So, you’re ready to do some spring cleaning. We’d start with the items that could potentially endanger your health. Here are eight items that you definitely shouldn’t be keeping around.
1. Pancake Mix
Pancake mix can actually become somewhat dangerous under the right circumstances. According to Snopes, packaged pancake mixes (along with many other cake mixes) can attract mold, ruining the taste of the pancake—oh, and potentially threatening your life.
Of course, for a pancake to constitute a real threat, you’d have to have a mold allergy, and the mix must be in a plain box, not in a pouch made of wax paper, foil, or plastic. Technically, the age of the mix doesn’t matter, since mold spores can get into the box right away, but older mix is more likely to be compromised.
Most people who eat mold-infested pancake mix will just taste something strange without experiencing symptoms. One person compared the flavor to rubbing alcohol (we’re guessing syrup didn’t help).
There’s another good reason to throw out the pancake mix, however: It’s incredibly easy to make at home, since it’s just baking soda, baking powder, sugar, salt, and flour. Plus, homemade pancakes easily beat the “just add water” stuff. Check out these recipes below:
Let’s get this out of the way: Green potatoes won’t kill you. However, they don’t taste great, and they’re not great for you.
However, those old, sprouting potatoes in your pantry do pose some health risks. What happens to potatoes as they age? Watch the video below to find out:
Potatoes can be deadly in extreme circumstances. In 2013, the Daily Mail reported on a family that died after being poisoned by fumes from rotten potatoes, noting that the family had stored hundreds of spuds for the winter in a damp cellar.
3. Off-Brand Cell Phone Chargers
All phone chargers are the same, right? After all, they all have the same basic plugs and cords. Plus, the generic chargers cost much less than their name-brand counterparts; where Apple might charge $30 for a Lightning cable, some other brands cost less than $10.
Well, you get what you paid for—in some cases, anyway. Ken Shirriff of How-To Geek took a dozen chargers and put them to the test. He found that some of the off-brand chargers didn’t provide consistent power, which could potentially lead to battery damage for your expensive smartphone.
Some generic chargers can even create a safety risk, as an unfortunate 26-year-old woman learned when her charger “shot out like a firework.” (More info here, but be warned: The link contains some graphic content).
The good news is that some third-party charger brands like Belkin and Monoprice fared well in Ken Shirriff’s tests. As a general rule, try to choose electronic chargers from brands that you recognize and avoid the $3 value deals.
To repair fraying cords and extend the life of all your chargers, check out these tips!
4. Some (But Not All) Expired Medications
Contrary to popular belief, most expired medications aren’t dangerous. Pharmaceutical companies only guarantee the full potency of medications up to the date of expiration; past that point, the medicine will probably become slightly less effective, but it won’t suddenly become toxic.
Still, there are exceptions. Tetracycline, epinephrine, insulin, anticonvulsants, and many psychiatric drugs have strict expiration dates and should be immediately discarded when they’re expired.
Eye drops should also be discarded, since bacteria can form very quickly past the expiration date—and yes, that applies to contact lens solutions and other over-the-counter eye drops.
Don’t just toss your expired medicines into the trash, however, as you could be breaking the law in the process. The FDA recommends taking medications to medical take-back sites when possible.
5. Expired Makeup and Skin Products
For some skin products, active ingredients can stop functioning after a while. That could be a big deal if, say, the product is sunscreen—as the SPF degrades, so does your protection from harmful UV rays. If you’re counting on that protection, you could end up with a sunburn (and getting a sunburn once every 2 years can triple your risk of melanoma).
Likewise, some acne treatments may actually end up doing more harm than good if they’re expired, as bacteria can start to grow in the solution as the active ingredients weaken.
That means that instead of rubbing an antimicrobial on your pores, you’re covering them with the bacteria from your bathroom.
We couldn’t get a hold of a dermatologist for this story, but we’re fairly sure that “rub a bunch of germs on your face every morning” isn’t an effective treatment for acne.
6. Old Toothbrushes
Chances are pretty good that your toothbrush is too old to be doing you any good, and in fact, an extremely old toothbrush could actually pose a health risk.
The American Dental Association notes that toothbrushes “may harbor microorganisms that could cause oral and/or systemic infection.” If that doesn’t sound alarming enough, they also state that toothbrushes might contain bacteria right out of the box—but an older toothbrush is more likely to harbor bacteria.
The ADA recommends switching out your toothbrush every three to four months. “But wait,” you say, with your mouth full of toothpaste. “I paid $10 for this toothbrush. Do I really need to replace it?”
Well, yes, but the good news is that the cheap toothbrushes work just as well as the expensive name-brand products. The ADA simply recommends a soft-bristled toothbrush—you don’t really need much pressure to stop plaque from forming on your teeth.
7. Old Phones and Laptops
There’s a really, really good reason to recycle old electronics: If you don’t, your house might explode.
Okay, forgive us for being a little hyperbolic there; your entire house may not explode, but the lithium batteries in old electronics can burst, creating a serious injury risk and, occasionally, a fire risk.
If a battery begins to bulge, pushing apart the case of your electronic device, get rid of it as quickly (and safely) as possible. The good news is that modern manufacturing methods should eliminate this problem eventually, and currently, it’s a pretty remote risk—but it’s still a good reason to clear the clutter.
So, what should you do with old electronics? Ideally, you’ll recycle them. Companies like Amazon, Best Buy, and HP offer programs to buy older electronic devices, and you can check with your local recycling center for more options. If the electronics are out of date but still usable, you can also donate them to a charity for a hefty tax deduction (just be sure to securely wipe the device’s memory before doing so).
8. Old Shoes
Practically, you’re never going to wear your old shoes again, and that should be reason enough to throw them out. However, they also pose a minor health risk.
No, we’re not talking about the smell (thank you, we’re here all week). We’re talking about orthopedics—well, podiatrics, if you want to get technical.
As your shoes wear down, they don’t degrade evenly. The midsoles wear out, so the shoe becomes worse absorbing shocks. Your shoe won’t be able to correct errors in your stride, which is especially important if we’re talking about athletic shoes. Eventually, you’ll either risk injury or develop bad habits that you won’t be able to break easily.
The American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine recommends replacing any shoe that “shows signs of unevenness when placed on a flat surface” or “display[s] noticeable creasing.” In general, this means you’ll get about 300-500 miles of running or walking from a typical pair of shoes.