I keep a small plastic rectangular basket in my medicine cabinet. It holds the super essentials: toothbrush and toothpaste and contact lens case. I pull it out at least twice a day (if I'm good about putting it back). This past weekend, I noticed that not only did I have the aforementioned essentials in there, but I had a ridiculous number of "backup" contact cases. Like eight!
I was victim to the bathroom black hole of clutter. And like the proverbial doctor who smokes, I was guilty of the very thing I have warned readers about before: I was so used to my bathroom clutter, my collection of things that I might need, that I didn't even notice the excess anymore.
Which got me thinking. Most of us have things in our bathrooms that we've been holding on to for a pretty long time. But just because something doesn't come stamped with an expiration date doesn't mean it's okay to keep and use forever. So how long is too long? What are some products and items that we should be replacing regularly, and how often should we be doing it?
Not only will knowing these answers help us declutter our bathrooms, but it will also help us stay safe and healthy. Here's our list. Spoiler: You probably have a lot of things you should replace.
A note: Expiration dates aren't required by law for many typical bathroom products, but if something you're using has one, default to that before the guidelines below. The manufacturer likely knows best.
Another thing: When in doubt, you can feel good about getting rid of anything that has changed in smell, color, or texture. Trust your eyes and nose!
Washcloths and hand towels: Wash every day, replace when they lose absorbency or have a lingering, musty odor
If you use washcloths to scrub in the shower, you should use a new one every time you shower. They don't dry out well and a perpetually wet cloth in a humid environment is a recipe for trouble.
For hand towels in bathrooms that everyone uses, switch them out every day with clean ones so the germs wiped onto the towel (yes, even after hand-washing) don't multiply and spread. For less frequently used bathrooms, you can stretch the time a bit.
Bath towels: Wash every three to four uses, replace when they lose absorbency or have a lingering, musty odor
If you're anything like I used to be, you're definitely not washing your bath towels enough. When any bath linens begin to show signs of wear (like thinning) that makes them ineffective, they should be replaced. If they start to feel stiff or lose their absorbency, you can try to soften them back up with baking soda and vinegar.
Bath mats: Replace after two years
With good upkeep—washing every week, hanging to dry after every shower—your bath mats don't need to be replaced until they begin to show signs of wear and tear, or after two years—whichever comes first. Bath mats see as much action as your bath towels do, so if you pick up any signs that it's past its prime, don't hesitate to swap it out.
Shower curtains and liners: Wash every one to three months, replace when they wear out or won't get clean
Fabric liners—and plenty of plastic ones—can be washed in the washing machine with your other bath linens. As long as it's getting clean and doing its job, you can keep your liner around.
Sunscreen: Replace after two years
It's becoming more common for sunscreen to include an expiration date, so definitely go by that date, if there is one. Otherwise, you can keep them for two or three seasons.
Cleansers and toners: Replace after one year
Skincare with acne-fighting or anti-aging active ingredients has a risk of losing its potency if left on the shelf for too long.
Moisturizers, creams and serums: After a year, or if the color or smell has changed
Just like cleaners, if kept too long, you run the risk of your moisturizer losing its ability to do whatever you bought it to do. Same with serums. And the golden rule of skincare is in play here: If anything changes to the color, scent, or consistency, toss it out.
Creams in jars or tubs: Replace after six months
Because of the bacteria living on your skin, you have to be a bit more vigilant about monitoring and replacing any product you regularly stick your fingers into.
Makeup brushes: Replace after three months
You should be cleaning your makeup brushes every single week. But once your brushes don't seem to be getting clean or if they begin to shed, you should replace them. This tends to happen about every three months. More expensive brushes can last a lifetime, though, so there seems to be a case to be made that buying those luxurious makeup brushes is practical rather than a splurge.
Beauty blenders or makeup sponges: Replace after three months
Similar to makeup brushes, beauty sponges can hold on to oils and breed bacteria. Daily rinsing and regular deep cleans helps keep the yucky stuff at bay, but you should still replace them every three months or when they begin to deteriorate.
Liquid face makeup: Replace after six months
Oxidation and bacterial growth are what's going to turn your liquid makeup, especially if you dip fingers or tools into the formula regularly. To make sure your makeup is working as well as it should, and, more importantly, to ensure you don't irritate your skin, use it within six months and toss anything that's older.
Powder makeup: Replace after two years
You can hang on to powder makeup longer than the liquid stuff, but it too will begin to break down eventually.
Liquid eye makeup: Replace after three months
When it comes to your eyes and infections, don't mess around. Especially since the tubes and applicators of liquid liner and mascara provide an ideal environment for the proliferation of bacteria, use them within three months and when the deadline hits, spring for new tubes.
Dry eye makeup: Replace after two years
Since they don't contain much water, bacteria can't grow as easily in powder eye shadow or pencil shadows and liners. You can hang on to these for two years.
Lip color: Replace after two years
If you like to hang on to a collection of hues, you can keep your lipsticks, lip glosses, and lip liners for up to two years. Pencils tend to last longer because you get a new surface every time you sharpen.
Nail polish: Replace if it becomes thick and dries out, or has visibly separated
You'll notice when your nail polish has gone bad, because it becomes harder to use, or just isn't looking like itself anymore.
Razors: Replace after five to seven uses
The American Academy of Dermatology says in no uncertain terms, "Make sure you change your blade or throw away disposable razors after five to seven shaves to minimize irritation." You should also rinse after each swipe of the blade and never store your razor in the shower.
Hairbrushes: Replace after six to 12 months
Hairbrushes do eventually need to be replaced, especially if bristles begin to break or fray, or if the bed begins to deteriorate. Damaged brushes will cause damage to your hair and hair product builds up over time as well, eventually getting re-deposited onto your hair.
Shower poufs or loofahs: Replace after three weeks
Your tasty dead skin cells combined with the warmth and humidity of the shower make for ideal conditions for both bacteria and fungi. Swap out your shower scrubbers every three weeks or less if they begin to mold.
Contact lens cases: Replace after three months
Replacing your contact lens case regularly helps reduce the risk of eye infections.
Hair styling tools: Replace when damaged, the cord is frayed, or it begins overheating
If the cord begins to fray, your hair tool becomes a fire hazard. Pay attention for other signs that things aren't working like they should be, like if your hair tool runs hotter than it used to, is producing a strange smell, or begins to make unusual noises.
Sponges for cleaning the bathroom: Replace every month
Cleaning sponges can be used until they begin to fall apart or after a month, whichever comes first. Disinfect them in the meantime by soaking in a solution of bleach and water.
Toilet brushes: Replace after someone is sick or when it starts falling apart
Toilet brushes should be disinfected regularly with hot water and bleach and replaced when someone has suffered from an illness or when it's falling apart.