7 Things You Should Throw Away (or Clean) in Your Home—and How to Know

Learn which common household items you can clean and which you need to get rid of—ASAP.

Person Wearing Yellow Rubber Cleaning Gloves and Washing Dishes with Green Sponge at Kitchen Sink with Faucet Running
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When the kitchen sponge gets grimy or the shower curtain gets moldy, should you toss them in the trash or try to salvage them by cleaning them? To find answers to these all-important questions, we asked cleaning professional John Cohen, vice president of the house cleaning service Molly Maid, to give us the dirty details on what's worth cleaning and what's best to throw away. We cover seven of the grossest things you'll find around the house, from kitchen sponges to stinky dishcloths.

01 of 07

Kitchen Sponge

Person Wearing Green Rubber Cleaning Gloves Holding Soapy Yellow Sponge
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Toss it! "A kitchen sponge is great at cleaning sinks and spills, but it collects bacteria quickly!" warns Cohen. The best way to keep it fresher for longer is to wring it out after each use and allow it to air dry. Because research hasn't proven that microwaving a sponge is an effective way to rid it of bacteria, your best bet is to toss the sponge once it starts to tear or has a lingering odor.

02 of 07

Shower Curtain

white shower curtain around white stand-alone tub in white and yellow decorated bathroom

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Wash it! "Add a dirty shower curtain to your washing machine with detergent and a towel for scrubbing action," says Cohen. "For higher-quality shower curtain liners, this tip can work numerous times." Once the liner shows serious signs of wear, you'll know it's time to replace it.

03 of 07

Dish Cloths

4pk Gray Cotton Waffle Dishcloths

Wash it! "Grease and food debris do not completely rinse off after use, so dishcloths need to be laundered regularly," says Cohen. Change dishcloths out every few days, and wash with bleach in between uses. Cohen also notes that you should avoid using dishcloths to clean surfaces where meat is prepared—opt for paper towels or Clorox wipes ($12, amazon.com) instead. You'll know it's time to buy new dishcloths when odors linger—even after laundering.

04 of 07

Toilet Brush

Pile of colorful toilet brushes
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Toss it (regularly)! "This household cleaning hero is often ignored until the bristles fall out or stains and smells become intolerable," notes Cohen. While the brush can be cleaned with bleach, you should still probably be replacing the toilet brush more often than you think. If cleaned with bleach regularly, replace it annually. If you don't bleach it, replace it every six months or any time a gastrointestinal illness crosses your bathroom threshold.

05 of 07


Person placing pillows inside washing machine

The Spruce / Michele Lee

Wash it! "Most pillows can be washed in warm water on the gentle cycle," says Cohen. Except for foam pillows, you can use a mild liquid detergent and wash two pillows simultaneously to keep the machine balanced. If the pillow is made from a unique material, follow the manufacturer's care instructions. "Add pillows to the dryer (care label permitting!) with tennis balls to keep them plump," suggests Cohen. For most locations, washing your pillows twice a year is enough, but for warmer places, bump it up to four times a year.

So how do you know when to buy a new pillow? "A pillow should be replaced if you fold it in half and it doesn't bounce back to its original flat shape," explains Cohen.

06 of 07

Plastic Food Containers

Stack of three plastic food storage containers holding fruits and vegetables, with person closing the top one
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Clean it! "Fill it with a 50/50 mixture of water and white distilled vinegar for at least 30 minutes," recommends Cohen. If the stain remains, add baking soda and scrub the stains using a cloth. If you're still hanging on to containers that contain BPA or are missing their lids, it's time to toss them.

07 of 07

Garbage Cans

overflowing white garbage can with open lid
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Clean it! "Take it outside, squirt dishwashing detergent inside the can, and let the power of your hose provide the elbow grease to swish away trash remnants." Then, allow the can to dry completely and sprinkle the bottom with baking soda to help absorb new odors. It's time to buy a new can when it has holes or leaks or if there's debris that won't come off with a simple cleaning.

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