Need to know
- Buying a used appliance can be a good way to get reliable goods for less and help the environment
- You can shop online or in person, but always make sure the appliance is safe and fit for purpose
- There are free ways you can repair and extend the life of an appliance and keep it out of landfill
With rising prices, shrinking household budgets and increasing concern for the environment, it's no surprise more of us are buying second-hand.
Australia's used product market grew by 44% to $62 billion in the three years to 2022, as more people opted to buy used items, ranging from clothes to furniture.
Appliances, including whitegoods, electronics and smaller household devices have also provided rich pickings, with a 2022 survey finding 15% of Australians had bought second-hand electronics and 11% had bought a second-hand household appliance in the previous year.
To help you find a bargain and aid the environment, we've spoken to product and industry experts and brought back the best tips for buying a used appliance or extending the life of one you already have.
1. Lower cost
Because CHOICE pays retail prices for the hundreds of appliances we test every year, we've witnessed the sharp increase in the cost of these products in recent years.
Our reviews and testing team have seen the purchase prices of new washing machines, fridges and dishwashers, for example, increase by as much as 26% between 2018 and 2021.
This is well beyond the general level of inflation in the economy and comes after shoppers looking for a fresh-out-of-the-box appliance had to contend with spiking prices and shortages at the beginning of the pandemic.
Price is a major factor motivating CHOICE Member Peter Briggs to buy second-hand – the 52 year old has bought several appliances from previous owners in recent years and says a carefully selected purchase of something like a bread maker can be a worthy investment.
You can also get access to high-grade products from premium brands that might normally be out of your price range
"Even though it's not the latest model, if you get a good one, you'll bake heaps of loaves out of it. You might not get the same life as a new one, but you'll get pretty close to it," he says.
The lower price tag that comes with second-hand status means you can also get access to high-grade products from premium brands that might normally be out of your price range, explains Matthew Steen, director of reviews and testing at CHOICE.
"Often these brands have a good reputation for lasting longer and being more repairable, so doing your research beforehand can land you a good deal on appliances that have a long second life," he says.
2. Less waste
Australia's annual output of e-waste (unwanted batteries or products with plugs and cords) is growing faster than other forms of rubbish, more than doubling in the decade to 2018-19.
That year, Australians threw out over 500,000 tonnes of e-waste, but only half of this was recycled, with the rest ending up in landfill.
While recycling an appliance is better than leaving it to rot in the ground, where it can leak dangerous chemicals, Matthew says trading unwanted, yet functional devices ensures more of their 'finite' components get a second life.
"Keeping your appliances maintained and selling them on when you no longer have a use for them ensures those resources are kept in the economy for longer, rather than going into waste or recycling, where most times we're unable to salvage all of them," he says.
Matthew says the best appliances to buy used are those that tend to maintain core functions for a long time and that have been tested to ensure their safety.
"Expensive items that have a long life like whitegoods and TVs are good options. For any electrical equipment, it's best to have them professionally tested so you know they are safe to use before buying," he advises.
CHOICE whitegoods expert Ashley Iredale agrees, fridges, washing machines and dryers can live out good second lives, as long as they aren't too close to the end of their expected lifespan – usually about 10 years.
Advances in energy efficiency mean some whitegoods can be better second-hand acquisitions than others
He also warns that advances in energy efficiency mean some whitegoods can be better second-hand acquisitions than others.
"Newer appliances should generally be more efficient than older appliances. That may not matter too much for a washing machine or dishwasher, but a modern fridge will be way more energy efficient than an older one, so you may also want to factor in higher running costs."
Whitegoods can be good to buy second-hand, but beware of lagging energy efficiency.
CHOICE small appliance expert Adrian Lini tests a range of household devices, from vacuum cleaners to coffee machines, and says while it's possible to get a good deal buying these products second-hand, shoppers should exercise extra caution around battery-operated products such as stick vacuums.
"All batteries lose their ability to charge over time. If you have the ability to test the battery, that would be great," he suggests. "Otherwise you may be purchasing a product that can only run for a couple of minutes before needing to be recharged."
CHOICE member Peter, meanwhile, recommends scouring the second-hand market if you're looking for a former "fad product" that has gone through a surge in popularity in the past few years.
"There's an opportunity to wait and get those products a lot cheaper from people who haven't found a use for them," he says.
If you're researching an old appliance, our product reviews allow you to browse discontinued items. This means that even if the product is no longer being made, you may be able to see how it stacks up against the latest releases.
You can also draw on the knowledge of fellow consumers regarding which brands last the longest in different product categories by looking through the results of our product reliability surveys – we've crunched the data on a range of goods, including fridges, washing machines and TVs.
If you're close to buying an appliance, all our experts strongly recommend giving it a close inspection and a test run. What you'll want to look for will depend on the type of appliance:
Ashley says the product may not have all the accessories that originally came with it, so you should check it has everything you need.
"You probably won't mind not getting the egg-holders that came with the fridge, but there's other stuff that you might want to think long and hard about whether it's important to you or not. A drying rack for a clothes dryer? Maybe. A lint filter for a dryer? That's a must have."
Ashley also recommends steering clear of any whitegoods with rust on the exterior
For fridges, you should check that the seals around the door are intact and that it isn't too loud and doesn't make any unusual sounds when running.
If it's a washing machine, door seals should also be intact and mould-free and any hoses should be free of cracks and leaks. The shock absorbers should also be in good condition and prevent the machine from moving around when it's running a cycle.
Ashley also recommends steering clear of any whitegoods with rust on the exterior, as this is a sign the product has been kept outside or has a leak.
If you're considering electronics, CHOICE TV expert Scott O'Keefe says to make sure any items have been cleared as being safe to use with a test and tag procedure.
For TVs, he advises also looking at the remote control, as this will give an indication of how well the unit has been looked after. If it doesn't come with one, the TV might not be worth buying, as generic replacement remotes may not work with every brand.
If this is all in order, Scott says it's important to then ensure the TV will be able to do everything you want it to. This could mean checking to see that it supports your favourite streaming apps and making sure it has the correct outputs for a soundbar or any other device you plan to connect to it.
For smaller household devices, Adrian says to give any prospective purchases a test run. This is especially important for a product that's battery-operated, as running it for a few minutes will reveal if its power storage is still up to scratch.
For kitchen gadgets like toasters and coffee machines that can build up dirt quickly, it's a good idea to thoroughly inspect them to make sure there's no mould or leftovers lurking inside.
When buying a used good, it's helpful to chat to its previous owner, ask why they're selling the item and quiz them on how it's performed in their care
Adrian also recommends comparing the recommended retail price with the owner's price, taking into consideration how long they've owned the item. A dramatic drop in value over a short time can suggest the product is not held in high regard by the business or person selling it.
In any case, when buying a used good, it's helpful to chat to its previous owner, ask why they're selling the item and quiz them on how it's performed in their care. Then consider this information against the price and your own appraisal to see if it's a good deal.
Whether or not an appliance looks to be in good condition and appears to be operating as it should, it's important to check if that model has been recalled for being unsafe.
When we did a spot check for recalled baby and kids products on second-hand marketplaces in 2021, we found plenty of items for sale that had been pulled by the authorities.
The quickest way to check for a recall is to put the product's serial, model or any other identifying number or code into the search bar on the ACCC's Product Safety Australia website.
"There is a plethora of second-hand options," notes Matthew. "It used to be there were retail shops you could walk into, but these are rarer these days. Online marketplaces such as Facebook Marketplace and Gumtree are more common."
A few of the product experts and experienced buyers we spoke to preferred to source used appliances from online classifieds, mainly for the opportunity to come face-to-face with a product's owner and ask about its performance.
You can probably pick up some bargains around the end of the university year when international students are packing up and heading homeAshley Iredale, CHOICE whitegoods expert
Whether you're going to used-appliance shops or browsing online listings, Ashley says you can boost your chances of landing a good buy if you time your foray carefully.
"You can probably pick up some bargains around the end of the university year when international students are packing up and heading home - look for Facebook Marketplace ads or trawl notice boards at your nearest university campus," he suggests. "You could also be proactive and post 'washing machine wanted' ads on those same notice boards."
Is it worth going to a physical store?
The proliferation of online marketplaces and person-to-person trading does raise the question of what a bricks and mortar store can offer that a private sale can't.
To find out, we spoke to a range of second-hand appliance stores in major cities.
The upshot is that if you walk into a used appliance shop, there's a 50/50 chance you'll be able to test the product then and there, but every store we spoke to assured us they test appliances themselves before putting them on display.
Another benefit these businesses offer over ad-hoc sellers is that they're more likely to deliver larger items such as whitegoods to your home and dispose of any unwanted predecessors for you.
Salvos and Vinnies say some of their stores also stock appliances
Also, when asked how their businesses compared to forums like Gumtree, almost all shopkeepers were quick to point out that their goods came with warranty. One even admitted that consumers may find a cheaper appliance online, but this wouldn't come with the guarantee of his business, which had a reputation to uphold.
Another upside to physical stores that many of our experts pointed out was that they often sell seconds – discounted items that have never been used, but might have spent time as display models or copped a dent before they could make it to the shop floor.
If op shops are more your thing, Salvos and Vinnies say some of their stores also stock appliances. Items are tested and tagged before going on sale, and you may be able to try the item out yourself before you buy.
Both organisations say delivery services vary from store to store and it's best to check beforehand, but if delivery is not available, staff may be able to recommend a courier service.
Most principles of Australian Consumer Law (ACL) apply to traders who make a business out of selling second-hand appliances, but not to individuals making a one-off sale to another person.
This means when you buy an appliance from an established business, it has to be of acceptable quality and as described and you can demand a remedy if this isn't the case.
However, if you're taking part in a private sale from somebody looking to offload an old appliance on Gumtree, Facebook Marketplace or at a garage sale, these same rights won't apply, so choose purchases carefully.
Buying a second-hand appliance isn't the only way to keep e-waste out of landfill. You can also invest in what you already have by way of minor repairs and maintenance to keep your devices going a little longer. These tips can also be used to set up a newly purchased second-hand appliance for a longer life.
Adrian says simply keeping the item clean is one of the best ways to keep many household items running longer.
"Cleanliness is a huge part of extending the lifespan of any small appliance that is food or cleaning related," he explains. "Dust and leftover grime can either damage or stain parts of the machine as well as make it work harder for the same result, which will shorten the lifespan."
For getting in and repairing something yourself, Ashley warns against trying to repair the wiring on appliances, but says other small fixes are appropriate.
"If you're missing a wheel on a dishwasher tray, that's a five second job. Door seals on fridges are a little more complex, but provided you can find the right one and are reasonably handy it's a great way to give an old fridge a new lease on life."
And while other appliances like TVs will provide few opportunities for DIY, you can overcome dud software by connecting an external device that has the apps your TV won't support.
Free options for minor repairs
If there's a major issue with an expensive appliance that's out of warranty or beyond its reasonable lifespan, it's often best to seek out an established repair business. If it's a cheaper appliance, your first instinct might be to just chuck it in the bin, but before you do, know that there are a few free (or cheap compared with buying a new product) ways you can keep using an appliance you love.
The chair of the Australian Repair Network is an advocacy group that campaigns for greater repair rights for consumers and that supports a nation-wide web of repair cafes – not-for-profit enterprises that host free pop-up repair events.
"We've got over 100 that operate in Australia and there's two and a half thousand now in the world. [They're places] where people come together, just volunteers, to help people fix their things," says network chair Professor Leanne Wiseman.
Many repair cafes have experienced electricians on-hand who may be able to rectify an issue with your device
Leanne, who established and manages a repair cafe initiative at Griffith University's campuses, says smaller electrical appliances make up a "really high volume" of the goods people bring to her cafe events.
She says many repair cafes have experienced electricians on-hand who may be able to rectify an issue with your device and teach you about it in the process.
"The idea is that you're able to bring whatever it is in yourself and you stay there with the repairer and then you take it away at the end."
One such repairer is Michael Farmer, an electrical technician at The Bower Reuse and Repair Centre in Sydney.
Michael's work often sees him finding fixes for members of the public who've brought in electronics to the centre's repair cafes and paid workshops, with most jobs involving minor mends to everyday items.
"We get a lot of kitchen appliances … and power tools. [Often] the person didn't feel like they needed to spend another $30 because the issue seemed something straightforward to fix, but they just didn't have the knowledge, skills or tools to do it themselves," he explains.
Michael Farmer from The Bower explains how you can get your appliance repaired for less by a local community organisation.
If you've got an appliance that could do with some repair cafe love, Michael says searching on social media is often the quickest way to find your nearest social repair enterprise.
"A lot of the repair cafes and similar organisations are community-based. So, one of the best ways to find out what you've got available in your community is to just do a search on social media, or search for events happening around you."
Michael Farmer at The Bower's repair workshop.
A new service bringing repair-seekers to community initiatives like The Bower is Fixable, an online forum where people can post about their broken goods and get advice from fellow users and moderators.
Brendan Norris founded the platform 18 months ago and says appliances are the source of most of the queries it receives. A big part of Fixable's mission, he explains, is to stop smaller, cheaper items from contributing to Australia's e-waste pile.
"When you have something really expensive, [like] a flat screen TV or an expensive watch, you're more likely to take that to a [repair] business. We're big on the hobbyist repairers who might fix things for free or for a small fee, so that we can try to keep those cheaper items out of landfill."
Searching on social media is often the quickest way to find your nearest social repair enterprise
To this end, Brendan says he's often telling people to go to repair cafes, but highlights that commercial repair businesses also play an important role in the repair community and can help customers on his platform.
And while he's encouraged by the surge in interest in reuse and repair he's been seeing, he's quick to nominate the future direction he'd like to see the local repair ecosystem take.
"We really want to attract repairers themselves. We have hundreds of people who don't have repair skills that join [Fixable] because they love the idea of repairing things…[But] we'd love more people with repair skills."
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.