Medicine Cabinet Cleanup
Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/Getty Images

How to Safely Spring Clean Your Medicine Cabinet

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Medicine Cabinet Cleanup
Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/Getty Images

shelf awareness

It's now officially spring, and like it or not, officially spring-cleaning season. While the prospect of cleaning out every cranny of your home can be daunting, there's one part of your home that you should never put off cleaning: your medicine cabinet. According to pharmacist Brian Bothwell of Monticello, Utah, "The most important part of spring cleaning is properly disposing of your old medications. Taking five minutes to clean out your medication cabinet and then properly disposing of your medications will provide a safer home and community."

Related: 25 Germ Magnets That Need Spring Cleaning Now

Visual Inspection

do a visual inspection

First of all, how does everything look? "Get rid of anything that looks different from when you bought it: if it smells, changes color, if it is a cream that has dried out. These are all signs that your medication should be thrown out and replaced," says pharmacist Jeffrey Sniggs of New York City.
Expiration Dates

check expiration dates

Next, check the expiration dates. "There are expiration dates on medications for a reason, and a lot of science and research go into determining expiration dates," says pharmacist Daniel Pickard of Lehi, Utah. "Although not common, some medications can actually degrade into harmful substances to the body."

Anything past its expiration date should be removed and disposed of, "including over-the-counter medication, ointments, and vitamins," says Sniggs.

Use Original Containers

use original containers

Whenever possible, leave your medication in the container it came in. "The expiration date of your medicine has a lot to do with the container it is in. Leave medications in blister strips if that's how it comes," Sniggs recommends. "Medication that you have removed from its original container should be disposed of, especially if you don't know what it is."
Consider Buying Smaller Quantities

consider buying smaller quantities

Unfortunately, "it's common to find large quantities of expired medications," Bothwell says. "Consider buying smaller quantity sizes for over-the-counter medications which can save you money and lower your risk of using or exposing others to expired or unwanted medications."
Get a Pharmacist's Input

get a pharmacist's input

If you're unsure of whether or not to dispose of something, do your homework. "If you have any questions on whether to keep or dispose of a medication, contact your local pharmacist who'd be happy to assist you," Bothwell recommends. Sniggs offers the guideline that, "For prescription drugs, anything that you are not currently using and is older than one year should be disposed of regardless of the date."

Keep Meds Cool and Dry

keep meds cool and dry

While you're at it, you may consider moving your medications for longer shelf life. "Most medications should be stored in cool dry conditions; heat and moisture from the shower can speed up the deterioration of medications," Sniggs warns. "Keep medications out of reach of children and pets, but consider storing them in a high dresser drawer or hall closet."
Always Keep Certain Medicines on Hand

always keep certain medicines on hand

As you're throwing things away, make sure to keep a list of medications that you need to stock back up on. Think anything you may need suddenly. Sniggs suggests, "Medication for nausea and vomiting, or diarrhea are better to have on hand than going out to get when you need them."

Related:Tips for Saving Money on Prescription Drugs
Get Old Meds Out of the House...

get old meds out of the house...

As far as disposal, it's important to keep best practices in mind, but priority No. 1 is getting them out of your home. "Proper and prompt disposal of these types of medications is very important," cautions Pickard, both as far as keeping them away from unsuspecting children and anyone who passes through your bathroom who may be tempted to abuse the medications. "The abuse of controlled substances is an epidemic in the United States," Pickard says. "Don't put the risk or temptation there, just get rid of them."
...But Do It Properly
Courtesy of

...but do it properly

So, how do we do that? The easiest way, according to Bothwell, is "utilizing authorized collection sites and participating in drug take-back events" which is "the environmentally safest way to dispose of medications, as these programs obey all regulatory rules regarding proper drug disposal. Local pharmacies and various organizations can sign up to become authorized collectors which allow them to have a medication disposal receptacle on site for the public to safely dispose of their medications."
Find a Collection Site

find a collection site

Even if you missed your community's take-back day, "know these sites typically offer year-round service, so it's recommended to utilize them immediately whenever a medication becomes unwanted or expired," Bothwell says. No need to wait for spring cleaning. Simply drop them off at an authorized collection site. "Even in the rural community I live in, the sheriff's office contains a drug-disposal container which I use and recommend my patients to use as well," Bothwell adds.

Newell Brands

trash them safely

If you don't have access to a disposal site, "It is often better to throw medications in the household trash than to flush them down the toilet," Sniggs says. "Put them in a sealable bag and mix them with something unappealing to pets or children (i.e. kitty litter or coffee grounds)." As you're disposing of empty medication packaging, remember to scratch out any personal information to protect your privacy.
Check Flushing Guidelines

check flushing guidelines

But, before you dispose of any medication at home, check's recommendations for your specific medication. There is even a list of medications that are recommended to flush, including some controlled substances. Why is that? "One reason is because the benefit of getting them out of your home is greater than the risk they pose on others or the water supply," Pickard says.
Try Drug-Disposal Bags

try drug-disposal bags

Depending on the medication, there are also some great options online or at your pharmacy like drug-disposal bags. Pickard often recommends them, as they both "render the drugs inactive and are more environmentally friendly."
Doing the Homework Is Worth It

doing the homework is worth it

While figuring out the proper disposal of your medications may take some research, the benefits far outweigh the costs. Pickard cautions, "Poison control receives hundreds of calls a day about people ingesting the wrong medications or too much of a medication, and even worse, children getting their hands on medication and ingesting it. Remove those risks by properly disposing of medicine that is no longer needed and protect those in your household."
Dig Deeper

dig deeper

For more information, check out the FDA's website on disposing of unused medication, which offers additional resources and advice for handling and disposing of specific drugs. Happy spring cleaning!