21 Household Items That Go Bad and Could Become Dangerous
Toothpaste, sunscreen, and the spices in your cupboard all have expiration dates.
Many household items have a clear expiration date: We know exactly when it's time to toss out those eggs or that carton of milk. But other household staples, including certain foods, seem like they'll last forever—and surprise, they definitely won't. From toiletries to pillows to kitchen products, here are 21 common household items that go bad and can be hazardous to your health if they're used past their expiration date.
Toothbrushes don't technically have an expiration date, but they do go bad after time, according to Shahrooz Yazdani, DDS, of Yazdani Family Dentistry. "Changing your toothbrush every four months or so is important, particularly if you've had a cold in that span, because minuscule germs will have developed on the bristles of your brush," says Yazdani. "If you re-use that brush, you risk being reinfected."
Even if you haven't been sick, Yazdani says it's still important to replace your toothbrush because germs and bacteria build up on the bristles regardless, making you susceptible to colds and infections.
According to Sean Tomalty, DMD, a cosmetic dentist at Tomalty Dental Care, toothpaste is an item that many people may not realize can actually go bad. "After time, toothpaste will become ineffective and the ingredients will begin to separate and crystalize," Tomalty explains. This usually happens after around two years.
Although it doesn't pose an immediate danger, the toothpaste simply won't work as intended after two years have passed. "You'll expose yourself to oral conditions and ailments which could become larger health concerns," says Tomalty.
Tomalty also recommends monitoring your mouthwash. "Mouthwash containing alcohol is an antiseptic, but in time that can dissolve and become ineffective after two to three years," he explains.
"Eye drops are generally formulated with a preservative that keeps the product sterile for 28 days after breaking the seal," says Erin Nance, MD. These preservatives are designed to prevent bacteria from growing in eye drop bottles, which extends their shelf life—but they still need to be tossed four weeks after opening.
"If you use expired eye drops which don't have active preservatives, and the tip of the eye drop bottle becomes contaminated [when] it touches a part of your eye, this can cause a bacterial infection if those drops continue to be used," says Nance.
Disposable razors are hotbeds for gathering bacteria, according to research published in 2012 by Infection Control Today. Also, using disposable razors for more than three shaves can result in skin irritation or rashes, so make sure you're swapping out your razors frequently.
It's a common belief that spices can last a lifetime, but that's not true. "They can last for multiple years, typically in the three- to four-year range, but after that, they lose their potency and can cause some digestive problems," says Jocelyn Nadua, RPN, care coordinator at C-Care Health Services. Expired spices won't kill you, but it's common to have an upset stomach for a few hours after consumption. "Typically a small amount won't cause any harm, but if you overload your dish with them, your stomach may ache for a bit," says Nadua. She recommends checking the expiration date on your spices if you haven't before.
Vegetable oil can go bad and become rancid more quickly than you might expect, as reported by The Dallas Morning News. University of Massachusetts professor Eric Decker told the outlet that when these items go rancid, they develop potentially toxic compounds that have been linked to heart disease, cancer, and neurological disorders.
Pay close attention to the "sell by" and "use by" dates on these products. Store oils in a cool, dark cabinet rather than next to the stove.
"Many people feel canned items can last 'forever.' Not so!" says Lisa Lewis, MD, a pediatrician in Fort Worth, Texas. "Never used canned foods after the expiration date."
It's certainly possible to consume canned goods after the expiration date without experiencing any symptoms, especially if the item has been stored in a cool, dry, clean environment. But Lewis cautions that "if canned food is spoiled, the user may get symptoms of food poisoning, such as abdominal cramping, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea."
Fine wine improves with age, but the same can't be said for boxed or packaged wine. Boxed wine has an expiration date, typically six to eight months after the date of purchase, and six to eight weeks after opening. Most expired boxed wine doesn't pose a danger because the boxes are made from polyethylene, which is one of the safest plastics.
However, some boxes contain Bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical that has been linked to heart disease and fertility problems. You definitely don't want to drink wine if BPA has potentially seeped into it, so check either the box or the company's website to verify exactly what types of plastic and chemicals it contains.
Using sunscreen that is past its expiration date can lead to a sunburn, which puts you at risk for skin cancer. "If you're struggling to find a date on the packaging, make a note of the month and year you bought the product," says Daniel Atkinson, a UK-based general practitioner and clinical lead at Treated.com. Sunscreen is typically safe to use for three years after the time of purchase.
Contact Lens Cases
Mark Bowers, OD, an optometrist at Blountville Family Eyecare, says contact lens cases should be replaced at least every three months—and the solution in your case should be completely changed every time you use your lenses.
"Bacteria can form an invisible film lining on the lenses, which is called a biofilm. This biofilm protects the bacteria from the solution, thus increasing your risk of infection," Bowers explains. And that bacteria can easily spread to your lens case during storage.
Alain Michon, MD, medical director at Ottawa Skin Clinic, says that any facial cream or serum typically has a shelf life of six to twelve months once it has been opened. "After that, applying the product directly on your skin can be quite dangerous," Michon says.
Using an expired facial cream can cause acne breakouts, infections, or other skin reactions. "When you have a skincare product, use it consistently until you have no more, so that you don't use it later when the product has lost its effectiveness or can be harmful," he advises.
A 2008 study published in the medical journal Optometry found that three months after opening a new tube of mascara, 36.4 percent of the tubes contained microbial growth—mainly Staphylococcus epidermidis, Streptococcus species, or fungi. These are common causes of eye infections and, in rare cases, damaged vision, so it's best to replace your mascara every three months.
"We use loofahs to exfoliate our skin, but if we don't allow them to dry out, the dirt and dead skin cells on our bodies get stuck in the weave of the material," says Atkinson. When you use the loofah for your next wash, you end up putting that dirt and those dead skin cells back onto your body.
A significant 1994 study in the Journal of Clinical Microbiology showed that loofahs can spread bacteria that's capable of causing infection, and people who have weak immune systems are especially susceptible. The Cleveland Clinic recommends cleaning loofahs weekly, and replacing natural ones every three to four weeks. Plastic loofahs can be used for up to two months at the most, but if you see any mold, it's time to replace it immediately.
Even if you're diligent about cleaning your sponges, they still contain way more bacteria than you may think and should be replaced frequently. In fact, a 2017 study published in Scientific Reports found that sponges may actually lead to an increase in bacteria—including pathogenic bacteria, like E. coli and salmonella. Based on their findings, researchers recommend replacing your sponge once a week.
Dishwasher detergents should be replaced every three months, Nancy Bock of the American Cleaning Institute told The Kitchn. The enzymes in these detergents degrade quickly, meaning they no longer effectively remove the grime from dishes after three months.
Eating off dishes that haven't been properly cleaned and sanitized puts you at risk for developing a foodborne illness, according to the public health organization Stop Foodborne Illness.
A popular disinfectant, bleach is a staple in most homes—but it expires surprisingly quickly. According to The Scripps Research Institute, bleach begins to degrade after about six months of being opened. Although this doesn't necessarily make it dangerous, it does mean that bleach's disinfecting qualities become less effective, so it's not killing as many bacteria and viruses as it should.
According to Sleep.org by The National Sleep Foundation, pillows should be replaced every one to two years. Pillows absorb our body oil, dead skin cells, and hair, which can make them a prime breeding ground for dust mites—and dust mites are dangerous triggers for people with allergies and asthma, according to the American Lung Association. Furthermore, using a pillow for an extended period of time causes it to become misshapen, which can cause neck and back pain.
"An HVAC (heating and air conditioning) system not properly serviced at least once or twice a year can cause mold, dust, odors, bacteria, and airborne viruses due to poor air filtration and ventilation systems," says Tony Abate, vice president and chief technical officer at AtmosAir Solutions.
If anyone in your household has allergies or asthma, poor indoor air quality could make their symptoms even worse. "Regular care and maintenance of your HVAC system is important to avoid build-up, keep critical components clean, and provide a healthy environment for your family," says Abate.
Be cautious when it comes to using hand-me-down car seats or keeping the same one around for future children or grandchildren. Contrary to popular belief, car seats do expire from a combination of wear and tear and updates to technology. Most car seats have a plastic shell, and plastic is a material that breaks down over time and becomes brittle. If a child is seated in an expired car seat and an accident occurs, the plastic could break apart and fail to keep the child protected as intended.
A car seat's expiration date is typically six years from the date of manufacture, as reported by The Washington Post. Check the sticker with the product's serial number; it also includes the manufacture and expiration date.
Electrical Cords and Extension Cords
Although electrical cords and extension cords don't have an expiration date, they can become frayed or worn. At this point the cords become a fire hazard and should be replaced immediately. You should also replace cords that have been repeatedly stepped on, or have been pinched between heavy pieces of furniture.