You're probably holding onto these formulas long past their good-through date.

By Lauren Wellbank
December 17, 2020
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Credit: Getty / Colin Anderson Productions pty ltd

If you're curious about how natural cleaning products work or why baking soda is such a powerful ingredient, you've come to the right place. We'll explain the science behind some of the most popular cleaning methods and tools, so you can you clean smarter—not harder. Follow along with Clean Science to see which technique we break down next.

We all know when a gallon of milk has expired—that's about as obvious as it gets. Determining the same for your cleaning products, however, is less so, since many products aren't packaged with expiration dates. Ahead, Rochelle Wilkinson, of Dirt Detectives Cleaning in Phoenix, Maryland, explains what can make your cleaning supplies go bad, and, more importantly, how often you should be replacing them to ensure your supplies are effective every time you reach for them.

Thicker Compounds

You should replace thicker cleaning compounds more often than you probably are. "Items like Murphy's Oil ($3.97, thehomedepot.com) and floor wax do not fare well if not used within a two-year time period of being purchased," Wilkinson says. "They become clumpy and separate and tend to take on a thin, milky consistency." Be sure, she says, to use these formulas up before that breakdown process begins—and if that process has already started, dispose of them properly.

Cleaning Tools

The products you need to replace most often, says Wilkinson, are actually the tools you use to clean, like sponges and microfiber cloths. "Sponges come in contact with millions of bacteria and germs," she says. This is especially true if you are using them to disinfect areas like your bathroom and kitchen. "The cost of a sponge runs around $1," she says. "At this price, you should be tossing your kitchen sponge once per week."

Proper Storage

Wilkinson explains that most products made up of just a few basic ingredients, like Windex ($3.29, target.com), can hold their own for very long periods of time. "They don't break down or change when stored inside a home where the temperature is kept at a normal level," she says. Chemical breakdown does become a problem, however, when you store these items in an area where temperatures can fluctuate, like sheds and garages. "To ensure your products don't change in chemical makeup, store all cleaning products in a neutral temperature setting," she adds.

Temperature Extremes

Items that become especially dangerous over time are the ones that stored in an aerosol can or stainless steel—especially if they're exposed to those aforementioned temperature extremes. "A garage in the summer and winter can cause a can to explode," Wilkinson explains, which is why many cleaning companies with employees who carry supplies in their automobiles know to bring their cleaning caddies indoors overnight during peak times of cold. These shifts—from cold to warm again—can cause cleaning containers to expand, sometimes to the point of combustion. Whether or not your containers have shown signs of expansion, err on the side of caution and replace them if they've been left outside during a significant heat wave or cold snap.

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