Quick: When was the last time you replaced your mattress? Pillows? Even that jumbo bottle of shampoo? You'd be surprised how the shelf life of everyday household items can affect your health, and their expire-by dates are often sooner than you'd expect. Here's what to toss and when:
1) Replace pillows every year
Hair and body oils will have soaked into a pillow's fabric and stuffing after a year of nightly use, making it a breeding ground for odor-causing bacteria and allergy-triggering dust mites. Using protectors can double the life of your pillows.
2) Toss your mattress after 5 to 10 years
A good mattress lasts 9 to 10 years, according to the National Sleep Foundation, but consider replacing yours every 5 to 7 years if you don't sleep well. A study at Oklahoma State University found that most people who switched to new bedding after 5 years sleep significantly better and have less back pain.
3) Change smoke alarms after 10 years
After a decade of continual vigilance, a unit's sensors become less sensitive, putting you at greater risk from smoke or fire should a blaze erupt. Test smoke alarms monthly, and replace batteries with new ones every year. To safeguard your family, install alarms on every level of your home, in bedrooms, and outside all sleeping areas. Scary stat: One-fifth of US homes have smoke alarms that don't work.
4) Keep air conditioners until they die
With proper maintenance, including annual servicing, a room or central air conditioner can easily run for up to 15 years, especially if you don't operate it year-round, says Bill Harrison, president elect of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air Conditioning Engineers. Check the filter at least every 6 weeks, particularly in humid weather. "If dirt covers the filter so you can't see the original material or view light through it, clean it or buy a new one," he says.
5) Replace vitamins after 2 years
Independent tests find that most nutritional supplements are good for 3 years if stored in a cool, dry place, says William Obermeyer, PhD, vice president for research at ConsumerLab.com. Because the product may have been sitting on store or warehouse shelves for a year, chuck it 2 years after purchase if there's no expiration date.
6) Toss fire extinguishers every 10 years
Portable extinguishers may lose pressure over time and become ineffective whether or not they've been triggered, says Lorraine Carli, national spokesperson for the National Fire Protection Association. If your extinguisher is rechargeable, have it serviced every 6 years or when the pressure is low. (Look for service companies in the Yellow Pages under fire extinguishers.)
7) Discard contact lens solution after 3 months
"Once the seal is broken, germs can contaminate bottles that are left uncapped or lack a backflow device, increasing your risk of infection," says Louise A. Sclafani, OD, an associate professor of ophthalmology at University of Chicago Hospital. Get a new case every 3 months too.
8) Replace your toothbrush every 3 to 4 months
The American Dental Association recommends a 3- to 4-month rotation because frayed and worn bristles don't clean as well, leaving teeth more vulnerable to decay.
9) Throw away eye makeup 6 months after opening
The applicators for mascara, liner, and shadow are repeatedly exposed to bacteria in the air and on your lashes; after 6 months of everyday use, they can overpower the products' preservatives, says John Bailey, PhD, chief scientist at the Personal Care Products Council. Liquid products that don't touch the eyes, such as foundation, can be used for up to 2 years; dry face products like powder and lip items are generally formulated to last at least 3.
10) Toss antibacterial cream after 1 year
Beyond a year, the antibiotic is probably still good, but the chemical mix in the ointment may start to go bad and make the product less effective.
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