As the weather gets warmer, you may be starting to think about your plan for spring cleaning. Of course, your garage and closets are likely on the to-do list, but have you also thought about cleaning out your medicine cabinet? Your medicine cabinet often gets forgotten and can accumulate old over-the-counter pain medications, cough syrups, ointments, and drops in addition to prescription medications. For that reason, it is a good idea to check the inventory in your medicine cabinet at least once per year and dispose of old, expired, or unneeded medications.


Below, we share tips about what to consider when decluttering your medicine cabinet and making room for fresh stock. In addition, we cover how your local pharmacy can help you at various stages of the process such as confirming your prescriptions, replacing older medications, and disposing of anything you no longer need.



Why Clean Your Medicine Cabinet


Cleaning out your medicine cabinet can help you get rid of clutter, and it has other benefits too. First and foremost, it helps you ensure that you have all the medications and products you and your family need. Running to the store can be very inconvenient when someone in your family is unwell, so it is important to ensure you have an adequate supply of medications and treatments that are not expired. From rubbing alcohol to allergy medications to prescriptions for ongoing health concerns, you'll always feel better knowing that you are well-stocked.


Inventorying your medicine cabinet can also help you dispose of unneeded prescription medications. Removing any unnecessary medications is beneficial for preventing you or someone in your family from (intentionally or unintentionally) consuming drugs they do not need. Whether you had surgery last year, your prescription has changed, or your doctor has indicated that you no longer require a particular drug, it is highly advised not to hold onto any medications that are not necessary.


No matter what prompts you to give your medicine cabinet a quick once-over, you'll undoubtedly be glad you did! You will know what you have, what you need to refresh, and what can be disposed of safely - all in addition to having a neat, tidy, and organized cabinet that is clutter-free!





Working With Your Pharmacist to Review Your List of Medications


If you take multiple medications regularly or your/your children's prescriptions have changed over the years, speaking with your pharmacist is highly recommended before you start cleaning out your medicine cabinet. If you have not gone through your supply cabinet in a while, you may find it difficult to remember who takes what or what dosage is the most current. For that reason, ask your pharmacist to provide you with a list of all your family members' current medications.


When cleaning your medicine cabinet, use the list from your pharmacist to cross-reference your inventory and make a note of which prescriptions are running low, expired, or no longer needed. This process will give you more confidence about what should stay and go.


If you provide care to an elderly or disabled loved one outside your home, be sure to work with their pharmacist as well before doing any spring cleaning.



Examining Over the Counter and Prescription Medications


When cleaning up your medicine cabinet, be sure to look at all prescriptions, products, and vitamins. Check their expiry dates first. If they are expired, set them aside, dispose of them at your local Cook’s Pharmacy, and get more while you are there.


Next, examine the appearance, smell, and texture of all medications, products, and vitamins even if they are still within their use by or expiry date. If something looks, smells, or feels off, it likely is. If there is anything you are unsure of, set it aside and either bring it to your pharmacist for clarification or dispose of it.


You may also come upon containers that no longer have labels. These products and prescriptions can be disposed of, as you do not want to risk using an expired or unclear medication. When in doubt, bring any unmarked medicines to your pharmacist for proper disposal.





Combining Multiple Containers of Medications or Products


When cleaning your medicine cabinet, you may come across multiple bottles of what appears to be the same medication or product. While it may be tempting to combine bottles or containers to free up even more space, this practice is strongly discouraged – particularly if your prescriptions or products have different expiry dates or your dosage has increased or decreased over time.


Combining products can result in you or your family members using products that have inaccurate information on the bottle. These inaccuracies may be related to the dosage, expiry date, instructions, or who the medication belongs to. Consuming medicines that are not intended for you can be very dangerous, and drugs that have lost their potency may not adequately support your health concerns. For these reasons, always keep all prescriptions and products in their original containers to eliminate any confusion, mishaps, or adverse health outcomes.


If you have older unused prescriptions, work with your local pharmacy to refresh them. It is always better to get new ones, than to take old ones that may no longer be completely viable.



How Long Do Medications Last?


Generally, most over-the-counter medications are fully viable within one year of your purchase. This one-year rule applies to solid medications (capsules, tablets, soft gels), liquid medications (syrups), and creams/ointments that are in a tube. Ointments and creams with twist-off top containers should be disposed of and replaced after 90 days of opening, as they are more likely to get contaminated than the ones in tubes.


Like open container creams, all eye medications (ointments or liquid drops) have a higher risk of contamination and are viable for much less time than other prescriptions and products. Eye drops and creams should only be used or disposed of within 30 days of opening. These types of eye treatments are typically inexpensive and worth disposing of if you have had them open for more than one month. You do not want to ever risk worsening an eye ailment or causing an infection from older eye medications – especially for a product than can be easily replaced.


Prescription medications in containers or blister packs should clearly indicate when their contents expire. If you can no longer see the expiration date on an item, set it aside and take it to your local pharmacist. Expired prescriptions may no longer be as effective in treating your health concerns and should not be used unless you are 100% certain they have not exceeded their shelf life. Your pharmacist will be happy to review the prescription and refresh it if needed.



Evaluating the Location of Your Medicine Cabinet


If you notice that many of your products are looking off or are no longer working as well as they use to, it may be time to change up the location of your medicine cabinet.


Many people store their medications and products in their bathroom, but this is never advisable. Bathrooms are exposed to higher temperatures and humidity levels from the shower, impacting the viability of medications and products. For this reason, consider if you have an alternate location in your home that is cool, dry, and dark. This ideal environment will help your medications and products last longer and give you more confidence that all of your prescriptions will maintain their original potency.


When relocating your medicine cabinet, ensure that children, pets, and guests cannot easily access the new location - especially if you have been prescribed narcotics. A top shelf of your closet or a dresser drawer in your bedroom may be suitable options depending on your unique situation.



Disposing of Unneeded or Expired Medications


Correctly and safely disposing of medications is critical, as it can be very damaging or dangerous to flush them or throw them out. Flushing medications down a drain is never advisable, as it can result in wastewater and environmental challenges. Some medicines may be safe to dump or flush but should only be done after your pharmacy has advised that it is safe to do so.


Throwing medications in the trash can also be dangerous, especially if you have removed pills from their child-proof containers or live in an area where people or animals have access to your garbage cans. Curious little hands, pets, wildlife, and even strangers can come across pills or products not intended for them, so always be sure to work with your pharmacist to dispose of everything correctly and safely.



How Do Pharmacists Dispose of Prescriptions


Pharmacies are trained to dispose of all medications correctly and are required to follow all provincial and national public health, environmental, and privacy regulations in your region. In alignment with these regulations, your pharmacist will ensure that none of your personal information remains on your disposed prescriptions. In addition, they will keep an accurate record of all returned medications, store them in a secure location, and arrange to dispose of everything in a highly regulated manner. Therefore, working with your pharmacist is much safer overall than holding onto old or unneeded drugs or trying to dispose of them yourself.



Consult Cook’s Pharmacy


If you would like support in cleaning out your medicine cabinet, confirming your family's prescriptions, understanding product longevity, refreshing your medications, or disposing of your old and unneeded pills, syrups, and creams, Cook’s Pharmacy is here to help!

Our knowledgeable and helpful pharmacists can provide the guidance you need to feel confident in your decisions and ensure you have exactly what you need to take care of yourself and your family. We proudly offer pharmacy services in Kitchener-Waterloo, Cambridge, North Dumfries, and Wellesley.


Reach out to us today for all your pharmacy needs!



Any medical or pharmaceutical information on this site is provided as an information resource only and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes. This information does not create any patient-pharmacist relationship, and should not be used as a substitute for professional diagnosis and treatment.


Please consult your health care provider before making any health care decisions or for guidance about a specific medical condition. Cook’s Pharmacy and it’s subsidiaries expressly disclaims responsibility, and shall have no liability, for any damages, loss, injury, or liability whatsoever suffered as a result of your reliance on the information contained in this site.




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Poshin Jobanputra
November 16, 2023
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