If you can still use it, then why lose it? Far too often this is the mind-set about replacing common household items. What it means is that you may be using a germ-infested loofah or an ineffective toothbrush. Learning the expiration dates can prevent everyday items from becoming hazardous to your health. Know when it’s time to toss out the old and replace with the new.
Bacteria starts to double in the danger zone -- 41 to 135 degrees F -- so in four hours, you may have millions. In 10 hours, you may have billions.
- Jeff Nelken, food safety expert
Protect your oral health with sound oral hygiene. The American Dental Association recommends replacing toothbrushes every three to four months -- or sooner if the bristles become frayed. Worn bristles are less effective at cleaning teeth and preventing gum disease. Also, don’t cover toothbrushes or store them in closed containers; the moist environment makes them more conducive to bacteria growth.
If your mattress is more than a decade old, it’s time to pitch it. You should get a new one every nine to 10 years, says the National Sleep Foundation. Old mattresses collect dust mites, mold and mildew. But consider getting a new one sooner if you’re restless at night. An Oklahoma State University study found that when mattresses were replaced after five years, participants reported better sleep quality and less back pain.
You’ll cancel out your cleansing shower if you’re using a loofah that’s more than a month old. All the nooks and crannies in these natural sponges are especially inviting to bacteria. Replace your scrub at least every 30 days because of the possible buildup of bacteria, especially in moist environments, advises dermatologist Leslie Baumann, director of the Baumann Cosmetic and Research Institute in Miami Beach.
Get a new favorite pillow every one to two years, unless you favor odor, dust mites, allergies and germs. Plus, pillows lose their fluff after a couple of years, causing improper support for your neck and spine, and ultimately, poor sleep, says SleepBetter.org. Check if your pillow passes the fold test: Fold or push down on your pillow and let go. If it doesn’t regain its shape, it’s time for a new one. Further, most pillows don’t withstand more than one to two washings.
If you're not sure where your dish sponge has been, or if you've been using it for more than a week, toss it out, says Jeff Nelken, a food safety expert. Pathogens from the counter, sink and food can get into the sponge and cause foodborne illnesses. You especially don’t want to use a sponge or dishcloth to clean surfaces if it's touched raw meat, fish or poultry. “Bacteria starts to double in the danger zone -- 41 to 135 degrees F -- so in four hours, you may have millions,” Nelken says. “In 10 hours, you may have billions.” You can extend the life of a sponge by putting it in the dishwasher after each use, or microwaving a fully soaked sponge for two minutes on high. But better yet, use paper towels or reusable towels that sit in sanitizer.
To safeguard against eye inflections such as pink eye, replace your contact lens case at least every three months, advises the American Optometric Association. Clean your contact lens case after each use with a sterile solution. Leave the case open to dry.
Don’t risk your house going up in flames because you have a defunct smoke alarm. The U.S. Fire Administration recommends replacing the batteries in your battery-powered smoke alarm at least once a year and getting the whole unit replaced every eight to 10 years. But since a decade is a long time to remember something, to ensure you don't forget, write the date of purchase with a permanent market on the inside of the alarm -- and check it the same time every year.
Unused disposable batteries become ineffective after seven years -- and rechargeable batteries stop charging after three to five years. You can safely discard disposable ones in your household trash, but you should recycle rechargeable batteries, including batteries in cameras, cell phones, laptops and power tools. Why? Recycling batteries helps keep chemicals and heavy metals, including mercury and lead, out of landfills and the air, reducing risk of diseases and birth defects, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Recycling information is readily available online; websites such as Call2recycle.org can direct you.