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Medicine Cabinet Clean Out

Childhood Medication Basics


Updated April 26, 2011

A medicine cabinet full of medicines for kids.

A medicine cabinet full of medicines for kids.

Photo (c) 2007 Vincent Iannelli, MD licensed to About.com, Inc.
Your medicine cabinet is not meant to be a storage area for all the medicines that your child has ever been prescribed. For whatever reason, parents often have leftover or half-used prescriptions in their medicine cabinet.

In addition to these unneeded prescription medications, you can make your medicine cabinet a little safer by cleaning out and getting rid of over-the-counter and prescription medicines that are expired, not child resistant, or simply not needed by your child anymore.

Safety From Old Advice

In addition to old medications, scan your medicine cabinets to make sure you are keeping your kids safe from old advice. That likely means getting rid of:
  • Syrup of ipecac - The American Academy of Pediatrics no longer recommends that parents keep it in their homes.
  • Mercury thermometers - Since they can break, exposing your child to the mercury and mercury vapors.
  • Hydrogen peroxide - A recommendation to get rid of hydrogen peroxide may surprise many parents, but keep in mind that many experts believe that hydrogen peroxide isn't any more helpful than regular soap and water when cleaning a simple wound, and that hydrogen peroxide may actually be damaging to healthy skin cells.
  • Baby aspirin - You only have to get rid of aspirin or baby aspirin if it's part of your child's medicine cabinet. Remember that because of the risk of Reye syndrome, you shouldn't usually give your child, or even your teenager, aspirin.

Leftover Medicines

In general, you usually shouldn't have any leftover prescription medicine after your child finishes medical treatment for an illness such as an ear infection or strep throat. If you do, either you didn't give your child all the medicine or the pharmacy gave you too much. Either way, you shouldn't likely get rid of the extra medicine so that you aren't tempted to give it to your child later, when you won't be sure if your child really needs it.

If you have leftover medicines because your pediatrician told you to stop giving it to your child, like if your child has outgrown his allergies or asthma, then be sure to get rid of these medications once they have expired.

Getting Rid of Medicines

Once you decide which medicines to get rid of, you should have a plan on what to do with them.

Should you throw them in the trash or simply flush them down the toilet? No way! Ask your pharmacist or local hazardous waste disposal site about safe disposal options in your area instead. Kids can get into medicines you throw into the trash, and medicines you flush end up in our groundwater.

What You Need To Know

  • Almost everything in your medicine cabinet, including sunscreen and over-the-counter medications, have expiration dates, and should be replaced once they are outdated.

  • You should regularly restock commonly used over-the-counter medicines, including a pain and fever reducer (like Tylenol and/or Motrin), antihistamine (Benadryl), cough and cold medicines, and medicines for itching.

  • In addition to expired medicines, get rid of any medicines that haven't been stored properly and any empty prescription bottles.


American Academy of Pediatrics Technical Report: Mercury in the Environment: Implications for Pediatricians. PEDIATRICS Vol. 108 No. 1 July 2001, pp. 197-205.

American Academy of Pediatrics Policy Statement Poison Treatment in the Home. Pediatrics 2003 112: 1182-1185.

Lio PA. Topical antibacterial agents. Infect Dis Clin North Am - 01-SEP-2004; 18(3): 717-33.

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