Can you trust Made in USA labels? A warning for Black Friday

You need to be careful if you buy American-made.

A traditional brick home with an American flag in the window
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Black Friday deals are here, and that can mean huge markdowns on some iconic American brands. 

But with discounts mounting up, you have to be careful that what you're buying is actually made in the USA. Unscrupulous dropshippers and even some big companies flout the rules to falsely advertise their products as 'made in USA'. 

I spoke to shopping and personal finance experts about the rules and what to look out for when you buy. You can trust a lot of 'made in USA' labels, but you should always read the fine print, especially over Black Friday

Can you trust made in America labels?

Vitamix Ascent A3300 on countertop making beetroot jucie with fruit inside, beetroots on the counter and a glass of pink drink to the right

Vitamix blenders are assembled in the USA.

(Image credit: Vitamix)

In theory, yes, but often, unfortunately not. 'Made in the USA' is a protected term, but it's very easy to slap a 'made in the USA' label on a product even if it isn't true. Retailers do this for several reasons. They want to get business from patriotic Americans, and it also works a greenwashing scam. Lots of people who buy American-made do so decrease their carbon footprint. Around Black Friday, however, 'it won't be surprising to see manufacturers slapping the Made in America label on imported goods to make them look eco-friendly', according to eco-shopping expert Gavon Barkdull.

Though the Federal Trade Commission has has very strict rules about what can and can't be labelled as 'made in America', enforcement can be tough. Personal finance expert Gillian Dewar told me that, while many brands have been caught using made in America labels 'improperly', they 'faced no real fines or legal punishment beyond being barred from further false marketing claims'. You might see something labelled as made in America, but the FTC are yet to catch the company in the act, and by the time the stock has sold, and the packaging removed, it can be tricky to prove. 

Whether shopping online or in store, the best thing you can do is interrogate the the product specs, where the country of origin is usually listed. Lots of low-value products might have 'American-made' in the imagery', but list the real country of origin in the fine print.

A headshot of eco-shopping expert Gavon Barkdull
Gavon Barkdull

Gavon is the CEO and co-founder of Zestain. Their mission is to promote zero-waste and sustainable living practices by highlighting planet-friendly companies, providing insights, and recommending eco-friendly products.

A headshot of Gillian Dewar
Gillian Dewar

Gillian is the CFO of Crediful, a personal finance site offering objective advice to help consumers pay down debt, learn to invest, and achieve their most important life goals.

What's the difference between made in America and assembled in America?

There's a big difference between 'made' in the USA and 'assembled' in the USA. Made in the USA means that that the product's main component is sourced and manufactured in USA. Think American steel, made into a product by American workers. 

On the other hand, 'assembled in the USA' means the components of a product come from all over the world, but the final assembly is in America. 

However, there's a lot of fine print with this. Even 'made in the USA' isn't as clear-cut as it looks. The FTC says that the Buy American Act requires that a product is manufactured in the U.S. 'of more than 50 percent U.S. parts to be considered Made in USA'. However, that only applies for government procurement. For buying everyday products, the threshold for American-made is 'all or virtually all'. According to the FTC, that means that a 'made in USA' product 'should contain no – or negligible – foreign content'. 

Which companies claim to be made in America?

KitchenAid pastry cutter attachment

(Image credit: KitchenAid)

Lots of companies claim to be American-made. It's mostly big automobile companies like Tesla and Ford, who have to declare the American origin of their parts by law. However, the place you should be most worried about these labels is on small products on big retailers like Amazon and Walmart. Some of these products - think phone holders, drying racks, storage bins – in short, cheap essentials – are falsely advertised as 'made in America' in their listing images. When you properly check the components, it's been made somewhere else. 

If made in America is important to you, you should also bear in mind that a lot of our favorite products aren't made in America. Shark, Ninja, and Instant products are largely made in China, and Dyson products are made in Malaysia, the Philippines, and Singapore.

KitchenAid are a good example of the thorny issues around American-made products. The KitchenAid Artisan is our favorite stand mixer, and it's been made in Greenville, OH since 1941. However, the bowl for this stand mixer is made abroad. It's an iconic American product, designed and manufactured in the States, but if you want something 100% American-made, you need to look elsewhere.

KitchenAid Artisan 5 Quart | Was $449.99, now $349.99 at KitchenAid
Best stand mixer

KitchenAid Artisan 5 Quart | Was $449.99, now $349.99 at KitchenAid
It doesn't get more American than the best stand mixer in the world. It simply makes better food than anything else we've tested. But while still wholly assembled in Greenville Ohio, the bowl means it isn't 100% American-made.

Does it even matter?

Made in USA labels matter, and it's just not for straightforward patriotism. Sure, buying American-made products keeps money in local economies. But while It's not a guarantee, American-made products also tend be higher quality than some other national origins. Gillian Dewar told me that that's because 'American manufacturers are willing to invest more of their money into quality materials and manufacturing practices because they know they can sell their products at a higher price point', thanks to interest in buying American. 

You may buy American out of concern for workers' rights around the world, too. If you worry about workers' rights in South Asia, for example, a union-made, made-in-USA product is much less likely to be made with exploitation. 

As I mentioned above, there's an environmental concern. As long as it's relatively local, buying American-made can be much better for the environment. You have a much smaller carbon footprint buying something from a factory a couple states away than if you fly it in to the country from the other side of the world.

Made in USA FAQs

Are products made outside the USA worse?

No - many of our favorite tested products are manufactured in China and other places around the world. However, some 'made in the USA' items are better quality because their manufacturers buy expensive parts, knowing that consumers who want American-made products will pay a higher price for them. 

Where can I find Made in USA products?

American-made products are easy to find in search engines, and sites like All American and USA Love List publish products that are American-made.

Final thoughts

This can be a little disheartening if you care deeply about buying American-made, but even a product 'assembled' in the USA makes a difference. The parts may not be American-made, but it was built by American workers. 

Alex David
Head of eCommerce

As Head of eCommerce, Alex makes sure our readers find the right information to help them make the best purchase. After graduating from Cambridge University, Alex got his start in reviewing at the iconic Good Housekeeping Institute, testing a wide range of household products and appliances. He then moved to BBC Gardeners’ World Magazine, assessing gardening tools, machinery, and wildlife products. Helping people find true quality and genuine value is a real passion.