When to replace smoke detectors, sponges, pillows and more, according to experts
By Daniel Bortz,
Savvy homeowners replace common household items in a timely fashion. But staying on top of such duties is no small feat.
“It’s often easy to overlook when items should be replaced in our homes,” says Beth McGee, author of “Get Your House Clean Now: The Home Cleaning Method Anyone Can Master.” “Some items should be replaced, because germs collect and make them unhealthy to use or keep around,” she says, while “other items we rely on simply wear out and should be replaced on a more regular schedule to ensure safety or continuity of use.”
Knowing when the following items need to be replaced can help you keep your house in working order and eliminate germs in your kitchen, bathroom and elsewhere.
Furnace and air filters
Dirty furnace and air-conditioning filters can put stress on your HVAC system and drive up your heating and cooling bills. It’s important to change filters several times throughout the year, says Dan DiClerico, home expert at HomeAdvisor, a home services marketplace. Requirements may vary depending on your location and environment. Homeowners who live in extreme climates, whether very hot or very cold, might need to change their HVAC filters every other month. But “in an average four-season climate, changing the filter a couple times during the heating season and once during the cooling season should do the job,” DiClerico says. “This will prevent airborne pollutants from entering your home’s living space, while also extending the life of your heating and cooling equipment and helping it run at maximum efficiency.”
The exception? Fiberglass filters should be changed monthly to prevent dust and dirt from building up and circulating throughout your home, says Rebecca Edwards, lead safety and technology reporter at SafeWise, an online safety resource company.
First, check whether you have a rechargeable or disposable fire extinguisher, as “drastically different rules apply,” says Mélanie Berliet, general manager at home-improvement website the Spruce. She suggests investing in a rechargeable extinguisher, which usually lasts up to six years; most disposable extinguishers have a 12-year shelf life. For either product, “be sure to check the pressure gauges every month to ensure the extinguishers are still good or are fully charged,” Berliet says.
Adds Edwards: “If [the gauge] is in the green area, you should be good to go.”
Pro tip: “If you have any question about whether or not your extinguisher will work, get it checked out by a professional,” Edwards says. “Most fire departments will inspect an extinguisher for you.”
All smoke detectors come with an expiration date, Edwards says, but it’s still important to test the batteries once a month and replace them as needed. (The National Fire Protection Association says smoke alarms should be installed in every bedroom, outside every bedroom and on every level of the home.)
Regardless of the detector’s expiration date, DiClerico strongly recommends replacing smoke detectors at least once every 10 years, because “their sensors start to lose sensitivity after that,” he says.
Carbon monoxide detectors
More than 400 Americans die every year from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning not linked to fires, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most carbon monoxide detectors last five to seven years from their manufacturing date, Edwards says, but she recommends replacing them every five years “to be on the safe side.” She suggests checking the detectors’ batteries at least every six months.
In addition, “always respond to any sound from your [carbon monoxide] detector,” Edwards says. “Like smoke alarms, they chirp and beep to let you know about low batteries or unsafe conditions.”
Many first-aid kits expire after three to five years, Edwards says, “but I recommend going through your first-aid kit at least once a year. I usually check mine at the beginning of summer, because that’s when I’m more prone to need it for cuts, burns, bug bites and other outdoor mishaps.”
Edwards ensures that she’s well-stocked with frequently used items, such as bandages and antibiotic ointment. “Partially used bottles or tubes of ointment and other topical treatments should be replaced,” she says. For good measure, check each product’s expiration date. “You can risk making something worse and actually cause an infection on a cut, burn or abrasion if you use contaminated or expired first-aid supplies,” Edwards says.
Dehumidifier and humidifier filters
A quick cleaning will fix most clogged filters on a dehumidifier or humidifier and keep your machine humming along. But if you notice dust mites, mildew or mold on a filter, it needs to be replaced.
Refrigerator water filters
“When you’re used to simply walking over to the fridge to fill up a glass of water, it’s easy to forget that there’s a filter in there that will need to be changed,” Berliet says. But “unchecked water filters can become homes teeming with bacteria, heavy metals and chemicals that will end up in your next sip.” Moreover, drinking contaminated water can cause health issues such as stomach pain, headaches, fever and kidney failure, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The solution is simple: Replace your refrigerator’s water filter once every six months, Berliet says.
Meanwhile, most carafe-style filters should be changed monthly, DiClerico says.
“Sponges are a breeding ground for bacteria, so they need to be replaced relatively often,” Berliet says. How often, though, depends on how frequently they’re used. If you use a kitchen sponge several times a day, Berliet suggests replacing it every two weeks. “The alternative is to sanitize your sponge often, which can make it last longer, up until it wears out at about the two-month point,” she says.
To sanitize a sponge, soak it in white vinegar (the acetic acid in vinegar kills bacteria and eliminates odors, Berliet says), or put it in the dishwasher. “The combination of hot water and detergent will clean your sponge effectively,” she says.
Most plastic-bristle toilet brushes can last up to a year if you spray them with bleach cleaner before placing them in their receptacle after each use, McGee says. One caveat: If a toilet brush’s bristles are beginning to fall off, it’s time to replace it.
For the sake of your pearly whites, it’s important to replace your toothbrush, or the head of your electric toothbrush, every three months, Berliet says. If you don’t, “the bristles tend to get frayed and do not effectively remove as much bacteria and plaque from your mouth,” she says. That’s in line with the American Dental Association’s guidelines, which recommend replacing toothbrushes every three to four months, or more frequently if the bristles are visibly matted or frayed.
Store your toothbrush upright in a cool, dry place to prevent bacteria from growing.
Because they facilitate rapid bacteria growth, shower loofahs should be replaced every three months, or “more frequently if you’re not invested in rinsing them after every use,” Berliet says. Hang loofahs to dry after each use. “If the loofah doesn’t dry completely, the moist environment invites bacterial growth,” she adds.
Although there’s no precise formula for determining when you need to replace a mattress, Consumer Reports says there are signs that it’s time to get a new one: the mattress is lumpy or sagging; you’re waking up sore; you can feel the foundation, such as the bed slats, when you lie down; or its springs are pushed out of place. The average life span of a mattress is eight to 10 years, according to Consumer Reports.
Pillows should be replaced every one to two years. Over time, they absorb body oil, dead skin cells and hair, which can create a home for dust mites and cause skin irritation, according to sleep.org, an online resource from OneCare Media. A hypoallergenic cover can keep body oils from seeping into the pillow. And pillows made with shredded foam or polyester tend to stay cool better than ones made of solid foam, so you’re presumably less likely to sweat when sleeping on them, but it’s unclear whether they last longer.
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