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Importing from China to USA: CPSC Product Regulations

CPSC regulations when buying from China

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The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) regulates a wide range of consumer products, domestically manufactured or imported into the United States. Ensuring CPSC compliance is serious business: non-compliance may result in fines up to US$15.5 million.

In this article we explain how to determine whether a product is regulated, ensuring compliance with relevant regulations and how you can avoid having your goods confiscated by the customs at the Port of entry.

The Basics of CPSC Acts & Regulations

In the United States, consumer products are in general not regulated by “all-in-one” directives, but rather a number of (sometimes overlapping) Acts and Product Safety Standards. Cosmetics is one such product. If you’re importing cosmetics, you need to ensure compliance with 4 different Federal Standards:

  • CFR Title 21 & 16
  • Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act
  • Safe Cosmetics Act 2011
  • Fair Packaging and Labeling Act

Apart from Federal Regulations, there are also state regulations that cosmetic products must be compliant with:

  • California Proposition 65 – lead in cosmetics
  • California Air Resources Board (CARB)

Six different standards for one product, that’s a lot to handle for a small business. Still, cosmetics are a complex and highly regulated – but serves as a good example. However, CPSC is not a product safety directive. In other words, there’s no general “CPSC” directive to refer to when sourcing products in China (unlike in Europe, where uniform certification standards often apply to a specific product or group of products).

The CPSC is a government authority that administers several product safety Acts passed by the U.S. congress. As of today, these include the following Acts:

  • Consumer Product Safety Act (CPSA)
  • Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA)
  • Federal Hazardous Substances Act (FHSA)
  • Flammable Fabrics Act (FFA)
  • Poison Prevention Packaging Act (PPPA)
  • Refrigerator Safety Act (RSA)

Each one of these Acts regulate certain products and/or substances. Essentially, there are two types of CPSC acts:

1.) Acts that target specific products (e.g. Bunk Beds and Toys)
2.) Acts that target certain substances (e.g. Formaldehyde and Antifreeze)

CPSC Regulated Products and Substances

Thousands of consumer products and substances are regulated by the CPSC, especially products primarily intended for children 12 years old or younger. Click here to see the CPSC lists of regulated products. The list includes, but is not limited to, the following products:

  • All-Terrain Vehicles (ATVs)
  • Bicycles
  • Bunk Beds
  • Cosmetics
  • Baby bouncers/jumpers/walkers
  • Batteries
  • Clothing Textiles
  • Fire extinguishers
  • Floor Covering Adhesives
  • Food
  • Rope
  • Rugs
  • Vinyl Plastic Film

It’s easy to determine which regulation applies to a certain product, if it’s explicitly mentioned in the list of Regulated Products. However, CPSC regulations also apply to products that are not explicitly mentioned in this list. A long list of chemicals and substances are also regulated:

  • Visual novelty devices, containing perchloroethylene
  • Toxic substances
  • Carbolic acid (phenol)
  • Carbon tetrachloride
  • Antifreeze, ethylene glycol
  • Volatile flammable materials

A wide range of products are potential carriers of the regulated chemicals and substances, which in turn are covered in the Federal Hazardous Substances Act (FHSA) and/or the Poison Prevention Packaging Act (PPPA). For example, certain textiles contain Formaldehyde – a substance regulated by the FHSA. Therefore, Formaldehyde testing is recommended if you’re importing apparel or other textile products.

“Are all Chinese suppliers compliant with CPSC regulations?”

Absolutely not. Let me explain. Ensuring CPSC compliance requires that a supplier maintains tight control over the materials and components purchased from subcontractors. The supplier must also ensure that noncompliant materials and components are kept separated during storage and production.

While the United States is a main market for many Chinese suppliers, only a minority is able to ensure compliance with the relevant product safety standards. Verifying previous compliance with a supplier must be done before an order is placed. Never assume that a Chinese supplier is even remotely aware of the relevant U.S. standards and how these apply to their products. Many Chinese suppliers can’t even list the chemical components used in their products.

Still, plenty of American importers assume that ensuring compliance with US regulations is the supplier’s responsibility. However, foreign suppliers (in this case Chinese) are not regulated by US Federal Acts. This is clearly stated in Title 16 of the Code of Federal Regulations:

“Manufacturers and importers are responsible for ensuring that their products meet any mandatory standards or regulations prior to those products being distributed in commerce, in most situations”

Importing non-compliant items is illegal, and may result in a forced recall and major fines. That’s why we both confirm applicable CPSC regulations for your product, and source suppliers that can show previous compliance, when you order a Starter Package right here on Chinaimportal.com. Click here to watch a demonstration video.

How to ensure CPSC Compliance when importing from China

As I mentioned previously in this article, there’s no “all-in-one” CPSC directive to refer to when importing from China. Different standards and regulations (Acts) applies to different products and substances. Thus, the first thing you need to do is to confirm which Act/s your product is legally required to be compliant with:

1.) Is your product mentioned in the list of regulated products?
2.) Which Federal Act applies to your product?

A product that is not explicitly mentioned might still contain one or more regulated substances. In these cases, you research whether your product is certain, or likely, to contain one or more substances regulated by the Federal Hazardous Substances Act (FHSA) and/or the Poison Prevention Packaging Act (PPPA) AND if your product may be defined as “potentially hazardous”.

If the answer is yes, you basically have two options:

1.) Unless necessary, require your Chinese supplier to not use the regulated substance/s.
2.) If usage of a regulated substance is necessary, instruct your Chinese supplier to label the products properly.

Products that are likely to be toxic, flammable, an irritant, a strong sensitizer or corrosive, require labeling that informs the consumer of the potential hazard. Click here to read more about the scope of FHSA regulations.

When you have determined which Act regulates your product (if any), you need to inform your Chinese supplier that you require them to manufacture products in compliance with the relevant regulation. If you don’t, the supplier will most likely not manufacture compliant products.

Even if a supplier can show previous compliance, it’s not a guarantee that your goods will be compliant. One batch of products might be compliant (due to clear buyer requirements) while the next is not. Communication is critical.

Testing imported products for CPSC compliance

Yet, mere promises mean nothing in China (always remember that the supplier is not liable for non-compliance, you are). Compliance shall be verified by a third party. This can be done by sending one or more product samples to a product testing lab. Once again, communication is critical. The testing company must also be notified of which substance and/or regulation the product shall be tested for.

Third party product testing is not mandatory for all products. However, it’s the only way to find out if your product is compliant with the relevant regulation. There are a few things related to CPSC testing that I think you should be aware of:

1.) CPSC only accepts third party testing from “accepted laboratories”. This includes laboratories both in the US and abroad.

2.) Third party testing is mandatory for children’s products. That includes ANY product that is primarily intended for use, or likely to be used, by children.

3.) Certain products are regulated by more than one CPSC standard. This requires you to test your product for all relevant standards, not just one.

4.) You don’t need to test every shipment (batch), but only if you don’t change any materials or components. If you do, you need to retest your product according to the relevant regulation. However, there’s always a risk that the Chinese supplier changes a material without notifying you.

Enforcement and Penalties

If the CPSC finds out that your product is non-compliant with one or more standards, you won’t be able to sell your product. But how could the CPSC possibly find out? There are a few ways this can happen:

1.) A product sample might be randomly selected for routine examination in the Port of entry. If noncompliance is discovered, the shipment is refused entry.

2.) The CPSC is very likely to be notified in case of a consumer incident. This is quickly followed by an investigation.

3.) CPSC inspects manufacturers (domestic, not your Chinese supplier), importers and distributors.

If the CPSC determines that your product is noncompliant, you are forced to issue a product recall. Basically, you have to buy back all products already delivered to your consumers – and halt sales of the items you still may have in your warehouse. That’s a hit few small businesses can take. Still, it’s not the worst thing that can happen.

If you are knowingly selling products that are noncompliant with the relevant regulations, you are subject to fines of up to US$15.5 million. That’s a knockout. Mike Tyson style.

It’s not that difficult

Did I make you think twice about importing from China? Well, these regulations are put in place for a reason. They are there to protect you and your family from toxic and flammable products. Yes, it’s a bit tricky to determine which CPSC regulation applies to a certain product, but you only need to do it once. Besides, your competition is not getting away either – you’re all in the same boat.

Do you need help to ensure compliance with all mandatory safety standards?

We know how hard it can be to get a grip on product safety standards, labeling, documents and lab testing. To help startups get a grip on the process, and avoid crippling fines and forced product recalls – we created the Starter Package:

a. An overview of product safety standards in the United States, Europe, Australia & more

b. Mandatory document sample files

c. Product labeling template files

d. Checklists that guide you step-by-step through the entire compliance process

In addition, you can also book quality inspections, lab testing and shipping directly from the platform. Click here to learn more.

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    36 Responses to “Importing from China to USA: CPSC Product Regulations”

    1. Brandi June 15, 2014 at 11:17 pm #

      Hello Fredrik,
      Thank you for all the blog posts, we are a new company and have found this blog extremely helpful in the complicated world of overseas shipping. Regarding the article, I did some research to see if there were any CPSC regulations our our import product , solar panels. I did not find any direct answer, only reports on companies that incidents of fire hazards on particular orders. Is there a website, or do you know of any regulation, that I should tell my suppliers to meet on solar panels?
      Thank you,
      Brandi

    2. Fredrik Grönkvist June 16, 2014 at 10:25 am #

      Solar Panels might be regulated by another U.S. Federal Agency. I’ll send you an email with more information.

    3. Brandi June 16, 2014 at 9:59 pm #

      Thank you, that would be very helpful, we are doing research as well on the subject. Thank you for your prompt reply and email. We are very excited to get started, and the information on your blog and through your company has been very useful for us. We finally have our website published and are eager to get started.

    4. Cheslea July 23, 2014 at 11:32 pm #

      Hi Fredrik,

      My name is Chelsea, we are trying to import some Pom Pom made of PE and PET for the strands but one vendor says the PET(shinning looking foil thing) might not pass heavy metal test and flame retardant test but then another vendor in China says it doesn’t need to be tested. These are used for parties by adults. I thought if they are not used by children under 12 years of age, it is not required for a testing right? And if for some reason it is needed, can I still but the PET version as it does look shinnier than regular PE plastic… Please help!

      Thank you!

      Chelsea

      • Fredrik Grönkvist July 24, 2014 at 3:47 am #

        Hello Chelsea,

        Non-children’s products are also covered by regulations, but it’s true that toys and children’s products are more strictly regulated. I’ll send you an email with more information.

    5. Ven September 10, 2014 at 10:02 am #

      I am so glad I came across this site. Could you tell me what regulations there are surrounding baby silicone nipples? Thank you.

      • Fredrik Grönkvist September 10, 2014 at 10:22 am #

        Hello Ven,

        That depends. Which state are you based in?

        • Ven September 10, 2014 at 11:22 am #

          I am in Alaska. Thank you for the quick response.

    6. Danny September 18, 2014 at 4:10 pm #

      We are importing products that are used as Marketing aids to attract attention.

      They are PVC balloons that are filled with air and are connected to various poles that are either placed in the ground or attached to a car window with a bracket. They are not for use as toys..

    7. saeed March 10, 2015 at 3:45 am #

      Hello, i am interested to import self defense security item such as hand held stun gun from China. do i require import license? will it cost me custom duty as items will not be in sample quanity ? kindly help me. Thanks.

    8. saeed March 10, 2015 at 3:47 am #

      Just a add up to my last message. I am importing it to Delaware USA.

    9. S Petty June 22, 2015 at 9:06 pm #

      We are new and looking to see what regulations there are on our product (i’m sure there are some) we are ordering reusable food pouches for all ages (they’re mostly used for children). I need to find a facility to test that customs will accept as well as know what to ask that agency to test for. How do I find that out?

      • Fredrik Grönkvist June 26, 2015 at 3:03 am #

        Hello,

        I think the FDA and the CPSC lists accredited testing facilities on their respective websites. In this case, you may need to ensure compliance with both food contact material regulations (e.g. 16 CFR) and CPSIA.

        • Mikel January 29, 2017 at 1:44 am #

          I’m imssreped you should think of something like that

    10. Jelena July 29, 2015 at 12:58 pm #

      Hello,

      My company wants to import lighters from China, that have ISO and CR certificates. Since, Chinese factories mostly use CPSA as a child resistant certificate, and not EN 13869, which is European standard, my question is can I export to the EU countries with american CPSA certificate or do I need to have EN 13869 for EU?

      Thanks.

    11. dmstoroe November 13, 2015 at 3:21 am #

      Hi Im having silicone watches with painted faces on them designed and manufactured in China. They are for small children. I need to know what type of forms or information to ask our manufacturer for. I’m new to this and I am not sure how to go about getting our product tested. Any information would be helpful.

    12. nicolas February 13, 2016 at 11:01 pm #

      Hello, do you know about acrylic? I am looking to import acrylic sheets and i have not found any regulations. Thank you

      • Fredrik Grönkvist February 15, 2016 at 3:28 am #

        Hi Nicolas,

        Whether or not regulations apply depend on the application (the usage) and the target consumer, rather than the material itself. Hence, different regulations apply to the same material (for example acrylic), if used for Children’s Jewelry, or as a food container. I hope I made it clear.

    13. Harry Markarian June 1, 2016 at 5:32 am #

      Hello,

      I am in the final stages of ordering a FCL of footwear from China to the USA, but I would like to know what are the chemicals and standards that I need to clear to avoid any problems in the USA (California to be exact). Could you please let me know? Thank you.

    14. Soo July 8, 2016 at 2:33 pm #

      Hi.

      I am trying to import plastic cutting boards, and i am wondering what kind of tests i should do.
      Is there any specific certificate that i must get?

      Also, about California Proposition 65, Is that regulation applied especially for those sold in California? Or those are imported from ports in california(even though they are not sold in California)?

      Thank you!

      • ChinaImportal July 11, 2016 at 5:47 am #

        Hi Soo,

        There are various requirements set by 16 CFR. However, you don’t need to know exactly what the FCM regulations require. Instead, you just need to submit a sample to a testing company, and let them decide.

        As for CA Prop 65: It applies to all products sold within, or to, California.

    15. Millie July 8, 2016 at 4:29 pm #

      I will like to know if importing from alibaba a food car is in compliance with the USA laws and what I need to do I am complied un inform and will appreciate any information or help.

      • ChinaImportal July 11, 2016 at 5:45 am #

        Hi Millie,

        US regulations don’t set any requirements for the market place. It doesn’t matter if your product is purchased from an Alibaba supplier, or one that is not present on Alibaba.com.

        Also note that Alibaba is a marketplace, not a supplier.

    16. Amy September 29, 2016 at 7:20 pm #

      Hello,

      I would like to import children’s clothing from aliexpress to be sold in the US. Can you tell me what regulations apply to children’s clothing. Do I need to insure my suppliers are compliant with any regulations?

      • ChinaImportal October 3, 2016 at 5:14 am #

        Hi Amy,

        Well, a supplier cannot be CPSIA compliant, only a product can be. However, you do need to check that the supplier has experience with ASTM and CPSC standards.

    17. Mirsa October 11, 2016 at 6:30 pm #

      Hello,
      I’m looking to import cloth storage cubes. What regulations and compliance certificates should I be asking for? Thank you!

    18. Said December 3, 2016 at 1:13 am #

      Hello,

      I would like to import fabric From China, to be sold in the US, could you please tell me what regulations apply.
      Thank you

      • ChinaImportal December 12, 2016 at 3:28 am #

        Hi Said,

        Then you probably need to comply with CA Prop 65, CPSC substance regulations, FFA and all textiles labeling requirements. CPSIA applies if the fabric is to be used in children’s products.

    19. Basil December 24, 2016 at 12:33 pm #

      Hello
      I’m looking to import leather goods(wallets,bags).What regulations and compliance certificates should I be asking for? Thank you!

      • ChinaImportal December 26, 2016 at 1:11 am #

        Hi Basil,

        Don’t expect the supplier to give you any certificates. Instead, you should submit wallet samples for CA Prop 65 and CPSC substance testing.

        In addition, you must also confirm which labeling requirements apply.

    20. Dan June 2, 2017 at 7:52 am #

      Hello,
      Thank you for your blog, this is extremely helpful. My wife and I wanted to start a small travel toy business and use Alibaba. We wanted to create bags of 8+ toys. That said, a couple questions for you:
      -If the manufacturer can show that the toy is CPSC certified do we still need to get it tested ourselves?
      -Is there any cost effective way to get 8+ toys tested? What are we looking at spending to get this many tested? It seems like this alone would knock us out of even trying?

      Thank you!
      Dan

      • ChinaImportal June 4, 2017 at 8:21 am #

        Hello Dan,

        1. Yes, you still need batch testing

        2. 8 different SKUs? Yes, you can use the same materials and colors on all products, in which case you don’t need to test all SKUs

    21. Lilia Valitova June 9, 2017 at 9:03 pm #

      Hello,

      I just bought a bed from Tu Casa Furniture in Santa Rosa CA, made in China.
      Then I saw your articles about chemicals that could be in the bed materials. I want to cancel my purchase, because I am not sure if it is safe to have this bed.
      How can i check it?

      • ChinaImportal June 11, 2017 at 5:43 am #

        Hi Lilia,

        I don’t think you need to cancel your purchase. Importers in the US must comply with local safety standards and substance regulations.

        While some importers neglect this, that cannot be said about all products (your laptop and phone are also made in China).

        You can ask them to present a CA Prop 65 test report.

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