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Video: When to throw things out

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updated 7/7/2008 11:37:11 AM ET 2008-07-07T15:37:11

The ritual of deep cleaning doesn't just clear the cobwebs from your ceilings (and your head) — it's essential for great health, too. Knowing when to pitch everything from medication to your smoke alarm helps you and your family sleep better, stay safer, heal faster and more. Our room-by-room guide outlines some surprising expiration dates.

Bedroom
Reduce allergies: 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.

Get deeper sleep: Toss your mattress after five to 10 years
A good mattress lasts nine to 10 years, according to the National Sleep Foundation, but consider replacing yours every five to seven years if you don't sleep well. A study at Oklahoma State University found that most people who switched to new bedding after five years sleep significantly better and have less back pain.

Be alert to danger: 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 U.S. homes have smoke alarms that don't work.

Stay cool and save money: 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 six 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.

Kitchen
Maintain pills’ potency: Replace vitamins after two years

Independent tests find that most nutritional supplements are good for three years if stored in a cool, dry place, says William Obermeyer, Ph.D., vice president for research at Consumer­Lab.com. Because the product may have been sitting on store or warehouse shelves for a year, chuck it two years after purchase if there's no expiration date.

Keep blazes at bay: 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 six years or when the pressure is low. (Look for service companies in the Yellow Pages under fire extinguishers.)

Drink purer, safer H2O: Keep water filters 20 percent longer than normal
"Filters that make health claims like lead removal are designed to provide a margin of safety in case they're not changed on time," says Rick Andrew, operations manager at NSF International, an Ann Arbor, Mich.-based company that tests filters. (This applies to most drinking water purifiers, including models from Culligan, Brita and PUR.) Those equipped with expiration indicators (such as trigger lights) last 20 percent longer than their recommended life — so a filter certified to clean 100 gallons actually purifies 120. Filters without an indictor last even longer, cleaning twice the number of gallons claimed.

Protect against foodborne bacteria: Hold on to cutting boards indefinitely
How you sanitize the board — and not its age — is what kills bugs such as E. coli and salmonella. "The decision to replace one is ultimately based on when you think it looks too beat up," says Brenda Wilson, Ph.D., an associate professor of microbiology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Even a board with deep cracks or grooves is safe if it's sanitized after each use: Wash the board with detergent and hot water; then rinse and flood with a solution of 1 part full-strength white vinegar to 4 parts water and let it sit for five minutes. Rinse with clean water, pat with a clean towel, and air dry.

Bathroom
Keep eyes healthy: Discard contact lens solution after three months

"Once the seal is broken, germs can contaminate bottles that are left uncapped or that lack a backflow device, increasing your risk of infection," says Louise A. Sclafani, O.D., an associate professor of ophthalmology at University of Chicago Hospital. Get a new case every three months, too.

Safeguard oral health: Replace your toothbrush every three to four months
The American Dental Association recommends a three- to four-month rotation because frayed and worn bristles don't clean as well — leaving teeth more vulnerable to decay.

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Prevent infection: Throw away eye makeup six months after opening
The applicators used to apply mascara, liner and shadow are repeatedly exposed to bacteria in the air and on your lashes; after six months of everyday use, they can overpower the products' preservatives, says John Bailey, Ph.D., 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 two years; dry face products like powder and lip items are generally formulated to last at least three.

Heal wounds faster: Toss antibacterial cream after one year
Beyond a year, the antibiotic is probably still good, but the chemical mix in the ointment may start to go bad, which may make the product less effective.

Fight flakes: Hang on to dandruff shampoo for three years
Most medicated shampoo will stay effective at least that long if there isn't an expiration date. Adding water to an almost-empty bottle to get the last bit from the bottom dilutes preservatives and makes them less effective. Toss the remainder after several days.

Cool, soothe and disinfect: Use rubbing alcohol until the bottle is empty
"Rubbing alcohol practically lasts forever," says Abigail Salyers, Ph.D., a professor of microbiology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Even after exposure to air, the alcohol/water solution remains stable for years, if not decades, and the alcohol kills any microbes that might get into the bottle.

Copyright© 2012 Rodale Inc.All rights reserved. No reproduction, transmission or display is permitted without the written permissions of Rodale Inc.

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