The replacements: When to toss 10 household items


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When was the last time you replaced your toothbrush? How about your sunscreen? Your pillow? Are you staring vacantly at your computer screen right now?

The fact is most things don’t last forever. And whether we blame our thriftiness, forgetfulness or indifference, we often use a number of household items way past their expiration dates. We’ve compiled 10 of these items that are probably sitting in your home, silently begging to be relieved of their duties.

Sleepbetter.org recommends replacing your pillow every year or two. But don’t let that rule of thumb completely dictate when you purchase a new one. There are other good reasons to replace your pillow:

• You find signs of odor, mold or mildew.

• Take the fold test. Fold your pillow in half and then let go. Natural down pillows should bounce back slowly. Synthetic down pillows should bounce back with some force. For memory foam, push down on the center of the pillow. When you let go, the pillow should regain its shape.

• A new pillow that weighs 10 ounces can double its weight in three years. That extra weight is dust-mite remains. According to the Mayo Clinic, dust mites are microscopic spider-like creatures that feed on flakes of human skin and reside in bedding, carpets, upholstery, draperies and other “dust traps.” They are too small to see with the naked eye, but some will experience dust-mite allergies. Symptoms include sneezing, runny nose, wheezing and difficulty breathing. Washing your pillow can help, but it’s important to buy a fresh new pillow every so often.

The Better Sleep Council recommends replacing mattresses that are 7 years old or older. But if yours isn’t providing you with proper support and comfort, it may be time to invest in a new one even before the seven-year mark. Here are a few signs that suggest your mattress may need replacing:

• You wake up stiff, numb or with aches and pains.
• You had a better night’s sleep somewhere else, such as a hotel.
• Your mattress shows visible signs of overuse — for example, it sags, has lumps or the interior is exposed.
There are some easy ways to extend the life of your mattress. Consumer Reports suggests these tips:
• Your bed is not a trampoline. Don’t let your kids — or yourself — use it as such.
• Rotate your mattress. Consumer Reports recommends doing so every two weeks for the first three months you have your new mattress, then once every two months thereafter.
• Use a bed frame that has a center support.

Unsure of how to safely dispose of your old mattress? The Better Sleep Council suggests asking the store where you bought your new mattress to pick up your old one upon delivery. Many retailers offer this service as part of your purchase price or for a small fee. Or try calling your local municipality, sanitation department or garbage collector. And click here for a list of mattress recycling companies.

According to the American Dental Association, you should replace your toothbrush every three to four months, or sooner if the bristles become frayed. Studies have shown that microorganisms can grow on toothbrushes after use; however, there is not enough clinical evidence to prove that bacterial growth on toothbrushes can cause adverse oral or health effects.

There are ways to prolong the life of your toothbrush, so you can actually keep brushing for those three months. WebMD suggests the following tips to keep your toothbrush as fresh as possible:

• Store it away from the toilet — this should be obvious.
• Wash off your toothbrush with tap water every time you use it.
• Bacteria love moist environments so it’s important to dry your toothbrush thoroughly after you’re done brushing. Don’t use toothbrush covers, which can create a moist enclosed breeding ground for bacteria.
• Keep it upright in a holder.
• Do not share. This also means you shouldn’t even store your toothbrush side by side in the same cup with other people's brushes.

Look no further than our own HellaWella infographic, which details how long each item in your fridge lasts. Week-old lunch meat, anyone?

Sunscreen will do the job for up to three years, according to the Mayo Clinic. Discard once it’s past its expiration date or if it has been exposed to high temperatures. However, if you’re applying sunscreen frequently — which we think you should, especially during these hot summer months— you’ll run out before you need to worry about replacing it.

Each type of makeup is different in terms of lifespan. Here’s the breakdown from Beauty Advisor Lounge:

• Mascara (that is opened): older than 6 months old
• Lip products: more than 1 year old
• Used makeup sponges: Keep them if you are sanitizing them every few days or at least once a week; but if they have been used multiple times, it is best to throw them away.
• Pressed or loose powders, such as eye shadows and bronzers: two years
• Liquid foundation: one to two years
• Nail polish: After about a year, nail polish starts to break down and separate.
• Makeup that has been exposed to sun for an extended period of time tends to break down faster.

Check the expiration date on prescription bottles and over-the-counter medicines. If you can’t find an expiration date, toss it unless you know it was purchased within the past year, according to the Institute for Safe Medication Practices. Medication does in fact become less effective over time, especially if they are stored in a medicine cabinet in a warm, moist bathroom.

Once it’s time to discard your old meds, it’s important to know how to safely dispose of them. The American Pharmacists Association and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recommend the following steps:

1. Don’t flush unused medications. Recent environmental impact studies reported that this flushing meds could be having an adverse impact on the environment. However, the Food and Drug Administration has said that certain meds should be flushed due to their abuse potential. Read the instructions on your medication and talk to your pharmacist.

2. Once you’re ready to throw out your unused meds, protect children and pets with these tips from the APhA:

• Crush solid medications or dissolve them in water — this applies to liquid medications as well — and mix with kitty litter or sawdust; then place in a sealed plastic bag before tossing.
• Remove and destroy identifying personal information — e.g., the prescription label — from the container.
• Check for approved state and local collection programs or with area hazardous waste facilities. In certain states, you may be able to take your unused medications to your pharmacy.

3. Consult your pharmacist.

According to WebMD, your kitchen sponge is one of the most germ-filled items in your house. It absorbs all kinds of germs and dirt, which it then transfers to other surfaces as you wipe around your kitchen. Many people recommend microwaving sponges to get rid of germs, but WebMD recommends soaking them between cleanings in a solution of no more than 1 cup of bleach to 1 gallon of water, or vinegar and water. Soak them in the bleach solution for about five minutes or in the vinegar solution for 20 to 30 minutes. Rinse thoroughly and let air-dry.

If you think you can break your sponge habit, most experts agree that using paper towels or a clean cloth is the better choice. Just make sure you give the cloth regular cleanings in the laundry.

Replacing your shower liner depends on a number of factors, according to Croscill Living. How many people are using the shower? How often is the shower being used? Does your bathroom have poor ventilation? Some recommend replacing the liner every three to six months, while other say once a year is enough. This one is a bit of a judgment call. Of course, if the liner is starting to grow mold and mildew, replace away.

There are ways to keep the liner clean before you’re ready to toss it. BrightNest has some recommendations:
• Pull the shower curtain closed. Mildew grows in the dark moist folds of your curtain.
• Wash your liner in the washing machine with a mild detergent.
• Open your bathroom windows and doors to lower moisture levels.

There’s no strict rule on this one, but it’s a good idea to replace your hairbrush once the bristles start to soften.

In any case, you should be washing your hairbrush every so often. BellaSugar has your four-step hairbrush-cleaning guide.