It’s March. Time for Spring Cleaning Your Medicine Cabinet!


Spring is the time for cleaning out those closets, donating your junk to people who want or need it. But tell me, do you ever clean out your medicine cabinet? I wish I actually had to clean mine out for expired medicines, cough syrup, and other remedies, but most are used up due to the fact that I am sick all the time.

Here are my rules for my medicine cabinet:

1. Anything Expired – chuck it! Most over the counter drugs have a few years, as compared to 1 year with most pharmaceuticals. After the time period that medications expire, their chemical components can start to break down as well, which is definitively not something that I want in my body!

2. Any discontinued or recalled medicine – this is a fairly no brainer, if the FDA or other governing body recalled a medicine then I do not want it. I play enough roulette with my daily cocktail of medicines; let’s not add any additional risk factors.

3. Ineffective or half used medicines – If you took half an antibiotic and then your doctor switched you to a new one, there likely isn’t enough left to kick a future infection.

4. Dispose of everything properly – If you use needles for injections of any kind (all legally prescribed, I hope!), remember to dispose of your sharps container properly.

5. Replace any over-the-counter medicine – Due to the nature of my autoimmune diseases, and the fact that I seem to catch every cold that I come in contact with, I tend to keep cough syrup, throat drops, and Sudafed on hand at all times. As a parent this is a definite must, unless you fancy midnight trips to the pharmacy.

Occasionally my doctors will stop or switch my medications before I use the whole prescription, so sometimes I am left with bottles of medication I no longer use. For the most part this doesn’t happen, but I have been known to have an allergic reaction once or twice that has required suddenly stopping and not restarting medications. As a general rule, my pharmacist will take any unused bottles of medication back and dispose of them with there expired medications. Check with your local pharmacy for local regulations, specifically pertaining to narcotic pain relievers.

Article written by Staff Writer, Ashley Morgan.

Ashley has been diagnosed with Fibromyalgia since 2005 after spending five years undiagnosed and many misdiagnoses. Other secondary diagnoses include: Lupus, Hyper-mobility Syndrome, and Sjögren’s Syndrome. Originally from Glendale, California, she now calls San Antonio, Texas home. In her spare time she enjoys volunteering with youth at her Church and spending time with her husband and step-sons. She can be found on Twitter at @Ashiemorgan

  • JayChong

    Be sure to read the labels on the medicines. They should say when the medicine expires.

  • I use the medisure system that Boots the chemist does.It’s like a cardboard book sized wallet with the medication blister packed into times of the day and days of the week.The wallets have a months worth of tablets in them and I collect mine once a month.This has taken the stress out of organizing my medication and helped me to remember to take it.I am ont a lot of medication so its much easier.

  • Ha, I don’t have a cabinet I have 3 drawer chest of drawers :-0 Some old stuff there that i am no longer prescribed but seems such a waste to dispose of them via pharmacy as they just get thrown away, surely someone could use them – 3rd world countries?

    A good tip – in the UK we have a system set up by the Lions club (local businessmen) you have bottle in your fridge door with a list of your conditions and meds, a sticker on the fridge door and a sticker on your front door – then if worst should happen and paramedics come to your house they know to look in yr fridge for what’s wrong with you and what meds yr on!

  • Nic Daniels

    I didn’t realise that most medicines have a use by date. Now I will definitely make sure to check every label on every bottle and container. My kids are my first priority so I don’t want to put any risk on them at all. Do the medicines that need to be kept in the fridge have a shorter use by date in general?

    Alexandra from

  • Barbara Smithson

    I just cleaned my medical cabinet after seeing my kids playing some tablets as a toy. I found some expired antibiotics and medicines and threw them away. I did not expect that some of it are still unused which just expired. My kid has a Tinnitus and bought medicines to cure his ear condition. I found a site which says Tinnitus can be cured. I am trying that one to eliminate using the conventional antibiotics.

  • Inspired me to clean out my medicine cabinet. Over 30 bottles of old meds and other junk.

  • I just cleaned out my meds cabinet… I have 3 pounds of old meds… CVS sells a bag that you can send them the meds to be disposed of properly… I heard some fire stations will take them too… I was told NEVER to flush them or toss in the trash.

  • Always throw out expired medication.  If it’s OTC it’s not difficult or expensive to replace.  If it’s expired it means that it’s not going to be as effective. 

  • This does remind me of some “samples” a chemist I knew years ago gave me.  The stuff was 3 years out of date and he was supposed to destroy it but gave it to me to try.  It was something similar to what I was taking at the time and was handy to alternate a few of each different form.  The sachets were probably not degraded more than 25%

  • The medicine cabinet is not a good place to store prescription pills. They work better when stored in a cool, dry place. I keep mine in a small plastic bin on a shelf in the coat closet. On prescriptions that come in a tube or box, like creams or inhalers, they usually have an expiration date on the box so you don’t have to rely on the arbitrary date on the prescription label. With the pills, the ones I take only occasionally I fill in January when the co-pay is still low (I’m on Medicare). Then the following January, I dispose of the ones I’ve had since the previous January.

  • I lot of herbal medicine (depending on how it was made) lasts a LOT longer than the date they are required to put on it, I’ve been using some 10 years beyond the date on it, but others I toss out before their use by date, things like flax seed oil kept in the dark in the fridge still oxidises and as soon as it starts to smell rancid is moved to the garage be used on garden tool handles.

  • Nanwj

    Yes, Angela, re: dates on Rx meds for expiration–I surely wish there were a requirement for pharmacies to put the REAL date on there, from original packaging!  Even my docs agree that most Rxs can be taken long after expiration.  One exception I have noticed is inhalers; I have noticed deterioration 3-6 months after expiration date.  They don’t work!  But pills seem to be ok for at least a year, and usually more.  My low budget and high cost of many Rxs cause me to keep some on hand. 

  • kayetexan

    Hi Ashley!  I would love to get together with you sometime, cause I also live in San Antonio!!  Catch me on facebook!

  • Angela Desmond

    Most medications last much, much longer than their expiration dates.  With prescription drugs, that date is rather arbitrary.  It is one year after your prescription was filled- regardless of when the bottle it was filled from was opened (although, it must be within its date).  It assumes the least likely time.  However, the majority of medications just lose efficacy when they expire (rather than mutating into something more harmful that the initial substance).  That isn’t true for everything, so of course the safest decision is to toss them.  But, unfortunately, monetary concerns do come into play as well. 

    Please be sure to also dispose of your medications in such a way as to keep pets, wildlife, and children safe!

  • Thank you for this article! It helped so much! I need to throw out all of my expired medication!

  • Nancy Botwin

    Maybe it’s just me, but I never throw away any medications until they are very expired. I wait a few years past the expiration date, as my long-time pharmacist told me that often times those dates truly are meaningless. So I call him to ask about the “true” expiration dates when I call him. They truly are often a sales ploy to sell more.

    The reason I hang on to everything extra is because I don’t want to be left hanging. In case of natural disasters, I keep them so that I can be prepared. I mean, I paid for them. Why would I EVER give them back to a doctor/nurse/center (who will possibly abuse them)? Especially when there are others out there who can’t afford these medications! It just seems so wasteful to throw away good medications because you no longer use them. (But the laws are so ridiculous on this!!!) As far as I see it, they’re my property, as I paid cash for them all. And even if they aren’t 100% potent, they’d be much better than nothing in a natural or manmade disaster! Something to think about. 🙂

  • El Perro

    brian – antibiotics should be prescribed, not kept on hand and antibiotics for flu? really? that’s why there’s so many cases of abx resisant disease because people pop whatever they can get their hands on, for the slightest thing.

  • Mona Casselman

    Our pharmacy will take old/unused meds and dispose of, our hospital will take my sharps container and give me a new one.

  • Stacey

    I keep my meds in those plastic storage containers in my closet rather than the medicine cabinet (it’s not big enough – old house – and it makes it easier to pick up a box with a specific category and carry it to wherever I need it. I sort through these at least once a year and dump and reorganize them. It’s always refreshing. I know what I have, what I need, and where I can find exactly everything. A box for regular weekly meds, one for first aid bandaids, gauses, tapes, sterile saline (swiped from work, though totally by accident, but hey, mine now), etc, one with OTC drugs of all kinds of varieties, and one with topicals and cleansers (alcohol, peroxide – which I never use on my skin/body, just blood stained clothing – gloves). It works well that the boxes are small, light, and stack together. I can just grab the one I need and take it wherever it’s convenient. I’ve become a big fan of plastic storage containers and organizers to make my life easier, especially around spring cleaning time 😉

  • Excellent tips! I tend to go through mine periodically to get rid of expired meds; nothing worse than taking some antibiotics for days while you have the flu and discovering halfway through they were old and expired.. XD

  • Ashley Morgan

    Miranda, the last time I disposed of sharps I called the local recycling center and they let me know where to drop them off. Different states & counties of course have different rules. Your local pharmacy may be able to take them to dispose of them as well.

  • Ashley, thank you for this!

    Where can sharps be disposed? My rheumy told me to bring them back to the office, but when I did I was violently yelled at for doing so, even with the head nurse saying “your doctor should know better!” so any idea where they are supposed to go?

    Miranda Stein from NY

  • Janessa

    I also carry a list of my medications along with a list of my dxs. Since I have seizures it is possible that paramedics could be called while I’m unconscious and they need to have this information. Now all they have to do is perform a wallet autopsy and I’m covered.

  • natty

    I often check my cabinet for out of date meds.
    Someting else I do once every six months or so is type a list of all the meds I a taking, what for and when. The number of my doctor is also on it.
    I carry one in my handbag, one in the car, leave one in the medicine cabinet and one pinned to the fridge.
    If I am ever taken ill, it will take a paramedic or Doctor only seconds to find out what I am on and why, which is particularly useful if for any reason you can’t remember or can’t actually speak, say in an accident or having had a fit.