When to Replace 10 Household Items You Use Every Day
It might come as a surprise to learn that a number of household items that we use and depend on daily—our toothbrushes, shower curtains, bathroom towels, and pillows, for example—are also hotbeds for germs. The fact of the matter is, everyday essentials, especially those we rely on to help keep us clean, can get quite dirty, fast. One study found that healthy adults' toothbrushes are contaminated with pathogenic bacteria, while experts say the loofahs we use to scrub our bodies can contain staphylococcus areus and streptococcus.
The fact that many of the products we use daily can contain harmful bacteria is just one good reason to replace them when needed. Another, points out Philip M. Tierno Jr., Ph.D., clinical professor of pathology and microbiology at NYU Langone Health, is the products' mechanical function: A toothbrush whose bristles no longer clean your teeth effectively—or an air filter that has collected too much dust to catch debris—aren't doing much good. As he puts it, "Items should be periodically replaced for optimal mechanical performance, as well as to prevent dysfunctionality and eliminate the buildup of any debris or germs."
But it isn't always clear when to replace such products. We might know it's time to replace a bath towel that smells more strongly than, say, our body lotion—but what about a toilet brush that shows no signs of wear-and-tear, or a sponge that still effectively scrubs dishes? Here, we'll take you through when to replace several important products you most likely use daily, from your shower curtain to your contact lens case, and all the items in between.
Toothbrush: When Bristles Become Limp
An effective toothbrush is one that's bristles are still firm to the touch and on teeth, says Tierno. Most toothbrushes also come with a color indicator—located on the brush's bristles—that, when faded or disappeared entirely, is a sign it's time for a new toothbrush.
Sponges: Every Three Months
Replace sponges every three months. As Tierno explains, "biofilms rich in microbes form [by this] time." Plus, sponges start to break apart by then, making them less effective.
Shower Curtain Liner: The Second You Spot Mold
Those black spots on the bottom of your shower curtain liner? They're the sign it's time for a new one, says Tierno. If you don't, you'll risk "inhaling mold spores, which can exacerbate allergies or respiratory problems," he says.
Contact Lens Case: Every Three Months
Even if you wash out your contact lens cases regularly, "dirt and biofilms can form" inside them, says Tierno, who advises switching them out every three months—or sooner.
Loofah: Every Six Months
The loofah you use to clean your body isn't very clean itself. It "accumulates cellular debris from desquamated epithelial cells—which serves as food-stuff for bacterial growth," Tierno says. He advises sanitizing loofahs monthly and replacing them every six months.
Bath Towels: Every Two Uses
Towels that are hung to dry can remain damp and develop mold, says Tierno, who adds that they can be used twice—maybe three times—before they should be washed. That doesn't mean you need to toss them, but it does mean it's time to put this one through the laundry.
Kitchen Towels: Daily
When you wipe your hands on kitchen towels while cooking, you contaminate them with meat and vegetable pathogens, says Tierno, who advises they should be changed out daily.
Toilet Brush: Every Year
Despite its dirty job, a toilet brush doesn't need to be replaced often. "As long as the brush is periodically sanitized to prevent cross contamination, it can easily last a year or more," says Tierno, who says it should be swapped "when it loses its mechanical function."
Pillows and Mattresses: When They No Longer Work for You
While both pillows and mattresses "accumulate debris—skin cells, hair, mold spores human secretions and excretions, animal dander, bacteria, dust mites, lint, fibers, pollen, soil, sand, cosmetics, and foodstuff—over time, which can exacerbate allergies and asthma," says Tierno, that isn't an excuse to replace them frequently. Instead, he says they should "be encased in allergy barriers," and replaced when they're "mechanically dysfunctional."
Air Filters: Every Six Months
Air filters can last longer than you think—depending on the amount of debris they have accumulated, says Tierno, who adds a safe bet is to replace them every six months.