- CLEAR OUT Expired Meds
Before you reach for that econo-size bottle of ibuprofen, check the date on the label: Nearly two-thirds of people take expired drugs on occasion, finds a survey from Medicine Shoppe Pharmacies. “The danger with old medications is that they may not be effective,” says Deanna Gohil, the supervising pharmacist at the University of Rochester’s Strong Health Pharmacy. “With allergy medication, you may sneeze and wheeze unnecessarily; with blood pressure medication, you could put your heart at risk.”
Go Through your medicine cabinet and discard any bottles or pills past their prime. “Instead of dumping them down the drain re flushing them, which can contaminate drinking water, put them in a sealable plastic bag and throw it in the trash,” says Gohil. After you’re through, stock up on a few staples you know you’ll use regularly, such as antibacterial cream. (It’s also a good time too replenish your sunscreen supply, as you need a new bottle every three years, or sooner if it smells funny, changes color, or separates.) You may want to get over-the-counter allergy meds and poison ivy treatment too if you spend time outdoors. “Opt for smaller packages of thing you use less frequently, such as cough syrup, so you’ll use them before they expire,” says Gohil. Because many medicines degrade much faster in hot, moist conditions, don’t store them in the bathroom medicine cabinet or kitchen (where about 80 percent of people keep theirs). You’re better off keeping them in a bedroom drawer.
- CLEAR OUT Heavy-duty spray cleaners
Those gleaming counters and floors may come at the expense of breathing easy if you use industrial-strength products. Researchers from the Centre for Research in Environmental Epidemiology in Spain found that people who scrubbed their homes with aerosol or spray cleaners at least once a week were nearly 50 percent more likely to develop asthma symptoms, like shortness of breath, than those who didn’t. “Breathing in the chemicals found in furniture and glass cleaners, along with air fresheners, can cause inflammation in the lungs,” says study author Jan-Paul Zock, Ph.D.
To safeguard your airways, switch to non-spray liquid cleaner (this minimizes the amount of chemicals you inhale) or choose a spray that’s free of artificial substances, such as those from Method, Ecover, and Seventh Generation.
- CLEAR OUT Last week’s leftovers
When was the last time you saw the back of your fridge or picked through your pantry? Hanging on to those week- or several-months-old leftovers may raise your risk of becoming one of the 76 million people who suffer from food-borne illness every year. According to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research, subjects were up to three times more likely to drink a smoothie past its expiration date if they already owned it. People place extra value on things they possess, so they tend to downplay potential risks, explain the researchers.
After you throw away expired products and leftovers that are more than three days old, make sure your refrigerator thermostat is set to 40 F. “Anything warmer increases the odds that any bacteria in food can reach harmful levels,” says Catherine Donnelly, Ph.D., a professor of food science at the University of Vermont.
When it comes to the freezer or pantry, the concern is more about food quality than safety. Some foods--like steaks or chicken—are fine for up to a year, but most leftovers and frozen meals will start to get freezer burn after six months, which affects flavor and texture. Canned foods can last for years, but if you haven’t used them in a year, chances are you never will; donate your nonperishables to a food bank.
- CLEAR OUT Cold-weather bedding
When it’s chilly outside, there’s nothing cozier than snuggling beneath a thick blanket. But using the same sheets year-round can disrupt your snooze time, according to research from Cornell University Medical Center. “You start feeling sleepy when your body temperature drops,” says Patricia Murphy, M.D., the study’s author. “Raising may interrupt your natural circadian rhythms, making it harder to nod off.”
For a better night’s slumber, trade in your flannel sheets and heavy comforter for cotton sheets and a lightweight duvet.
Replacing flat pillows may also lead to sweeter dreams. Pillows lose elasticity over time, which means less support for your head—and potentially more tossing and turning. Synthetic ones last about two years, while feather versions, like those with goose down, need to be replaced every five. A good test: Fold your pillow in half. If it just lies there rather than springing back to the open position, toss it.
- CLEAR OUT Those 3-pound dumbbells
“If you’ve been working out with light weights for years, you may not reap the results you want,” says Jessica Matthews, a continuing education coordinator for the American Council on Exercise. “Varying your workouts will help build lean muscle mass, which boosts metabolism and calorie burn.”
How can you tell if you’re lifting the right amount? You should start to feel fatigued by the last few reps of a set, or after about a minute, says Matthews. “If you think you can keep going for a while, it’s time to bump up the weight.” You may also want to consider picking up some resistance bands to take your workout up a notch: A recent study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that women who used these elastic bands along with dumbbells gained two to three times the body strength as those who only lifted weight.
- CLEAR OUT Your heavy drapes
“Certain window treatments, like thick curtains and venetian or Roman Blinds, are serious dust magnets,” says Martha White, M.D., director of research at the Institute for Asthma and Allergy in Wheaton, Maryland. Dust can trigger sniffling, sneezing, and watery eyes in up to 45 million allergy sufferers, she says. If you have seasonal or indoor allergies, trade in those drapes for washable curtains made of cotton or a lightweight synthetic blend and launder them once a month. Prefer blinds? Replace them with roller-type shades that you can wipe down regularly (monthly is best)
Shelf-life smartsSome expiration dates aren’t clear-cut. Here’s when you need to replace a few common products.
- Smoke alarm batteries
1 year, or sooner if they chirp
One in five homes doesn’t have a working smoke alarm—mainly because the batteries are dead or missing. Set a specific date, like a birthday or the first of the year, to replace the batteries.
- Eye makeup
Mascara, eyeliner, and shadow contain preservatives that slow the growth of infection-causing bacteria, says Thomas Steinemann, M.D., a spokesman for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. “But micro-organisms can still grow in the container or tube over time.”
3 to 5 years
That’s the general rule for most condoms, but always check the expiration date printed on the foil wrapper to be absolutely certain, says David Johnson, group product manager for Trojan. Too-old condoms are more likely to break.
- Kitchen sponge
These scrubbers can breed bacteria. “A dirty sponge could spread more germs on your counters.” Says Robin Bechanko, a microbiologist for the public health organization NSF International. Between replacements, disinfect your sponge by microwaving it (make sure it’s sopping wet) for two minutes.
This skin smoother collects sloughed-off cells, which bacteria can feed on. Hang it up to dry after every use and toss it in the washing machine weekly.