Spring is here and now’s the perfect time to spruce up your home: wash windows, touch up paint, scrub the floors. But maybe it’s also time to dig a little deeper. Open up a few cupboards and drawers – you’ll likely find items that have been sitting there for years. Clear out the old and make space for the new with this room-by-room cleanup guide.
Start in the medicine chest. According to Dr. Barry Power, director of practice development for the Canadian Pharmacists Association in Ottawa, over-the-counter medications are usually marked with an expiration date. If there’s no date, a safe bet is to throw out anything that’s more than two years old. Prescription drugs should be finished as your physician prescribes, but if it’s a medication that is to be used as needed, don’t keep it for longer than two years. Ask your pharmacist to dispose of any expired medication or to give you instructions about how to safely get rid of it. For environmental reasons, don’t throw out or flush unused medications.
When it comes to cosmetics, how do you know when it’s time to throw? Companies like Lancôme are starting to print expiry dates on their products. If your product isn’t marked, here are some guidelines from Antoinette Ritondo, national training manager for Lancôme. Once opened and used, powder-based products can be kept for 12 to 18 months. Cream or oil-based products should only be used for up to one year. Products you’re using very close to the eyes, such as liner or mascara, should be replaced every three or four months. And self tanners, which can lose their effectiveness, should be replaced every six to12 months.
If you’ve got more than several bottles of fragrance sitting on your bedroom dresser, keep in mind that they will only be good to use for a year or two before the colour and scent changes, says Ritondo. To extend the life of your favourite scents, store them in a cool dark place, such as inside a drawer.
Are you keeping leftover paint for touchups? Stored properly with the lid tightly in place, paint can be kept for many years, according to Sharon Grech, design and colour manager for central Canada at Benjamin Moore. It’s not possible to use paint if it’s been sitting in a cold garage through a winter (paint must be stored in temperatures above 10 degrees celsius). Record the colour information, then dispose of the old paint at your nearest household hazardous waste depot. Check to see if empty cans can go out with your recyclables.
Insecticides can be kept for years, but should be carefully disposed of – check with your local household hazardous waste depot.
More than any other room, you need to regularly rid your kitchen cupboards and the fridge of items that you’ve kept too long. Dr. Rick Holley, professor of food microbiology at the department of food science at the University of Manitoba, says that to enjoy foods at their freshest, opened jams, ketchup, pickles, relish, mustard, barbecue sauce and salad dressings should only be kept for about six months in the fridge; mayonnaise may spoil more quickly and should be replaced after two or three months.
Your pantry items should turn over regularly as well. Herbs, spices and baking items that are sold and stored in bottles are quite shelf stable, says Holley, and can last up to a few years. If kept in bags, they’ll only stay fresh for a few months. Cereals and crackers will be good for up to a year if they’re well sealed once opened. Canned goods can be kept for a year or two as long as the metal retains its shape and colour.
Most laundry products have a recommended shelf life of 12 to 18 months, says Romeo Cardozo, senior technical support specialist for Unilever Canada. Laundry or household products that are bleach-based may lose their effectiveness after about six months – store in a dark place so they keep longer. Most other household cleaning products have an unlimited shelf life.
Tips to remember
• Check expiry dates and dispose of all items past the marked due date.
• Use a permanent marker to write purchase dates on everything you buy, from cosmetics and creams to canned goods and condiments.
• When in doubt, throw it out (or take it to your local waste facility).