Safe Medicine Storage & Disposal

Where do you keep your medicines? Are they in different places? Are some in the medicine cabinet, some in the kitchen, some in the bedroom? Can you find them when you need them? Most importantly, do you know how to safely dispose of them? Safe use of medicine includes safe storage and disposal.


Keeping track of your medicines and knowing where they are when you need them is important.

  • Take an inventory of your medicines every six months.
  • Check the expiration date. Don’t take chances with medicines that no longer work the way they’re supposed to. Don’t take medicines that are discolored, dried out, or crumbling. Also, check the expiration date for eyedrops and eardrops. They may no longer be effective. In fact, they could be a breeding ground for bacteria.
  • Discard expired or leftover prescriptions. Don’t treat yourself (or anyone else) with old prescriptions. Your symptoms might seem similar to what you had before. Yet, the cause could be different or the medicine may not be the right one this time.

Approximately 50,000 young children are brought to the emergency room each year because they got into medicines left within reach. Are your medicines stored up and away from children?

After you’ve identified the medicines you’re keeping, next find a safe storage place.

  • Pick a location that is away, and out of sight. For example, a kitchen cabinet or shelf. Keep medicines away from babies, toddlers, and pets that may put them in their mouths. According to SafeKids Worldwide, almost every minute of every day there is a call to a poison control center because a young child got into medicine.
  • Theft and abuse of prescriptions — especially pain and ADHD medications that have “street value” — is a serious problem. Keep them out of the hands of those who shouldn’t have them. Store them in a secure location.
  • Store your medicine in an area that is cool and dry. Heat and humidity can damage medicines. The bathroom is usually not a good place to keep your medicines unless it’s well ventilated. Some medicines require refrigeration. Check the label.

More medicine storage tips

  1. Keep your medicines separate from those of your family members. For instance, on a different shelf or at least on a separate side of a shelf. This will make it less likely that you take the wrong ones by mistake.
  2. Use a countertop or tabletop near where you take your medicine. This way you can open the bottle with it resting on a flat surface. In case you drop your pill, it will land on the table and not down the drain or on the floor. Never leave your medicine bottles out on the counter, especially if there are children in the house.
  3. Have good lighting where you store medicines. This will help you make sure you’re taking the right medicine. Never take medicines in the dark.
  4. Keep medicine in the bottle it came in. The amber color of prescription containers protects the medicine from light. You will also have the label information right there about what the medicine is, its dosage and how often to take it. The label will also have the phone number of the pharmacy so you can call when it is time for a refill.
  5. If you do use a weekly pillbox to help you remember to take your medicines, keep the original bottles so that you can quickly access dosing and refill information generally printed on the packaging.
  6. Never mix different medicines in the same bottle. You might end up taking the wrong one by mistake.
  7. Keep the lids on your pill bottles tightly closed. A cap can’t be child resistant if it’s not closed correctly.

Disposal of prescription and OTC medicines

Most prescription and OTC medicines can be thrown away in the household trash. A few best practices are outlined below.

  1. Mix medicines (do not crush tablets or capsules) with an unpalatable substance such as dirt, kitty litter, or used coffee grounds. This prevents thievery or diversion of medicines from the trash.
  2. Then, place the mixture in a container such as a zip-lock or sealable plastic bag. Throw the container away in your household trash.
  3. Remove the label and/ or scratch off all personal information when disposing of a prescription vial.
  4. Flush prescription medications down the toilet only if the label or patient information specifically instructs doing so. For instance, for specific medications such as prescription pain relievers that have a high potential to be abused, check the FDA’s list of medicines recommended for disposal by flushing. Otherwise, medicines can be thrown away in the household trash.
  5. Use pharmacy “take-back” programs or solid waste programs to dispose of unused or expired medicines.

Learn More

Learn More about medicine storage and disposal

Additional educational resources