From Cosmetics to Kitchen Sponges -- When Is It Time to Toss Them?
Holding on to many household products too long can lead to health problems. Here's how to avoid that.(18 Photos)
Toss your kitchen sponge … after one week.
Many people use the same sponge for weeks, even months at a time. That’s a problem, “since sponges, which are moist and have lots of pockets, are bacteria magnets,” explains Kelly Reynolds, Ph.D., an associate professor at the University of Arizona’s College of Public Health. “Plus, these products smear bacteria that can be potentially harmful (like salmonella) around rather than removing it from a surface. To keep your sponges clean and safe, Reynolds recommends soaking them in a disinfectant solution daily for at least a few minutes. Microwaving them for 20 seconds daily will also zap bugs; just make sure the sponge is moist.Photo: Getty Images
Toss your tampons when … the wrapper looks damaged.
“Because they’re little more than sanitized cotton, tampons are safe to use as long as the wrapper is in good condition,” explains Howard Kurtz, M.D., a clinical instructor of obstetrics and gynecology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. However, if the wrapper is damaged, he says, there’s a chance the tampon could be contaminated with bacteria that could lead to vaginal irritation or even an infection.Photo: Getty Images
Toss your condoms… by the expiration date written on the wrapper.
The expiration date is usually no later than four years after the condoms have been manufactured, explains Dr. Kurtz. “Condoms tend to last, if you keep them in a cool, dry place. Otherwise, both latex and lambskin can break down, weakening their protectiveness, which can lead to unplanned pregnancy and an increased risk of STDs. But if you’ve kept your condoms somewhere too hot or too cold (yes, this includes your purse or wallet!), or their wrappers look damaged, replace them to be on the safe side." The best place to store your condoms, according to docs: Your nightstand drawer.Photo: Getty Images
Toss your sneakers … every year.
Wearing them past this time can decrease their cushioning and support, putting you at risk for health problems like shin splints, fallen arches and back and knee pain, explains New York City-based personal trainer Nicole Glor, creator of the NikkiFit DVD series. Plus, if you’re a runner, you may need new kicks sooner, since speed can expedite shoe damage, she says. In fact, experts suggest replacing sneakers sometime between 300 and 500 miles, which can be as little as every two to three months if you run regularly.Photo: Getty Images
Toss your foundation … every six to eight months, or as soon as it shows signs of discoloration or uneven consistency.
Those are signs that the foundation could be contaminated with bacteria from a make-up brush or even your fingers. And bacteria, says dermatologist Joel Schlessinger, M.D., president emeritus of the American Society of Cosmetic Dermatology and Aesthetic Surgery, can cause breakouts and contribute to painful skin infections. “Fortunately, foundation is generally pretty stable,” says Dr. Schlessinger. “But if you’ve noticed that you’re breaking out a lot, and cleaning your makeup brush doesn’t help, your foundation may be contaminated, meaning it’s time to toss it.”Photo: Getty Images
Toss your sports bra … at the first sign of wear.
Fraying, holes or elastic that isn’t as stretchy as it used to be are all signs your sports bra is past its prime, meaning it may not be giving your breasts the support they need -- which can lead to back, neck and even breast pain in no time, says Glor, who adds, “If your cup size changes due to weight gain, pregnancy or nursing, you’ll want to replace it quickly with a new bra that fits correctly.”Photo: Getty Images
Toss your toothbrush … after three to four months, or as soon as you notice the bristles are frayed.
“Not only are old toothbrushes ineffective,” meaning they don’t remove food and cavity-causing plaque the way they should, “but their bristles may harbor harmful bacteria that can cause infections such as gingivitis and periodontitis,” explains Academy of General Dentistry spokesperson, Lauren Henderson.Photo: Getty Images
Toss your eye makeup … three to six months after you open it.
Most dermatologists recommend that you toss mascara and liquid eyeliner after this time, since both products possess a wet consistency that’s especially good at picking up eye bacteria, which is then transferred back into the container where it breeds. Other signs: “If the product smells bad or you develop a eye irritation like redness or itching, toss it immediately,” urges Dr. Schlessinger.Photo: Getty Images
Toss rubbing alcohol… after a year.
“Alcohol typically lasts a long time, but most people make the mistake of not sealing their bottle tight enough. Then, the water within the alcohol solution evaporates, making the remaining substance very concentrated and this can really sting the skin,” explains Dr. Schlessinger.Photo: Getty Images
Toss solid OTC pain relievers...no later than three years after their expiration date.
“A large study of medication supplies recently revealed that pain relievers sold in solid pill form are actually effective for a few years after their stated expiration date,” explains Jacob Teitelbaum, M.D., medical director of the national Fibromyalgia and Fatigue Centers. Why? Scientists credit their more stable ingredients. However, Dr. Teitelbaum notes that liquid products, such as gel capsules that contain pain-killing ingredients as well as cough and cold syrups, should be tossed by their expiration dates because liquids are typically less stable (meaning their ingredients become ineffective faster).Photo: Getty Images
Toss your sunscreen … after a year or two (depending on the type you buy).
“Sunscreens that contain chemical agents (like octinoxate) to absorb UV rays often last no more than a year, so if you use these products beyond that time, you may end up with some sun damage,” Dr. Schlessinger notes, adding that most, but not all, sunscreens are dated with this in mind. That said, sunscreens that physically block the sun, he says, like zinc oxide, are less likely to degrade over time, and typically last about two years.Photo: Getty Images
Toss your lubricants for sex … within a year of purchase.
“These products are typically water-based, so they’re relatively stable, explains Dr. Kurtz, “however, many lubes do contain antimicrobial agents that keep bacteria at bay, and those substances can lose their potency after a while. That's why it's wise to toss them within a year."Photo: Getty Images
Toss your diaphragm … every two years or if you’ve had a weight shift or recent pregnancy.
Why two years? Experts say this timetable is simply due to the diaphragm's sometimes problematic plastic body, which can eventually wear out over time. However, some life changes like weight and pregnancy can also trigger changes to your own anatomy, making a once ideal device too tight or too loose. “Your cervix size can change under these circumstances, and if your diaphragm is too small or too big, it won’t be snug enough to shut out sperm,” says Dr. Kurtz. Bodily changes aside, he says, it’s also wise to check this contraceptive device each time you use it to make sure it doesn’t have any holes (holding it up to the light will typically reveal any perforations).Photo: Getty Images
Toss your face cleanser… after one year.
“Its ingredients can separate and degrade over time, making the cleanser less effective,” explains Dr. Schlessinger.Photo: Getty Images
Toss hydrogen peroxide … when you’ve used it all, or after five years.
Good news: You don't have to worry about restocking this first aid assister for a while. This health helper has a long life, says Dr. Schlessinger. “Peroxide is a strong antibacterial agent that can last for ages."Photo: Getty Images
Toss your water filter … every three months, or as advised on the package.
“Charcoal pitcher filters [like Brita] can remove many contaminants, like bacteria and metals, from tap water. But if you don’t change them as often as recommended, bacteria and mold can build up within the filter,” meaning you’re actually adding contaminants back into your water, explains Gina Solomon, M.D., a senior scientist at the National Resources Defense Council.Photo: Getty Images
Toss your lip balm … after you have a cold, flu, cold sore or any infection near your mouth.
“Lip balms and glosses’ soft consistency picks up bacteria from your mouth easily,” says Dr. Schlessinger. “So, if you’ve been ill, toss it. Otherwise, you’ll re-infect yourself.” To make your lip products last longer, he suggests applying them with a Q-tip when you’ve got a bug, or choosing pot-based balms like Carmex that you can apply with clean fingers, just don’t double-dip after you’ve hit your mouth; otherwise, you’ll contaminate the product.Photo: Getty Images
Toss your kitchen cutting boards … when they develop cracks or other visible signs of wear.
The reason: “Harmful bacteria like E. coli and Salmonella can hide inside the grooves of cutting boards,” explains Debra Holtzman, author of The Safe Baby: A Do-it-Yourself Guide to Home Safety and Healthy Living. To minimize infection risk, she recommends washing all cutting boards by hand, then sanitizing them with one tablespoon of liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water. “Flood the surface with bleach solution, then allow it to stand for several minutes," she says. "Then, rinse with water and pat dry with a clean paper towel.”
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