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What to Do With Old Car Seats

Medically Reviewed by Kristen Gardiner, CPST
If you’re struggling to find a way to get rid of that old car seat, we’ve got solutions for you!

Have you caught the spring cleaning bug and now you’re not sure what to do with your child’s old car seat? As it turns out, there are a ton of different routes to take.

There are a few deciding factors on the various things you can do and a lot of it will depend on the seat’s condition and expiration date. We’re going to cover everything you need to know and more in this article.

So don’t worry, we’re going to help you reclaim the space in your home your child’s old car seat is taking up.

Is It Expired?

If the car seat is expired, it shouldn’t be used again with a child in it. Its parts will break down from wear and tear over time, so it isn’t safe to use anymore. Car seat expiration dates are put into place to give you an idea of the seat’s lifespan.

To find the expiration date on the car seat, just flip it over and look on the back or on the bottom. The expiration date is usually either printed on a sticker or embossed into the plastic. Other manufacturers may print it inside the instruction manual.

Can Car Seats Be Reused?

There may be some cases where a seat can be reused. Personally, we don’t recommend the reselling or purchasing of used car seats because you can’t be 100 percent sure of the quality. However, if you’re using it again for your own family, it may be fine.

So, when can you reuse an old car seat?

  • It isn’t expired: A car seat is technically still good up until the date manufacturers give. We recommend not using it within a month or two of the date to give yourself plenty of time to replace it.
  • It hasn’t been in an accident: Minor accidents don’t automatically destroy a car seat’s integrity. However, if the seat has been in a moderate to severe crash, it’s recommended to replace it immediately (1). Some car seat manufacturers require you to replace the car seat after any crash, even if it was only minor.
  • It’s clean: Of course, you don’t want your second (or third, fourth, etc.) child to have to use a dirty car seat. If you want to reuse the seat, make sure to give it a good scrub down. Be sure to follow the cleaning instructions in your car seat manual. This is especially important if it’s been packed away for a bit.
  • It’s still in good condition: Check for broken pieces or other wear and tear. Be sure to look under the fabric cover to fully inspect the seat. Even the smallest nick can render a seat unusable.

It’s important to take extra care when using a secondhand car seat. Give the seat a thorough look over to make sure there’s no damage before choosing to use it. You should also be sure to register the seat so you can be informed of any recalls. You can check for any current recalls here.

How to Get Rid of a Used Car Seat

If you do find that the car seat is expired or it’s been in a moderate to severe car crash, there are still things you can do.

how to get rid of used car seats

1. Trade-In Events

Some big-box stores usually hold car seat trade-in events throughout the year. As far as we can see, the only store that still does this is Target, but there may be others.

These trade-in events allow you to bring in an old or unusable car seat and get a coupon in return. Target offers 20 percent off a new car seat, stroller, or other piece of baby gear, when you trade in. They started this program in 2016 and it’s gained major popularity since then.

All old car seats traded in at Target are recycled and turned into different products like pallets, buckets, and construction materials (2).

Trade-in events are definitely the most convenient option and we recommend this the most. Not only do you get to get rid of your old car seat, but you get a good deal on an upgrade for your child, too.

2. Donate It

Most places are really picky about used car seats even if they’re still in excellent condition. However, you may still find that some organizations accept them. Be upfront about the condition of the seat so they know what they’re receiving. After all, you don’t want to compromise anyone’s safety.

  • Women’s shelters or other local charities: There are many organizations that provide resources to families in need. Often foster families are short on necessities like car seats.
  • Church organizations: Church organizations are always looking to help. Some may have ministries where they give away car seats to needy families. This is another good option to consider, especially if you’re religious.
  • Local CPSTs: Child passenger safety technicians are trained on car seat safety and how to install car seats (3). They teach parents the ropes. Reach out to a CPST to see if they’d like to have your old seat for demonstration purposes.

3. Proper Recycling Protocol

Rather than opting to throw the old car seat in the trash, you can choose to recycle it yourself. You should first call your local recycling center to see if they accept plastics from old car seats. If they do, here is what you should do:

  • Locate your nearest recycling center: Ask your local recycling center whether they accept car seats and how they would like to receive them. Find a center that accepts car seats here.
    Check recycling guidelines: Call the center and ask their specific guidelines for car seats. Some may want you to just bring the naked frame and others may want it completely broken down first.
  • Remove the extras: This includes any fabric, padding, or straps on the car seat. Remove the cover as well and use scissors to cut the harness straps out of the seat. These parts probably won’t be recyclable, so they can go in the trash.
  • Remove all metal pieces: You’ll probably need a screwdriver for this. It’s important to remove as much of the metal as possible from the car seat. This will only need to be done if your recycling center requires you to. Some centers may do this part themselves.

4. Proper Trash Protocol

If for some reason the seat can’t be recycled, donated, or traded in, it can be thrown away with the trash. There are, however, a few guidelines to follow before doing so. They’re similar to the recycling guidelines and there to ensure it can be disposed of efficiently:

  • Remove all extra padding and foam.
  • Cut away any straps.
  • Remove all metal pieces from the seat.
  • Mark the seat. You should clearly mark it as “UNSAFE” or “EXPIRED” on the bare plastic seat so nobody will be tempted to reuse it. Then you can set it out with the rest of your garbage.
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Medically Reviewed by

Kristen Gardiner, CPST

Kristen Gardiner, CPST is a writer, wife, and mother to three boys. Kristen became certified as a Child Passenger Safety Technician by Safe Kids Worldwide in 2015 and loves to volunteer and help educate parents about car seat safety. She has a passion for all things related to child safety.