So, you’re ready to do some spring (or fall, or winter) cleaning. That’s certainly a good impulse; according to a study from the National Association of Professional Organizers, 54 percent of Americans feel overwhelmed by their clutter. 78 percent of respondents said that they had no idea what to do with their junk, so they let it build up. If you’re actually willing to sit down and sort through your cabinets and get rid of some stuff, you’re ahead of the curve. 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 (since older mixes spend more time exposed to the air). 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 a few tablespoons of maple 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 probably won’t kill you. However, they don’t taste great, and they’re not great for you. 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. If your potatoes have turned green and sprouted, it’s time to get rid of them (or plant them—potatoes are incredibly easy to grow).
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 Monopricefared 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
Brushing your teeth is about as basic as you can get with health and hygiene. The process takes very little effort, and you don’t need a specific formula in order to see results. However, as the video below shows, we may need to pay a bit more attention to what we use to clean our teeth. According to the American Dental Association, we should replace our toothbrushes every three to four months, but if you notice your brush’s bristles fraying and changing color, it’s time to get a new one. Old brushes might feel like they’re working, but they’re not doing a great job of keeping your teeth clean.
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 at 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 to 500 miles of running or walking from a typical pair of shoes.
9. Non-Stick Pots and Pans
When should you finally get rid of that old non-stick cookware? The quick answer: When things start sticking to them. Yeah, we know, duh, but follow us for a minute. Non-stick pots and pans are typically coated with Teflon or a similar perfluoroalkyl substance (PFAs, in case you’re like us and you don’t find that the phrase “perfluoroalkyl substance” rolls off your tongue). Contrary to popular belief, those substances can last for years without wearing off, provided that you cook over moderate heat and clean your cookware by hand. However, if you scratch the pan, you scratch off the coating—and food starts sticking. If you notice your pan’s coating coming off in sections or if you’re having trouble using it normally, it’s definitely time for a change. There’s some controversy as to whether the coating on nonstick pans poses a health threat. While a statement posted in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives indicated that Teflon and similar materials can cause health problems, proponents of non-stick technologies claim that the risk is overstated, since pans shed a tiny amount of their PFA coating with typical use. Still, if you’ve got old non-stick pots laying around, you might consider upgrading to stainless steel or cast iron. If you prefer non-stick, look for heavier pans, which typically hold heat better and keep their coating for longer, according to a report from The Los Angeles Times.
10. Space Heaters
We’re really trying not to fear monger here, but space heaters are remarkably dangerous. According to the National Fire Protection Association, portable and stationary space heaters accounted for 43 percent of home heating fires from 2011 to 2015. If you insist on using a space heater, make sure to keep its heating components clean. If you notice any damage—either to the heater or its electrical supply—throw it out immediately. Don’t leave your heater running unattended, and keep all combustible substances at least three feet away. Don’t risk a fire just because you’re feeling a bit chilly. Consider alternatives that use less electricity. Heated floor mats, for instance, work great in a home office, while electric blankets (ideally equipped with an auto-shutoff feature) should keep you toasty through long winter nights.
11. Old (Or Cheap) Wire Hangers
We know, we know; it’s really hard to throw out clothes hangers when you never seem to have enough of them in the first place. However, cheap hangers you get from the dry cleaner can actually damage your clothes over time. “Wire hangers truly, are too thin,” home organization expert Maeve Richmond told Well and Good. “Not only can they cause awkward stretch marks on clothes, but they will bend over time, causing unsightly bunch-ups in our closets, and our clothing to hang at funny angles.” High-quality hangers mimic the shape of your body, and they’re less likely to warp fabrics over time. You can always use those old hangers for crafts—or, if they’re taking up too much closet space, you can simply recycle them. These days, high-quality wood hangers are fairly inexpensive (here’s a 16-pack on Amazon for less than $20), and if you’re not looking to replace your wardrobe anytime soon, they’re well worth the investment.
12. Grocery Bags
We try to reuse plastic grocery bags wherever possible (they make great doggy cleanup bags, although we’d recommend double-bagging after we…well, nevermind). Unfortunately, that’s not common practice; per the Environmental Protection Agency, only 2 percent of plastic bags are recycled in the United States. That’s a problem since we use about 100 billion plastic bags per year. While you’re getting rid of junk from around your houses, consider finally upgrading to reusable shopping bags. They’re ultimately more convenient—you won’t find yourself stuffing plastic bags under your sink after every single shopping trip—and they eliminate a huge source of waste. We found a great set of reusable bags on Amazon for under $14 (link here), but if you’re looking to cut costs, consider reaching out to local recycling organizations. Many of them will be happy to give you a free or low-cost hookup (and while you’re there, you can go ahead and recycle those old plastic bags).