Get answers to the most common questions about consumer product safety and recalls.
General Consumer Product Questions
What is a consumer product?
A consumer product is any item that individuals use for a personal or non-business purpose. This includes things like toys, furniture, automobiles, and various household goods; however, it excludes things like food, drugs, medical devices, and commercial products (i.e., products used by companies rather than individuals).
What categories of consumer products exist?
Consumer products can be categorized in many different ways. On our site, we tend to categorize consumer products broadly, and we try to include safety information related to those products in multiple categories if it makes sense to do so. For example, we have safety-related information on consumer products in our Home, Outdoors, and Toys categories.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) categorizes consumer products by age, and it requires product manufacturers to list appropriate ages on certain types of products, such as toys or equipment used by children. The CPSC’s Age Determination Guidelines provide the rules by which companies must test and label their products.
What are “general use” products?
According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), general use products are consumer products that are not designed or intended primarily for use by children 12 years of age or younger.
Note that a general use product can include items that are designed for use by people of all ages, including children up to the age of 12. However, general use products could also be products intended for use only by teens and/or adults.
Products used by children 12 years of age or younger, and which are not likely to be used by teenagers or adults, are generally considered children’s products.
Product Safety Questions
How can I tell if a product is unsafe?
The easiest way to decide whether a product is unsafe is to search for information about products online. ConsumerSafety.org provides information about product recalls and news about product-related safety concerns. Searching our site can uncover information about unsafe products you may own.
If you suspect you may have an unsafe product, you can also inspect it before, during, and after use. Look for any wear and tear, loose parts, or operation that is inconsistent with the description provided by the manufacturer. You can also listen for unexpected rattling, buzzing, clicking, or other audible signals that the product may be working incorrectly. For complex or potentially dangerous products, have an authorized dealer or service provider inspect it for you.
Finally, if you are concerned about a product’s safety, you can contact the manufacturer to see if they have any additional information. Always be sure to keep operating manuals or information sheets, which will contain manufacturer’s warnings about the product, for future reference.
What should I do if I have an unsafe product?
If you own or regularly use a product you believe is unsafe, a first step can be to check and see whether there are any recalls related to that product. ConsumerSafety.org has an easily searchable database of recall information, and we also publish regular news stories about safety-related concerns. If the product you own does have a recall associated with it, you should follow the directions in the recall notice to return, replace, or repair the product.
If there is no recall notice, but you still believe the product is unsafe, then you may want to contact the manufacturer to see if they have any information to help you. They may be able to provide information about additional safety measures to take when using the product. Also, if the product is still under warranty, the manufacturer may be able to repair or replace it for free.
Finally, if you believe you have an unsafe product, you can report it to the appropriate state or federal agency.
How can I report an unsafe product?
If you believe you have an unsafe product, you can report it to the appropriate state or federal agency. Agencies rely on reports from consumers, retailers, manufacturers, health care professionals, law enforcement officers, and other officials to ensure that products are safe. If they get enough reports about a particular product, that could trigger a recall, which may prevent injuries and even save lives.
Note that you will need to determine the correct agency before reporting the unsafe product. Use the following table to help you determine where to report your unsafe product. Links to the reporting agency’s website have been included for convenience.
Federal Agency Product Jurisdiction Consumer Product Safety Commission General consumer products, except those listed below National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
- Car seats
- Trucks / tractor trailers
U.S. Food and Drug Administration
- Food (excluding meat, eggs, and poultry)
- Drugs (prescription)
- Dietary Supplements
- Medical Devices
- Veterinary medications
U.S. Department of Agriculture
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Occupational Safety & Health Administration
- Industrial machines
- Commercial products
- Farm equipment
Federal Aviation Administration
U.S. Coast Guard
- Boating Equipment
- Life Jackets
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms
- Guns / Firearms
- Tobacco products
U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission
- Radioactive Materials
What should I do if an unsafe product injuries me or a loved one?
First, seek medical attention if necessary. Delaying care could result in unnecessary pain or complications from the injury.
Once any medical needs are taken care of, it is a good idea to sit down and write as much information as you can about what happened. Note the time, place, and nature of the injury, as well as the product name, model, serial number, manufacturer name, and any other identifying information available. Be sure to write down how you were using the product when you were injured, taking care to detail any malfunctions or defects you might have noticed while using the product. It is best to make these notes as soon as possible after you receive medical attention, to make sure the event is still fresh in your mind.
If you believe the injury was caused by a malfunction or defect of the device, you may want to report it to the appropriate federal agency. Depending on the nature of the defect or malfunction, you may also want to consider speaking with a product liability lawyer to discuss your legal rights.
What laws regulate consumer product safety?
There are many laws at the federal, state, and local levels designed to protect consumers from unsafe products. Some of the most important ones are:
Consumer Product Safety Act (CPSA) and Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) – First passed in 1972, the CPSA created the Consumer Product Safety Commission and gave the agency authority to create standards for product safety. The CPSIA passed in 2008, along with other laws, updates the CPSA to provide additional authority to the CPSC and modernize the original statutes.
Federal Hazardous Substances Act (FHSA) and Labeling of Hazardous Materials Act (LHAMA) – These laws require certain labels to be placed on dangerous household products, such as certain cleaners, paints, adhesives, and art materials. The law also allows the CPSC to ban certain items that can cause substantial injury or that may be swallowed by children (such as lead-based paint).
Other laws provide additional regulations about specific types or classes of products, such as the Flammable Fabrics Act (FFA), Refrigerator Safety Act (RSA) and the Pool and Spa Safety Act.
What agencies oversee product safety rules and regulations?
In the U.S., most consumer products are regulated by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC); however, some items that may be considered consumer products are regulated by other agencies.
- Cosmetics are regulated by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA)
- Automobiles, automobile parts, tires, and car seats are regulated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
- Weedkillers (herbicides) and insect killers (pesticides) are regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency
- Drones (unmanned aircraft) are regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration
Product Recall Questions
Who issues consumer product recalls?
In most cases, manufacturers or retailers will issue a product recall voluntarily when they receive reports about an defective, malfunctioning, or otherwise unsafe. In some cases, recalls can be mandated by a regulating agency, such as the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
How can I know if there is a specific product recall?
For your convenience, ConsumerSafety.org pulls together important recall information from the CPSC and other regulatory agencies in one place, to help you find the information you need to keep you safe.
Where can I find information about legal actions related to product recalls?
ConsumerSafety.org provides substantial information about recalls and legal actions related to consumer products. To find information about a specific device, visit the Products section of our site and search for the device you want to know more about.
If you are looking for information about the rights you have as a user of medical devices, visit our Legal Rights page.