Retailers buying and selling of second-hand goods

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.

Further information

For further information on buying second-hand goods: