TIME advice

6 Smart Tips to Make Dishwashing Easier

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You can save water by a using dishwasher

Whether you don’t mind it or it’s your most hated chore, there’s really no way around dishwashing. Especially if you love cooking. But we can help you make this task run a lot smoother, and maybe even a little faster. Here are six smart tips that make washing dishes easier.

1. Start the night with an empty dish rack or dishwasher.

Tackling dirty dishes after dinner isn’t a chore I enjoy. Especially if there’s a dish rack to empty or dishwasher to unload first. It’s easier and less daunting to tackle a sink full of dirty dishes when the dishwasher is already empty.

2. Get a head start with a bowl of soapy hot water by the sink.

When it comes to cooking, we’ve talked a lot about cleaning as you go, so think of this little tip as an extension of that. It’s helpful to keep a large container of soapy hot water near the sink, then drop dirty utensils and tools in as you finish using them. It gives you a jumpstart on dishwashing, plus it prevents utensils from cluttering the bottom of the sink.

3. Save water by running the dishwasher instead of washing by hand.

If you’re lucky enough to have a dishwasher, don’t feel guilty about running it. Not only do dishwashers make cleanup a lot easier, but you’re also likely to use less water than if you were washing by hand, especially if you have a newer-model dishwasher.

4. Keep a clear sink and store sponges in the dishwasher.

I love this reader tip for storing sponges in the dishwasher. It keeps your counter and sink free from clutter, and your sponges are always clean. It’s a win-win.

5. Know what isn’t meant for the dishwasher.

Dishwashers are a kitchen luxury that make cleanup a much faster and easier task. But a dishwasher is not a catchall for all your tools and dinnerware. There are actually a number of pots, pans, and servingware that should always be washed by hand.

6. Your dishwasher needs a little TLC once in a while.

Running load after load of dirty plates and bowls can take its toll on a dishwasher after a while. So, to keep it working well, it needs a little TLC every once in a while. Be sure to do things like clean the dishwasher trap and seals, and run an empty load with vinegar.

TIME Careers & Workplace

5 Ways to Organize Your Desk

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Follow the 'essentials only' rule

Having a clean desk is an essential part of killing it in the workplace. Sure, some creative geniuses thrive in chaos, amid piles of papers, stacks of books, and even last night’s congealed takeout. But let’s be honest—a messy cubicle isn’t going to impress the boss. Having an organized space can also help spark productivity (i.e. you won’t have to waste precious time digging for your iPhone under the clutter). So, we turned to expert organizer Jennifer Ford Berry, best-selling author of the Organize Now!, for her best workspace makeover secrets:

1. Follow the “essentials only” rule.

Keep the items you need to get your job done within arm’s reach—and only those items. Desks get cluttered when storage space isn’t utilized and the top is filled with too many photos of your pets. Make sure your daily use items—laptop, project folders, writing utensils, and so on—get prime real estate over figurines and photos of your dog.

2. Invest in desk accessories.

To keep your essentials handy yet organized, get a desk caddy that’s perfect for pens, Post-its and so on—like this one, in which you can also store and charge your cell phone. Also buy a shallow tray: You can stack folders for current projects and other to-dos you are working on.

3. Store the rest.

Items that you use once a month or less should not be stored on top of your desk. In fact, if you find that you’re keeping items you don’t use very often in your desk drawers, consider removing them completely to make the space as open as possible. (If you need supplies, that’s what the office copy room is for—no need to stockpile stuff at your desk.)

4. Make it a clean slate.

Always give your desk a sweep at the end of the day so you can sit down to a fresh start the following morning. (Invest in some sanitizing wipes and do a quick wipe as well to keep those office germs at bay.) This is the perfect thing to do when the day is winding down and you’re work is done, but you don’t want to be the first one to leave.

5. Deep clean four times a year.

If you follow the above tips, your desk will stay tidy. Still, you might want to schedule time in your calendar every quarter to do a quick purge through your desk—especially if crazy hours or big projects get in the way of your organization routine. Toss out unwanted files, get rid of nearly-empty pens, clean out the clutter from your drawers (yes, that includes your old candy stash), and consider refreshing the space with a potted plant. Voila! You’ll be re-energized and your desk will the envy of all of your coworkers.

This article originally appeared on Levo.com

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TIME advice

How to Remove Every Type of Stain

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From ink to wine

A bad stain can ruin your day, or worse, your favorite piece of clothing. But, it shouldn’t be that way. Most stains are removable — it’s all about smart treatment know-how (plus a little patience and elbow grease). We asked Carolyn Childers, Handy’s chief home officer, to give us the 411 on tricky common stains, from ink to grease to coffee.

Turns out, toothpaste doesn’t need to be dealt with immediately, but you should rinse coffee stains with cold water as quickly as possible. We’ll never stop drinking wine on our white rug, sipping coffee in the car, or putting mustard on that dog at the ballpark — but thanks to these expert tips, our future stains won’t know what hit them.

The Culprit: Grease
The Remedy: Sprinkling baby powder

When a late-night pizza stop takes a dark turn, clean up the grease stain by covering the spot with clear liquid dish detergent and rub in gently. Next, rinse with white vinegar diluted with water. You can also try applying a small amount of baby powder to grease spots and gently rubbing until the mark is gone. For stovetop stains, a trusty Brillo pad paired with a little water and baking soda works wonders.

The Culprit: Ink
The Remedy: Spraying hairspray

Splotchy fabrics are trending, but exploding pens are never a good look. Use a clean cloth dampened with a mix of water and a small amount of liquid laundry detergent to blot away the stain (never rub it in!). Then, throw it in the washing machine on the hottest setting the fabric type will allow. “Hairspray has also been shown to dissolve ink, making it easier to come out of fabrics before throwing in the wash,” Childers says.

The Culprit: Wine
The Remedy: Add a splash of club soda

Vino is close in chemical makeup to blood stains, so the removal process is also similar. “Beyond using the cold water or a salt paste trick, you can also do a diluted vinegar soak using one part vinegar to two parts water. If a soak isn’t possible (like a carpet wine stain), try pouring club soda on the stain as a more powerful lifting alternative to just water, and then use salt if the stain still hasn’t come off,” Childers says.

The Culprit: Grass stain
The Remedy: Pre-treat with detergent and avoid heat

The key here is getting to the stain before it goes into the wash. “Grass is one of those stains that has a bit of everything: natural oils and dyes, proteins, starches, and sugars from the plant world, not to mention there’s usually an earth pigment associated with it,” says Akemi Ooka, method’s senior director of formulation (a.k.a. formulatrix). “While method 4X concentrated laundry detergent cleans stains very well on all kinds of clothing types just by using it as directed in your washer, if you have a really stubborn stain, the product is also an excellent pre-treater. Just apply a small amount of detergent on the stain, rub it in, and then wash as usual. Finally, to avoid setting the stain with heat from the dryer, line-dry the item for the best result.”

The Culprit: Blood
The Remedy: Apply a salt and cold water paste

Like most stains, deal with this one pronto. Hot water will cause stains to set, so use cold water to dab away at the spot. For particularly delicate fabrics (like silk shirts or sheets), try using a paste of salt and cold water. “The slightly rough texture of the salt combined with its natural dehydrating properties works gently enough to loosen blood stains out of fabric,” says Childers.

The Culprit: Toothpaste
The Remedy: Apply detergent diluted with water

Toothpaste is great for your pearly whites, but not so much for your button-down shirt. Take a cloth or sponge (that has been dampened with a few drops of detergent diluted with cold water) to blot away the stain. “Toothpaste is also one of the only stains where immediate action isn’t necessary. Often times it’s easier to let the toothpaste dry up before treating the stain, since this prevents further smearing on the fabric,” says Childers.

The Culprit: Mustard
The Remedy: Apply a clear detergent and water mixture

For a fresh stain, take your sponge and dampen with a mix of cool water and a teaspoon of clear detergent. Blot from the outside of the stain into the center until the stain lifts. For a dried-on stain, scrape off as much of the mustard using a dull knife or similar scraping tool, and try blotting out the stain (using the same detergent and water mix) from the backside of the fabric rather than directly on top of the stain.

The Culprit: Coffee
The Remedy: Use a powdered detergent, cold water, and vinegar paste

If it’s a fresh spill, cold water should be enough to do the trick. First, use a paper towel to absorb as much of the spilled coffee as possible. Then, run cold water over the stain. “Make sure not to scrub,” says Childers. “It runs the risk of making the stain spread.” You can also use a mix of powdered laundry detergent, cold water, and distilled white vinegar to form a paste that is gentle enough to remove the stain without damaging fabric.

The Culprit: Perfume
The Remedy: Sponge with white vinegar

So sweet — and deadly when you accidentally spray the collar of your silk shirt. Immediately take a sponge dampened with cold water and apply it to the perfume stain to avoid permanent setting. If some staining remains, carefully try sponging on a diluted solution of white vinegar and water. “Soak the garment in a bucket filled with lukewarm water for half an hour to an hour before putting it through the washing machine,” Childers says.

The Culprit: Chocolate
The Remedy: Soak in a bucket

Rub laundry detergent into the stain and let it sit for up to five minutes, then give it a pre-soak in cold water for another 15. Finish by putting the item through a regular cycle in the washing machine.

This article originally appeared on Refinery29.com.

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TIME health

Your Cleaning Products Might Be More Harmful Than You Think

New research has identified a list of chemicals that are bad news. Are any lurking in your home?

 

Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis recently identified 15 chemicals that can be classified as endocrine disruptors, linked with early-onset menopause in women. While we worry that endocrine disruptors cause early puberty in young girls, it’s possible that they could have long-lasting, serious implications for women of all ages.

Endocrine disrupting chemicals mimic hormones in the body, namely, estrogen. According to Dr. Natalie Azar, NBC News contributor, because estrogen protects our bones and our hearts, long-term effects of endocrine disruption could include osteoporosis or cardiovascular diseases.

“Go to both the EPA website and the FDA website,” says Azar. “You’ll get a full list of the trade names of where these chemicals are, and you can be very mindful users.”

The Today show also spoke to cleaning expert Linda Cobb about shopping for safe cleaning supplies. Cobb avoids products with mentions of chlorine or optical brighteners, as well as labels that show fragrance (or what Cobb calls, a “chemical cocktail”).

Previously, RealSimple.com spoke to Drs. Julianna Deardorff and Louise Greenspan, who co-authored The New Puberty: How to Navigate Early Development in Today’s Girls. Deardorff noted that lavender-scented personal care products may be harmful to a daughter’s development. Because a child’s skin is a very active organ of absorption, endocrine-disrupting chemicals—both personal care and cleaning—can be risky for young girls.

“Try to get an idea of what is in your environment,” Azar says. “That’s really the only way you can protect yourself.”

This article originally appeared on RealSimple.com.

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TIME health

77 Expiration Dates That You Should Know

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Keate Barker

A handy keep-or-toss guide to 77 foods, beauty products, and household goods

Certain items in your house practically scream “toss me” when their prime has passed. That mysterious extra white layer on the Cheddar? A sure sign it needs to be put out of its misery. Chunky milk? Down the drain it goes.

But what about that jar of olives or Maraschino cherries that has resided in your refrigerator since before the birth of your kindergartner? Or the innumerable nonedibles lurking deep within your cabinets and closets: stockpiled shampoo and toothpaste, seldom-used silver polish? How do you know when their primes have passed?

With help from experts and product manufacturers, Real Simple has compiled a guide to expiration dates. These dates are offered as a rough guideline. The shelf lives of most products depend upon how you treat them. Edibles, unless otherwise indicated, should be stored in a cool, dry place. (With any food, of course, use common sense.) Household cleaners also do best in a dry place with a stable temperature. After the dates shown, beauty and cleaning products are probably still safe but may be less effective.

Food

Beer
Unopened: 4 months.

Brown sugar
Indefinite shelf life, stored in a moistureproof container in a cool, dry place.

Chocolate (Hershey bar)
1 year from production date

Coffee, canned ground
Unopened: 2 years
Opened: 1 month refrigerated

Coffee, gourmet
Beans: 3 weeks in paper bag, longer in vacuum-seal bag (after this time, color or flavor may be affected, but product is still generally safe to consume)
Ground: 1 week in sealed container

Coffee, instant
Unopened: Up to 2 years
Opened: Up to 1 month

Diet soda (and soft drinks in plastic bottles)
Unopened: 3 months from “best by” date.
Opened: Doesn’t spoil, but taste is affected.

Dried pasta
12 months

Frozen dinners
Unopened: 12 to 18 months

Frozen vegetables
Unopened: 18 to 24 months
Opened: 1 month

Honey
Indefinite shelf life

Juice, bottled (apple or cranberry)
Unopened: 8 months from production date
Opened: 7 to 10 days

Ketchup
Unopened: 1 year (after this time, color or flavor may be affected, but product is still generally safe to consume)
Opened or used: 4 to 6 months (after this time, color or flavor may be affected, but product is still generally safe to consume)

Maple syrup, real or imitation
1 year

Maraschino cherries
Unopened: 3 to 4 years
Opened: 2 weeks at room temperature; 6 months refrigerated

Marshmallows
Unopened: 40 weeks
Opened: 3 months

Mayonnaise
Unopened: Indefinitely
Opened: 2 to 3 months from “purchase by” date (after this time, color or flavor may be affected, but product is still generally safe to consume)

Mustard
2 years (after this time, color or flavor may be affected, but product is still generally safe to consume)

Olives, jarred (green with pimento)
Unopened: 3 years
Opened: 3 months

Olive oil
2 years from manufacture date (after this time, color or flavor may be affected, but product is still generally safe to consume)

Peanuts
Unopened: 1 to 2 years unless frozen or refrigerated
Opened: 1 to 2 weeks in airtight container

Peanut butter, natural
9 months

Peanut butter, processed (Jif)
Unopened: 2 years
Opened: 6 months; refrigerate after 3 months

Pickles
Unopened: 18 months
Opened: No conclusive data. Discard if slippery or excessively soft.

Protein bars (PowerBars)
Unopened: 10 to 12 months. Check “best by” date on the package.

Rice, white
2 years from date on box or date of purchase

Salad dressing, bottled
Unopened: 12 months after “best by” date
Opened: 9 months refrigerated

Soda, regular
Unopened: In cans or glass bottles, 9 months from “best by” date
Opened: Doesn’t spoil, but taste is affected

Steak sauce
33 months (after this time, color or flavor may be affected, but product is still generally safe to consume)

Tabasco
5 years, stored in a cool, dry place

Tea bags (Lipton)
Use within 2 years of opening the package

Tuna, canned
Unopened: 1 year from purchase date
Opened: 3 to 4 days, not stored in can

Soy sauce, bottled
Unopened: 2 years
Opened: 3 months (after this time, color or flavor may be affected, but product is still generally safe to consume)

Vinegar
42 months

Wine (red, white)
Unopened: 3 years from vintage date; 20 to 100 years for fine wines
Opened: 1 week refrigerated and corked

Worcestershire sauce
Unopened: 5 to 10 years (after this time, color or flavor may be affected, but product is still generally safe to consume)
Opened: 2 years

Household Products

Air freshener, aerosol
2 years

Antifreeze, premixed
1 to 5 years

Antifreeze, concentrate
Indefinite

Batteries, alkaline
7 years

Batteries, lithium
10 years

Bleach
3 to 6 months

Dish detergent, liquid or powdered
1 year

Fire extinguisher, rechargeable
Service or replace every 6 years

Fire extinguisher, nonrechargeable
12 years

Laundry detergent, liquid or powdered
Unopened: 9 months to 1 year
Opened: 6 months

Metal polish (silver, copper, brass)
At least 3 years

Miracle Gro, liquid
Opened: 3 to 8 years

Miracle Gro, liquid, water-soluble
Indefinite

Motor oil
Unopened: 2 to 5 years
Opened: 3 months

Mr. Clean
2 years

Paint
Unopened: Up to 10 years
Opened: 2 to 5 years

Spray paint
2 to 3 years

Windex
2 years

Wood polish (Pledge)
2 years

Beauty Products
All dates are from the manufacture date, which is either displayed on the packaging or can be obtained by calling the manufacturer’s customer-service number.

Bar soap
18 months to 3 years

Bath gel, body wash
3 years

Bath oil
1 year

Body bleaches and depilatories
Unopened: 2 years
Used: 6 months

Body lotion
3 years

Conditioner
2 to 3 years

Deodorant
Unopened: 2 years
Used: 1 to 2 years
For antiperspirants, see expiration date

Eye cream
Unopened: 3 years
Used: 1 year

Face lotion
With SPF, see expiration date. All others, at least 3 years

Foundation, oil-based
2 years

Foundation, water-based
3 years

Hair gel
2 to 3 years

Hair spray
2 to 3 years

Lip balm
Unopened: 5 years
Used: 1 to 5 years

Lipstick
2 years

Mascara
Unopened: 2 years
Used: 3 to 4 months

Mouthwash
Three years from manufacture date

Nail polish
1 year

Nail-polish remover
Lasts indefinitely

Perfume
1 to 2 years

Rubbing alcohol
At least 3 years

Shampoo
2 to 3 years

Shaving cream
2 years or more

Tooth-whitening strips
13 months

Wash’n Dri moist wipes
Unopened: 2 years
Opened: Good until dried out

This article originally appeared on RealSimple.com.

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TIME toxins

20 Things You Should Throw Away for Better Health

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Ready the recycling bin

When we talk about the steps you need to take to get healthier, they often involve buying new things: workout clothes, fitness equipment, ingredients for healthy recipes, and the list goes on. But becoming the healthiest version of yourself also means throwing away the stuff that’s holding you back—and we don’t only mean junk food. Get your recycling or garbage can ready!

Old plastic containers

Go through your collection of food-storage containers and toss anything made of clear, rigid plastic, and stamped with a 7 or “pc” (stands for polycarbonate). “These are the types of containers that maycontain BPA,” says Sonya Lunder, MPH, a senior analyst at the Environmental Working Group, who also advises tossing warped or cracked containers. While manufacturers have take BPA out of many of the newer polycarbonate containers, old ones still probably have it. And multiple trips through the dishwasher can up leaching of the chemical. Lunder also cautions against heating any type of plastic in the microwave because of chemical-leaching concerns. “Glass is safer in general,” she says.

Read more: 27 Mistakes Healthy People Make

Air fresheners

Though some companies have recently announced they’re phasing out phthalates, which are used to help fragrance linger longer, many air fresheners (solids, sprays, and plug-ins) still contain this type of chemical, which in large doses may have harmful effects on reproduction or development. “These products are simply chemical perfumes that you put in the air,” says Lunder, who argues that it’s much healthier to take care of the root cause of a smell than mask it with chemicals.

Antibacterial soap

Antibacterial soap is no more effective at killing bacteria than the regular stuff—and they may not be safe, according to a 2014 FDA report. Triclosan, the active ingredient in antibacterial cleansers, has been shown to alter hormone regulation in animals, and there’s also concern that the chemical may contribute to antibiotic resistance.

Your stash of diet soda

If you haven’t already, you may want to reconsider your diet soda habit—especially if you’re trying to lose weight. A much-buzzed-about study published in the journal Nature found that non-caloric sweeteners such as saccharin (Sweet-n-Low), sucralose (Splenda), and aspartame (Equal) may mess with the gut bacteria that play a key role in healthy metabolism. Researchers found a link between these sweeteners, altered gut microbes, glucose intolerance and metabolic syndrome (both precursors to Type 2 diabetes) in mice and humans.

Read more: 10 Reasons to Give Up Diet Soda

Worn-out running shoes

Most running shoes should be replaced every 300 to 400 miles, says Jason Karp, MD, exercise physiologist and author of Running for Women. For a runner who logs 30 miles a week, that’s about every three months. When shoes wear down, they lose their cushioning and are less capable of absorbing the impact of your foot landing with each step, so more force is transmitted to muscles, bones, and tendons, putting you at risk for injuries, he explains. If you’re not a runner, replace them about every six months, or as soon as you notice that the tread is looking worn out.

Frayed toothbrush

If you’re brushing in the morning and the evening like you’re supposed to, then your toothbrush bristles are probably becoming frayed and worn faster than you realize. “In my experience, bristles start to fray after about two months of use, so I recommend my patients replace their brushes every three months,” says American Dental Association spokesperson Ruchi Sahota, who is a practicing dentist in California. Worn-out brushes are less effective at cleaning teeth and fighting off decay.

Clutter

“In the end, we are what we think about, and what we think about is heavily influenced by what we keep around us,” says motivational speaker and life coach Gail Blanke, author of Throw Out Fifty Things. She calls the things that neither serve a specific purpose nor exist to make you feel good “life plaque”: “The more life plaque we pile around ourselves, the less we can focus on what we really care about,” she explains. Not sure where to start? Toss things that annoy you every time you see them, like socks that have lost their match, or your overflowing kitchen junk drawer. No matter what you decide to throw out (or donate), your goal is to whittle the physical objects down to only items that help you feel energized and accomplish your goals.

Read more: 20 Quick and Easy Ways to Get Healthier Fast

Clothes you don’t wear anymore

Take a peek in your closet. How many items have you not worn within the last year? Many people who’ve lost weight keep the bigger sizes around in case they regain it, while others hold onto the size 2 jeans they wore in high school, thinking maybe if they diet they’ll fit again. In either case, seeing these items every day can bring on anxiety. That’s not how anyone wants to feel when getting ready.

Leftovers lingering in the fridge

When it comes to highly perishable food that contains animal ingredients, the rule of thumb is to eat, toss, or freeze after three days, says Michael P. Doyle, PhD, director of the Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia. “Listeria is linked to scary things like meningitis, miscarriages, and even death,” he says. “It can grow to millions at refrigerator temperatures in under a week.”

Old mascara

Liquid makeup, including mascara, can harbor a lot of germs, says Thomas Steinemann, MD, an American Academy of Ophthalmology spokesperson who practices in Ohio. That’s why he recommends throwing tubes away two to three months after opening. “Each time you use mascara, you are brushing it and any germs onto your lashes,” he says. “You’re also contaminating the brush with even more bacteria present on your skin or eyelashes, then plunging it into a moist room-temperature environment, which encourages bacterial growth.” One of the primary functions of eyelashes is to keep debris and germs from entering your eye, so it’s important to keep the makeup you put on them as germ-free as possible, he adds.

Read more: 18 Makeup Mistakes That Make You Look Older

Dirty contact lens case

“Using a dirty lens case is one of the primary risk factors for getting eye infections,” says Dr. Steinemann, who recommends replacing you lens case at least every three months, as well as cleaning, air-drying facedown, and using fresh solution daily. “Even if you care for your lens case fastidiously, a grimy biofilm builds up on the surface that’s a magnet for dirt and germs,” he explains. “If you don’t change it out for a new one, you’re putting yourself at risk for a potentially serious eye infection like a corneal ulcer that can become infected and—even when healed—result in a scar that could affect your vision,” he adds. Don’t mess with your eyes, people!

Stale spices

Spices that have been hanging out in your cabinets for years probably won’t make you sick—but they won’t add any flavor to your food, which is key when you’re trying to cook healthy meals that don’t go overboard on fat or calories. Fresh spices can mean the difference between bland meals that makes you consider giving up on your goals and ordering delivery, and amazingly flavorful food that’s good for you and satisfying.

Old lip gloss

Anything that’s used around your mouth collects a lot of bacteria quickly, and the longer the bacteria sits in a moist tube, the more it grows. This increases your chance of infection if it gets into a cut or crack on the delicate skin of your lips. For this reason, experts recommend that you throw out lip gloss or other lip makeup no more than six months after you open it and begin using it, or by the expiration date, whichever is sooner.

Read more: 12 Strange-But-True Health Tricks

Musty, clogged air filters

If you have an air purifier at home, you get a gold star. “HEPA filtered air cleaning devices—the most efficient kind—are important because according to the EPA, indoor air quality is 25 to 100 times worse than outdoors,” says Philip Tierno, PhD, a microbiologist with New York University. In fact, the average 1,500 square foot house can accumulate 40 pounds of dust (40,000 dust mites per ounce). “One in five Americans suffer from allergies or asthma, which can be exacerbated by dust, mold, and bacteria in the air so a good filter system goes a long way,” he adds. Just don’t forget to replace the filter every so often or you could actually be growing mold and bacteria, and blowing contaminants back into your air. How often depends on what kind you have, so check with your manufacturer and use common sense. One telltale sign it needs to be tossed is a musty smell.

Stretched-out bras

When’s the last time you went bra shopping? The elastic in bras can get stretched out over time (the washing machine speeds up this process) which means less support for your girls. “Replacing a bra whenever it no longer lends comfort and support will help reduce back pain in heavier women, and can slow the natural process of aging in breast tissue,” says breast specialist Kristi Funk, MD. (That “natural process of aging” is sagging.)

Your kitchen sponge

Studies show the kitchen sponge is the germiest thing in the average American household, says Tierno. While some experts recommend microwaving sponges daily to zap bacteria, Doyle recommends skipping them completely: “When you use a sponge to clean meat juices, which can contain harmful microbes like salmonella, and it stays moist at room temperature, they grow quickly and studies show even the dishwasher doesn’t kill them.” He advises using a washcloth to clean dishes instead, grabbing a clean one every few days, and throwing the dirty ones in with your laundry. “Because it’s thinner, a washcloth dries quicker than a sponge between washes, which helps significantly slow bacterial growth,” he explains.

Read more: How to Keep Your Kitchen Germ-Free

Plastic cutting boards

Slicing and dicing on plastic cutting boards scores the surface (those lines you begin seeing after the first few times you use one). Once bacteria get into these tiny grooves and begin to grow, they can be very difficult to get rid of, says Doyle. He recommends switching to wooden cutting boards because wood contains resins that are naturally antimicrobial. Translation: when you score a wooden cutting board and bacteria seeps in, it dies instead of thrives.

Smart devices

You don’t need to toss your iPhone or Android out completely (phew!), but you should definitely unplug from time to time. Mounting research indicates that information overload—what happens when you use smart devices constantly—is linked to depression and anxiety. Recent studies suggest that this is particularly true for people who are overly attached to their smartphones and tablets, and for those who use multiple devices at once (which experts call media multitasking). Power down and stow your devices in a drawer at least a few times per week to give your brain a break‚ ideally on a set schedule (for example, weekdays after 9 p.m. or weekend mornings before noon).

Your chair

Global studies show that the average person sits 7.7 hours a day, and some estimate people sit up to 15 hours a day, says Robert Emery, professor of occupational health at the University of Texas School of Public Health. Excessive sitting impacts the body’s metabolic system, and can lead to obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, and depression. But it’s not as simple as putting in more time at the gym, which may not even reverse “sitting disease,” adds Emery. The American Medical Association recommends switching to a standing desk for work as an excellent way to combat the health issues associated with too much sitting.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

Read next: 4 Cooking Mistakes That Make You Gain Weight

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TIME advice

12 Laundry Mistakes You Should Stop Making Right Now

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Are you using too much detergent? Overloading the washer? Overdoing the bleach? Find out the answers to these questions and more

Mistake 1: Rubbing Stains Furiously

This can make the stain worse and possibly wear away the fabric. Instead, be gentle and methodical. Treat the stain as soon as you can; the less time that elapses, the more success you’ll have. And always use a white cloth so that colors can’t transfer. Dab, rather than rub, working from the outside in to keep the stain contained.

Mistake 2: Using Too Much Detergent

Excess suds can hold dirt pulled from clothes and get caught in areas that won’t always rinse clean, like under a collar, leading to bacteria buildup. The remedy: Use only half the amount of detergent that you normally do, then gradually increase that amount if your clothes are not coming out as clean as you would like. An exception: If you have hard water, you may actually need more soap than you are using. Check the recommendation for hard water on your detergent bottle.

Mistake 3: Filling the Washing Machine Incorrectly

When washing in a top-loader with liquid detergent, you should first fill with water, then add soap, then add clothes, right? Well, no. This protocol from the past was meant to prevent residue on the fabric and the machine. But modern detergents are phosphate-free and not harmful to clothes the way old formulas were. As long as you’re not using bleach, don’t add clothing after the water (a pain, because clothes can float). Instead, use this order to distribute detergent best: clothes, then water, then soap.

Mistake 4: Washing an Item That Has a “Dry-Clean” Label

This isn’t necessarily a blunder. Most items that say “dry-clean” can be hand washed and air-dried. This includes natural fibers, such as linen and most silks. First check for colorfastness; moisten a cotton swab with mild detergent and dab it on a hidden seam to see if any dye comes off. If not, go ahead and dunk the garment in soapy water just once or twice, then rinse and immediately roll it in a towel to extract moisture. However, you should stick with dry-cleaning for certain categories: leather, suede, silk dupioni, anything with embellishments, and structured pieces (like blazers).

Mistake 5: Not Zipping Zippers All the Way to the Top

Metal teeth can snag delicate and woven clothing that’s being washed in the same load.

Mistake 6: Washing Shirts All Buttoned Up

This seems like a good idea, but it can stress buttons and buttonholes and lead to premature poppage. Take the time to unbutton before tossing clothes in the washer (or the hamper).

Mistake 7: Overusing Bleach

Think twice before you reach for the bleach: You actually don’t need it to get rid of protein stains, like blood, sweat, and tears. (Okay, maybe tears are not a big laundry issue.) One natural option: Toss stained socks, tees, and undies into a big pot of water with a few lemon slices and bring to a boil for a few minutes.

Mistake 8: Not Leveling Your Washing Machine

If your washer is not level, vibrations can damage your floor and prematurely wear out key components, like the shock absorbers and the tub bearings. (Plus, there’s that terrible noise.) Place a level on top of the machine and adjust the feet, which typically screw up and down, accordingly. If this doesn’t help, beef up the floor with a ¾-inch-thick piece of plywood that’s a little larger than the machine’s base. It will help absorb vibrations.

Mistake 9: Letting the Dryer “Rest” Between Loads

Some folks like to wait an hour after one cycle concludes before putting in a new load. But in fact, running back-to-back dryer loads is smart and efficient. It lets you take advantage of retained heat from the previous cycle, cutting down on energy usage.

Mistake 10: Ignoring the Permanent Press Setting on Your Dryer

This medium-heat cycle with a cool-down period at the end is a proven crease curber. More tips: Don’t pack clothes in; they need to float freely or they’ll wrinkle. (Note: Ditto for the washer. Stuffing it can create wrinkles and prevent your clothes from getting clean. On top of that, it can put pressure on the machine’s bearings and shock absorbers, causing them to wear down prematurely.) And procrastinators, take note: It really does eliminate creases if you fold clothes when they’re still hot, right out of the dryer (or, if you prefer, right out of the pile that you dumped onto your bed). Give each item a quick shake so wrinkles don’t set in. If you don’t have time to fold a load immediately, shake out the pieces and lay them flat in the laundry basket, one on top of another, while they await further attention.

Mistake 11: Tossing Socks in Willy-Nilly

Here’s a sock-saving tip: Place socks in the washer tub first, so they’re less likely to attach themselves to other garments and then go missing.

Mistake 12: Not Cleaning Your Dryer

Even though you empty the lint filter after each use (right?), lint buildup can clog the duct over time and become a fire hazard. A sure sign that your dryer is clogged? It takes more than an hour to dry a load. Once a year, detach the hose from the back of the dryer and snake a long brush through to push out lint (20-foot dryer vent brush, $35, gbindustrialdirect.com). Also scrub the lint filter once a year with a small toothbrush and a bit of detergent. Rinse, then air-dry completely.

This article originally appeared on RealSimple.com.

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TIME advice

How to Make Your Apartment Look Clean in 5 Minutes

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Focus on tidying the stuff at eye level

Whether you want to be prepared for a visit from a neighbor or you just need some peace of mind before you walk out of the door, you want your place looking presentable — fast. Here are 10 ways to eliminate mess, in under five minutes.

Snap A Pic

Before you dive in, take a quick photo of the space. “It’s so easy to get used to clutter that has been in one spot for a while,” points out Emma Chapman, the lifestyle blogger behind A Beautiful Mess. “Glancing at the photo and trying to spot anything that looks out of place helps me to notice little things that I may not have spotted before.” You can then quickly move those little things to a proper, or at least less noticeable, place.

Stash Clutter

In a pinch, toss out-of-place odds and ends into a laundry basket (like this woven one) or a bin that you can stow out of eye’s view for sorting later.

Repurpose Empty Spaces

An empty napkin holder can serve as a de facto mail sorter so bills don’t get lost in the shuffle. Corral rogue office supplies in a pretty mug or glass. Take the impromptu cleanup a step further by throwing a patterned tray underneath for a subtle organizational vibe.

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Sweep Up

Your mission: Eliminate little crumbs or dust bunnies that will stick to people’s socks. “It just makes your guests feel dirty,” says Kadi Dulude, owner of NYC cleaning service Wizard of Homes.

Tackle The Bathroom

Wipe any gobs of toothpaste from the sink, and rinse crusted soap from the dish. Make sure the TP roll is plump, and swish a little bleach in the toilet bowl. Forget scrubbing any mildew-y grout — just pull the shower curtain closed.

Rub Down Surfaces

Don’t worry if your cleaning supplies aren’t well stocked: You don’t need anything fancy to give your shelves or tables a once-over. “Go ahead and use water for everyday cleaning. Just wet a microfiber cloth,” says Dulude. (Remember: This won’t disinfect any surfaces.)

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Fluff The Living Room

Flip stained couch cushions to the clean(er) side, fluff your pillows, and fold your throw blanket. Light a scented candle for instant coziness.

Skip The Underneath

Focus on tidying the stuff at eye level. Don’t bother cleaning under furniture or dusting ceiling fans — people won’t be looking there, Dulude says.

Eliminate Pet Hair

Lint rollers are a must-have tool when it comes to tackling pet hairs. Even more effective than the sticky barrel? Throw on some rubber dish gloves and run your hands over your chairs or futon, balling up hair as you go.

MORE See New York’s First $100 Million Apartment

Attend To Allergies

We’re already sneezing and coughing a ton this time of year. Put visitors at ease by paying special attention to windowsills and radiators, which accumulate dust that can trigger serious sniffles, suggests Dulude.

This article originally appeared on Refinery29.com.

Read next: Here’s What to Do When Your Computer Runs Out of Space

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TIME advice

What I Learned From Purging Most of My Stuff (and Why I Wish I Hadn’t)

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We’re not supposed to care too much about objects, but maybe we shouldn’t sell our stuff—or ourselves—short

I’m going to feel lighter. Fewer belongings means less clutter and a simplified life. This is what I told myself just before the tag sale my husband and I threw on my 50th birthday. And even as strangers carted away our possessions, I believed it. I looked forward to the relief I thought I’d feel at the end of the day, when the purging was over. But as night fell I didn’t feel unburdened. I deeply missed my stuff.

You wouldn’t think I could be so easily shaken, given the genuine trauma that my family and I have endured. In 2006 my husband, Bob, was hit by a roadside bomb while covering the war in Iraq for ABC News. He spent five weeks in a coma and the next year in recovery. My priorities were quickly reordered: I had always been tidy; now I learned to leave dishes in the sink. I had always been punctual; now, if I ran late, I just shrugged. IF IT’S NOT FATAL, IT’S NO BIG DEAL, read a little plaque that my sister had given me, and it became our family’s jokey mantra.

In the aftermath of Bob’s amazing comeback (he went back to work in 2007), he decided not to defer his dreams. He wanted to create a home from the ground up—something environmentally responsible using solar and geothermal energy. “Why wait until we retire to do this?” he said. “We know there are no guarantees.” We both understood how life can change in an instant.

We ended up building a beautiful, modern, eco-friendly house that also happened to be smaller and more efficient. It’s the kind of place people move into after the little chicks have left the nest (our four are still pretty much present, ranging in age from 12 to 21). Initially, I hadn’t been daunted by the downsizing. But once we got ready to move in, I realized that the challenge would be greater than I had imagined.

I had spent the first 20 years of our marriage accumulating things. As newlyweds, Bob and I had returned from a year in Beijing with two backpacks, a few inexpensive Chinese knickknacks, and a burning desire to create our first grown-up household. From my parents, I had inherited a love of antiques, and I spent that first summer back in the States happily scouting garage sales, painting and refinishing my finds with my own hands. Over the next few years, as we crisscrossed the globe for Bob’s career, we added furniture and art. We would take with us a bit of the places we left—a pine table from Redding, California, a Navajo rug from the Adirondacks, an odd collection of egg cups from London flea markets.

There was joy in amassing these objects: Each thing had a purpose, if only to bring beauty into our home. I think of the chicken-wire pottery hutch from Napa, which housed our first baby’s clothes; the ice cream parlor chairs Bob’s mother gave us; the baroque mirror from his ribald aunt. These simple pieces helped define us as a family and created the backdrop of our life.

Throughout the year of construction on the new house, I rifled through closets and gave away dozens of items. There would be no room for the giant armoire from London or the bookshelf I had lovingly detailed in swirls of primary colors when we lived in Virginia. My son’s paint-stained handprint at age five was on the side. Still, it would have to go. All the while, I reminded myself that life wasn’t about stuff; it was about the people under your roof. Hadn’t we learned that when Bob was hit by the bomb? Besides, we would be moving into our new house with a clean slate. Who doesn’t want a clean slate?

Me, that’s who. In the two years since we moved into the new house, I’ve found myself cataloging the missing items in my head. When I shut my eyes, I can see the old desk from Bob’s parents, a drop leaf from the 1940s that housed our family documents, medical records, report cards, old photos, and diaries. With the desk gone, I had to find each of these items a new home. I picture the matching King Edward beds that used to be in my twin daughters’ room. They were their first big-girl beds and might have been passed down to grandchildren someday.

Reinventing ourselves in a new house with fewer things has been difficult. It’s like having long hair for years, then impulsively telling the hairdresser to just lop it off: You end up peering at yourself in the mirror and groping the back of your neck for weeks afterward. Since moving in, we have bought a few new items, but space is tight. There isn’t room for much.

Yes, the things I miss are just things. But this experience has made me think differently about my belongings. I’m more aware of how individual pieces fit together to create a whole home. I’m a person who likes older bones, pieces with a history. I understand that part of myself now.

If Bob and I move again someday, I will tell myself to slow down and take a moment before I toss goods away. I will try to keep the items that bring me pleasure or that anchor my family to our past. And I urge my friends who are downsizing or moving to do the same. I remind them that there is no shame in taking comfort in what their beloved objects represent. Sometimes, things do matter.

This article originally appeared on RealSimple.com.

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TIME health

These 8 Household Items Have Tons of Germs

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Turns out, bacteria tends to linger on some of the most frequently used household items

Turns out, bacteria tends to linger on some of the most frequently used household items. Here, a list of germ-laden places—and how to tackle those trouble spots.

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