Many people wonder what to throw away from their medicine cabinet. What pharmacy drugs and supplies can be stored, and for how long, before they expire or become useless? Before you get busted peeking into someone else’s pharmacy-filled medicine cabinet, this is what you need to know about cleaning out your own.
The Contents of Your Medicine Cabinet Expire
Just like the milk in your fridge, the cereal in your pantry, and the mascara stashed in your makeup bag, the common household medicine cabinet stows contents that expire. You may not think a tube of toothpaste can go bad. You may not consider how that old bottle of antibiotics from the pharmacy (that you stopped taking three days in, because you felt better and the symptoms went by the wayside) might be dangerous to consume now. Worse, you stocked up your medicine cabinet the last time you took a trip to Mexico, where you happily purchased a variety of discount drugs without needing physician approval. From steroids to treat your psoriasis, to Albuterol for your asthma, to a bottle of Amoxicillin for home treatment (never advised) of the common cold, the contents of that last vacation remain on the second shelf. And let’s just say it’s been awhile since your trip. Here is the lowdown on what to keep, what to stash, and what to throw out.
Toothpaste: Not every toothpaste has an expiration date; you will have to look at either the bottom of the box or the tube to find out if your paste is perishable. Most of the perishable pastes are those found at the pharmacy developed for sensitive teeth or that contain bleaching agents. However, even though a paste might not expire, it still might have a “use by” date after it has been opened. Look closely at your toothpaste tubes and you will likely see a stamp that reads “Use by 12m” or “Use by 24m” etc., meaning that that is the maximum time after the product has been opened that it should be used.
Deodorants, Shampoo, and Lotion: As a general rule, toiletry items such as shampoos, lotions and deodorants have a shelf life of up to three years after they have been manufactured. This does not mean that they cannot be used (we have all seen old AVON products at flea markets) it just means you should probably use with caution. Chemicals can change, fragrances can fade, and formulations sometimes lose their effectiveness.
Vitamins: Supplements do not have an FDA expiration date requirement. This means that the FDA does not dictate that companies disclose how long a vitamin or supplement can be safely stored. You will find most reputable manufacturers include an expiration date, which simply means that exact date is the last day the supplement will be at its full potency. Anything after that and the effectiveness of the vitamin and its ability to provide the results that you seek could be diminished. Store your vitamins in their original, closed containers, away from heat and humidity.
While some people argue storing supplements in the refrigerator is best, you should consider the condensation that occurs upon refrigeration, as that may break down the capsules long before they actually expire. As a general rule, two years should be sufficient before you toss them, although some people have kept supplements for over a decade.
Prescription Drugs: Prescription drugs usually expire within one to five years, but that does not mean you should not toss them sooner. If you are treating a condition that no longer exists, or cannot remember the reason for the original prescription, it is always best to throw away the remnants. Almost all prescribed drugs should be used in entirety prior to being refilled at the pharmacy. If you have leftover medications, for some reason the proper daily dosage was never met. Remember to throw away your leftover medications, rather than flushing them down the toilet. The federal government regularly tests water to ensure the safety and cleanliness of the source, and flushed pharmaceuticals can end up in drinking water.
How long has it been since you cleaned out your medicine cabinet? Maybe it is time to take inventory of what can stay and what needs to go. Be safe and know what is in your medicine cabinet.