11 Household Items That Go Bad — or Become Dangerous

by Barbara Hadden

Man reading a wine bottle label at a grocery store Minerva Studio / Shutterstock.com

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 — or worse — in your stockpile.

1. Hand sanitizer

Child sanitizing hand Elizaveta Galitckaia / Shutterstock.com

Most hand sanitizers have an expiration date printed on the label. Opinions differ, but the stuff has a shelf life of one to three years, reports 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.

We report in “Are You Making These 7 Hand-Washing Mistakes?” that hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol is the next-best option 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 when done 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 probably isn’t worth the risk.

2. Some medicines

pharmacist senior man patient prescription pharmaceuticals pills prescription pharmacy Syda Productions / Shutterstock.com

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

Andrii Lomako / Shutterstock.com

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 ALPA PROD / Shutterstock.com

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% 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

trubitsyn / Shutterstock.com 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. 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.”

6. Car seats

Father putting a baby in a car seat DGLimages / Shutterstock.com

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 find expiration dates on newer seats, which usually are good for six to eight years after the date of manufacture.

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.

7. Motor oil

Man changing the motor oil in his car Sappasit / Shutterstock.com

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.

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

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

Senior man brushing teethSenior man brushing teeth Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock.com

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

9. Paint

man shopping for paint ALPA PROD / Shutterstock.com

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.

10. Wine, beer and liquor

Couple reading label on wine bottle Asia Images Group / Shutterstock.com

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, typically.

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, 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.

11. Batteries

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

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.

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 up to 10 or 20 years depending on the size, while Energize Max batteries have a shelf life of up to five to 10 years. Meanwhile, the company’s rechargeable batteries have a relatively short shelf life of up to three to five years, depending on the size.

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.

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