retailers may wish to consider using signage to indicate which items are second-hand and if the item has been washed/cleaned.


Syringes have been found in a variety of goods such as handbags, shoes, toiletry bags and furniture donated to charity organisations. Although the risk of infection from discarded syringes is low, precautions should always be taken when attempting to dispose of a syringe:

  • Use a special sharps disposal container (or a rigid-walled, puncture resistant container with a secure lid, such as a glass jar or coffee tin) big enough to take the whole syringe.
  • Take the sharps container to the syringe and place it on the floor with the lid removed.
  • Using tongs or kevlar gloves, pick up the syringe on the barrel end.
  • Do not attempt to re-cap the needle.
  • Place the syringe into the container with the sharp end first, but do not attempt to hold the container while doing so. Ensure that the syringe is well below the cap line, then secure the lid on the container.
  • Wash hands with running water and soap.
  • For disposal advice contact the Drug and Alcohol Services Needle Clean-up Hotline on 1300 131 340. Your local council or hospital may also be able to offer assistance.

Note: Waste contractors can supply and exchange sharps disposal units and some local councils also operate sharps container exchange programs.

Needlestick Injuries

Staff/handlers of second-hand goods must give serious attention to the potential for needlestick injuries.

Only a small number of accidental exposures to blood result in infection, but the following key steps should be taken if a needlestick injury occurs:

  • allow wound to bleed freely
  • thoroughly wash the injured area with soap and water
  • seek medical advice from a doctor or hospital ideally within 1 to 2 hours of exposure
  • place the needle/sharp in a rigid-walled container for transportation to the doctors or hospital (do not attempt to cover a needle because you run the risk of further injury)
  • document the incident, including the date and time of the incident, and how it occurred
  • take the sharps container to the syringe and place it on the floor with the lid removed
  • investigate the circumstances of the accident and take measures to prevent it happening again.

More detailed information is available from the Chapter 23 and Appendix 8 of the Infection Control Guideline.


Although the risk of contracting a blood-borne infection such as hepatitis B from a needlestick injury is very low, retailers should always practice care when handling second-hand goods. Those with direct contact with goods may wish to consider being vaccinated against hepatitis B.