8 Household Items That Go Bad — or Become Dangerous

All good things must come to an end, including a lot of the stuff filling your home.

While stocking up can seem like a smart move, not everything can be stored indefinitely. Following are some items that might be about to go bad in your stockpile.

1. Cleaning products

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How many of you have ancient cleaning supplies buried under your sink? It’s OK. You can admit it. I won’t judge. After all, when I moved into my first house, the previous owner had left some bottles under the sink. When I moved out 15 years later, some of those same bottles were still under the sink.

Part of the reason I never tossed them was because I thought cleaning supplies lasted indefinitely, and my frugal self couldn’t say goodbye to something potentially useful. Turns out I probably should have ditched those already old-looking bottles as soon as I moved in.

According to Good Housekeeping, cleaning supplies can degrade over time and lose their effectiveness. The plastic containers they’re stored in may also affect their formulas over time. The magazine says you can use these rules of thumb when it comes to deciding when cleaning supplies expire:

  • Laundry detergent — six to 12 months
  • Fabric softener — one year
  • Multisurface cleaners — two years
  • Cleaners with antibacterial ingredients — one year
  • Disinfectants — two years
  • Dishwasher detergent — three months
  • Dish soap — 12 to 18 months

If you use bleach in homemade cleaners, be aware it can lose its effectiveness quickly once diluted. The Scripps Research Institute says a 10 percent bleach solution is potent for only a day. Even in its original bottle and undiluted, bleach can start to degrade after six months.

2. Fire extinguishers

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A fire extinguisher is a classic get-it-and-forget-it item — until you need it to put out a stove-top flame and it doesn’t work. As it turns out, fire extinguishers do expire. Here’s what the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors says:

Fire extinguishers expire and they do this for a few different reasons. One common way is that, over time, the seal on the neck will weaken and allow compressed gas to escape. Extinguishers that have lost much of their pressure will not operate…. Expensive extinguishers that have expired, especially those designed for commercial use, can be refilled and resealed by companies who specialize in this service. Inexpensive models are disposable.

3. Car seats

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If your baby is in the same car seat your 10-year-old used, it’s time to go shopping.

Car seats are another unexpected item that will expire. You can usually find the expiration date printed on the label on the side of the seat, and my personal experience has been that most are good for five to six years.

The seats may expire because the plastic degrades over time, but safety innovations are another reason manufacturers put a shelf life on their products. Technology is constantly evolving, and 10 years from now, a better and safer car seat should have been developed.

4. Motor oil

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With the fluctuating cost of oil, it may be tempting to buy a lifetime supply when you find a great deal. But you could end up with oil that doesn’t perform well if you pull out a bottle that’s been in storage for years.

Some oils have additives that can break down over time. In addition, open or unsealed bottles can absorb moisture. The shelf life may vary depending on the manufacturer.

5. Toiletries and cosmetics

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Just because your dentist gives you a new toothbrush every six months doesn’t mean you can use that brush the entire time between visits. To keep your pearly whites clean and healthy, you should change brushes every three months.

Toothbrushes are just one example of how many bathroom essentials expire. In fact, most of the beauty and hygiene products in your cabinets will eventually go bad. In some cases, they may simply not work as well, but some cosmetics may collect bacteria over time and may pose a health risk.

Clean My Space has put together a comprehensive list of expiration dates for common cosmetic products and toiletries. You can find the complete list on their site, but here are some sample expiration dates:

  • Mascara — three months
  • Lipstick — two to three years
  • Oil-free foundation — one year
  • Cleanser — two years
  • Deodorant — three years
  • Shampoo/conditioner — three years unopened
  • Bar soap — three years

6. Paint

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Paint is another item that hangs out in many houses indefinitely. You use half a can and then put the rest in the basement, where it sits until the inspiration to do touch-up work hits you 10 years later. By that time, your paint has probably gone bad.

Glidden says its unopened latex or oil-based paints should have a shelf life of two years. However, that’s assuming you don’t let them freeze and store them away from heat sources like the furnace.

The Home Repair Resource Center gives these recommendations for other home repair and renovation products:

  • Oil-based stains — one year opened, two to three years unopened
  • Water-based stains — one year opened, two years unopened
  • Oil-based varnishes — one year, opened or unopened
  • Caulk — two months opened, one year unopened
  • Glazing compounds — one year opened, two years unopened

Of course, some paints and products may last longer, depending on their formulation and storage. Here are some tips to help you decide if your old paint is still good or needs to be pitched.

7. Wine, beer and liquor

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While fine wine gets better with age, the same can’t be said for all forms of alcohol. Even bottled wine will go bad if stored improperly, and boxed wine is only good for about a year after packaging.

Mass-produced beer has an expiration date on it, and while drinking past that date won’t hurt you, it might be a less than tasty experience. As for craft beers, food website The Kitchn reports that their flavor peaks a few months after bottling. However, when stored out of the light and at a stable temperature, they should last a year before the taste begins to really go bad.

There is even a limit to how long the hard stuff will last. Again, we’ll go back to The Kitchn. The site says unopened bottles of liquor will last indefinitely, but once opened, they begin to lose potency. It’s best to use up that whiskey, vodka and bourbon within a year after your first sip.

8. Batteries

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Finally, we wrap up our list with batteries. Today’s batteries usually have a fairly prominent expiration date listed somewhere on the package, but in case you missed it, we’re here to remind you the batteries you stored for Y2K are probably no longer any good.

Because of science I don’t fully understand (I am a writer, after all), batteries can begin losing small amounts of energy from the moment they’re manufactured. As a result, old batteries could be completely depleted or corroded before you ever crack open the package.

The shelf life for batteries can vary significantly depending on how they’re made. For example, Energizer says its ultimate lithium batteries will last 15 years, while advanced lithium batteries have a shelf life of 10 years. Meanwhile, the company’s rechargeable batteries lose 1 percent of their deliverable energy every day, giving them a short shelf life before they need to be recharged.

Stocking up at low prices can be a smart financial move, but only if you can use what you buy before it goes bad. If you have a bathroom full of old cosmetics or a garage filled with paint and oil, it may be time to purge and be a little more mindful about what you buy in the future.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

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