2012: In With The New and Out With The Old

02/12/2012 11:05 pm ET | Updated Apr 13, 2012
  • Dr. Susan Taylor Dermatologist, Clinical Researcher, and Expert on Treating Skin of Color

Every New Year, most of us think conceptually about "bringing in the new and getting rid of the old," but when it comes to items that we use everyday, we often forget. Sometime forgetting results in the item not working as well as when it was new, but other times it can lead to an unhealthy situation (think breeding ground for bacteria). Part of the problem is simply not knowing how often to replace certain items or how often to clean them. The other part of the problem is giving yourself permission to get rid of the item altogether. So as we are in the second month of this New Year, we will discuss five often overlooked, common household items and when to throw them away, clean or replace them.

  • Pillows. The key question here is do you see yellow stains on your pillow and if so, do you know what they are from? Well, those yellow stains develop when you drool at night and the saliva permeates the pillow and dries (yuck). Although pillows can last a year or more (expensive down pillows may last years as compared to other varieties of pillows) before they get lumpy or misshapen, it is important to either wash or dry clean pillows every 6-12 months (think twice a year, in January and June). Your dried saliva and shed skin cells can provide a fertile breading ground for bacteria. If you do not want to go to the trouble or expense of washing or dry cleaning them, there are two additional options. First, you can purchase pillow covers and change them every few months. Alternatively, you can replace old pillow by purchasing inexpensive new pillows on your January and June schedule.
  • Toothbrush. If the bristles on your toothbrush are bent and falling out, you have kept it way, way to long! Although a toothbrush can actually last for 6 months or longer, we think that the bacteria in your mouth can breed in it (particularly if they do not dry out between uses), which may lead to an unhealthy situation. So you should get in the habit of replacing your toothbrush every 2 to 3 months unless you have been sick. If you get a cold or sore throat, we suggest you get a new toothbrush right away. There are two other important things to remember. First, attempting to sterilize a toothbrush by boiling or placing it in a microwave oven can damage the toothbrush so it is not recommended. Secondly, do not leave the toothbrush face down on a wet countertop but instead keep it upright in a holder or cup so it can dry thoroughly between brushing.
  • Makeup brushes. If you can make up your face without dipping your makeup brushes in the makeup, they need to be washed immediately. In the case of these brushes think buildup of bacteria, dead skin cells as well as yeast cells and viruses. Wash in warm soapy water, monthly, and allow them to dry completely before using again. If some of the bristles begin to fall out, then it is time to purchase a new brush. If you use a sponge or the pad included with powder, you should replace it before the makeup runs out. Plan on replacing them monthly.
  • Pills either prescription or over-the-counter. Do you have several half full bottles of prescription antibiotics or other medications that you no longer need in you medicine cabinet? Do you have bottles of aspirin, other over the counter pain medications or even ointments that have been in your medicine cabinet for years. Do you even know where on the package to look for the expiration date? I suggest that you throw half used prescription medications and over the counter medications as well, away every 6 to 12 months for several reasons. It is unlikely that the doctor will prescribe the exact same medication again and if he or she does, you will likely not have enough for a full course. All medications have an expiration date beyond which they can lose their effectiveness and even degrade and become harmful.
  • Kitchen sponges. When is the last time you took a whiff of your kitchen sponge? If it smells bad, it is bad and it's definitely time to toss it. Has the color changed? Again it is over due to be replaced. Think about the potential for bacteria being spread across your kitchen counter or stove or dishes. Bacteria require moist environments to grow and sponges take a long time to dry so they are a perfect set up for disease. Although microwaving the sponge may kill the bacteria, it is difficult to know how long to leave it in the microwave and what temperature the sponge should reach. The safest thing to do is to get into the habit of replacing your kitchen sponge weekly, yes weekly.
Although some of these suggestions may at first seem extreme and difficult to implement, once you create a routine and get into the habit, it will become second nature. These changes will help to ensure good health throughout the year.