11 Household Items That Go Bad — or Become Dangerous

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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 things that might be about to go bad in your stockpile.

1. Hand sanitizer

Child sanitizing hand
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Most hand sanitizers have an expiration date printed on the label. Opinions differ, but the stuff lasts for a year to three years, says Women’s Health. Some health experts argue that old or undated hand sanitizer is better than none.

In general, over-the-counter drug products must display an expiration date unless they can show that they are stable for more than three years, says the U.S. Food & Drug Administration. But the FDA says it doesn’t have data on whether hand sanitizer is stable or effective after its expiration date.

Beware These 7 Hand-Washing Mistakes” says that hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol is useful when soap and water aren’t available.

But washing your hands for at least 20 seconds with plain (not antibacterial) soap and water is the best protection against catching and spreading disease, especially before eating and after using the bathroom, coughing or sneezing, the FDA adds.

Bottom line: Any time, but especially during the coronavirus pandemic, using expired hand sanitizer isn’t worth the risk.

2. Some medicines

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Studies have found that some medications are good for as long as 15 years after their expiration dates.

At the same time, some medications — including aspirin — have been found to not remain stable past their expiration dates, according to Harvard Medical School. Additionally, the FDA says taking expired meds is risky and possibly harmful.

So, if you are ever in doubt about whether it’s safe to take an expired medication, it’s probably not worth the risk.

3. Pepper spray

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Here’s one area where you won’t want to stretch an expiration date. If you depend on pepper spray and other self-defense sprays, follow your product’s expiration date carefully.

Mace, which makes self-defense sprays and repellant sprays for use against bears and dogs, says its products, with a shelf life of four years from the date of manufacture, are labeled with expiration dates. After those dates the sprays won’t have enough pressurization to work correctly, Mace says.

4. Cleaning products

A couple shops for cleaning products at a store
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When I moved into my first house, the previous owner had left bottles of cleaning supplies under the sink. When I moved out 15 years later, some of those bottles were still there.

I thought cleaning supplies lasted indefinitely. My frugal self couldn’t say goodbye to something potentially useful. Turns out I probably should have ditched those already-old 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 in time. The magazine offers these rules of thumb for judging products’ lifespan:

  • Laundry detergent — 6 to 12 months
  • Fabric softener — 1 year
  • Multisurface cleaners — 2 years
  • Cleaners with antibacterial ingredients — 1 year
  • Lysol disinfectants — 2 years
  • Dishwasher detergent — 3 months
  • Dish soap — 12 to 18 months

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

5. Fire extinguishers

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trubitsyn / Shutterstock.com

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.

Fire extinguishers do expire, some because of weak seals that allow gas to escape and others that fail when chemicals inside solidify. The International Association of Certified Home Inspectors says:

“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.”

6. Car seats

Maria Sbytova / Shutterstock.com
Maria Sbytova / Shutterstock.com

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

You can usually find an expiration date printed on the label on the side of the seat. 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. Ten years from now a better and safer car seat should have been developed.

7. Motor oil

If you're low on oil - or the oil hasn't been changed recently enough - you'll out more pressure on your engine and your budget.
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With the fluctuating cost of oil, it might be tempting to buy a lifetime supply for your car when you find a great deal. But you could end up with oil that doesn’t perform well if it’s been in storage for years.

Motor oil generally has a shelf life of five years, according to AutoBlog. Store it in a cool, dark place to maintain its stability. Synthetic motor oils may have a somewhat longer shelf life.

The important thing is to pay attention to the manufacturer’s expiration date and refrain from using an expired product, AutoBlog stresses.

8. Toiletries and cosmetics

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

Likewise, most beauty and hygiene products in your cabinets will eventually go bad. In some cases, they may simply not work as well. Some cosmetics may collect bacteria over time and may pose a health risk.

Clean My Space has a list of expiration dates for common cosmetic products and toiletries. Here are a few:

  • Mascara — 3 months
  • Lipstick — 2-3 years
  • Oil-free foundation — 1 year
  • Cleanser — 2 years
  • Deodorant — 3 years
  • Shampoo/conditioner — 3 years unopened
  • Bar soap — 3 years

9. Paint

man shopping for paint
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Paint is another item that hangs out in many homes 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 last two years when stored in a cool, dry area, away from extreme hot and cold. (Never store it near a furnace or let it freeze.)

The Home Repair Resource Center gives the shelf life of these home repair and renovation products if they have been properly stored:

  • Oil-based stains — 1 year opened, 2-3 years unopened
  • Water-based stains — 1 year opened, 2 years unopened
  • Oil-based varnishes — 1 year, opened or unopened
  • Caulk — 2 months opened, 1 year unopened
  • Glazing compounds — 1 year opened, 2 years unopened

Some may last longer, depending on their formulation and storage. Check the manufacturer’s website for advice.

10. Wine, beer and liquor

Couple reading label on wine bottle
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While some 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 opened bottles are drinkable for only a few days.

Mass-produced beer has an expiration date on it. Drinking past that date won’t hurt you but it might be less than tasty. As for craft beers, The Kitchn reports that 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 go bad.

There is even a limit to how long the hard stuff will last. The Kitchn says unopened bottles of liquor will last indefinitely, but once opened, they begin to lose potency. Use up whiskey, vodka and bourbon within a year after your first sip.

11. Batteries

Jose Angel Astor Rocha / Shutterstock.com
Jose Angel Astor Rocha / Shutterstock.com

Batteries don’t last forever. Look for the “Best If Used By Date” in a white box at the top of battery cells, near the battery type (AA, AAA, etc.) or on the packaging. A battery may still work after that date, but the performance can dim, says battery maker Energizer.

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