Instantly Organize Your Medicine Cabinet in a Few Simple Steps
With advice from infectious disease doctors and a professional organizer, reset your routine with this step-by-step medicine cabinet makeover.
Bathroom Organization Hacks
Closets, drawers, kitchen cabinets: your home organization project might focus on these big basics—but, especially considering the times we’re in, your medicine cabinet is a smaller nook-and-cranny that deserves to be meticulously on-point these days.
With advice from an infectious disease doctor and a professional organizer, we’ve got your step-by-step medicine cabinet makeover. This organization process will empower you with streamlined mornings, immune support, and Covid-preventive essentials—and for those unpleasant occasions that creep up, like the common sniffles or sleepless nights.
All this is why your medicine cabinet calls for a refresh just as much as any other section of the house. Reset your bathroom game by following this plan that’s loaded with pro tips. (And, if your home organization spree inspires you to upgrade more of your self-care standards, don’t miss 10 Easy Self-Care Swaps to Make in 2022.)
Clean & Sanitize
A good wipedown with warm water and a rag will get off visible goo…but it’s important to follow it up by sanitizing every surface, inside and out, advises Margaret Khoury, MD, an infectious disease specialist for Kaiser Permanente in Southern California. Keep in mind that the warm, moist environment of the bathroom is germ heaven, and pathogens can even grow on soap and other hygiene products. Yeah, ew.
Pick a product that kills viruses, bacteria, and fungi, and follow the directions on the label. Antibacterial products don’t work against viruses, and even cleaners that claim to kill most germs can miss COVID-19, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) caution. So when choosing cleaning products, like wipes or sprays, go with an EPA-registered disinfectant.
Be sure to take out everything (yes, every single thing—bottles, makeup containers, and the shelves they sat on) and wipe all of it down. Don’t forget to clean the knob or handle! Think of every surface fingers touch, and go there with that cleaner. (If you’re looking for the most effective cleaning solutions on the market, check out our list of the 14 Best-Reviewed Cleaning Products on Amazon.)
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Toss like a boss
An easy next step is to throw away any expired over-the-counter meds and dried-out makeup. (That beloved eye shadow compact you’ve used since college? Zero judgment—but may we suggest 6 Facts That Will Convince You to Throw Out Your Old Makeup—Stat!)
Toss used-up, broken, or non-functional items. It’s OK to purge ruthlessly—you have limited space there, so only necessary items can stay. “If you don’t love it or use it, lose it,” Rachel Rosenthal, a professional organizer who’s partnered with brands like West Elm and the Container Store, tells TheHealthy.
Supplies to fight Covid-19
Got a supply of at-home rapid Covid test kits? Bonus points for being proactive! Don’t store them in your medicine cabinet, nor in your bathroom at all. The CDC recommends storing self-administered Covid tests in their unopened box in a cool, dry place. Improper storage or exposure to heat or moisture can make the tes malfunction.
Help prevent Covid-19 by stocking up on alcohol prep pads or a fresh bottle of rubbing alcohol and cotton pads. Then, keep the whole house healthier by using these regularly to clean high-touch surfaces like kitchen cabinet knobs, your microwave’s buttons, door knobs around the house, your phone and keyboard, keys, and more. In fact, here’s our complete guide for Covid-19 cleaning.
Prioritize your shelves
Ready to sort out what goes where? Rosenthal says you should start by assigning each category its own shelf and try to keep all the items in that group together within that designated space. You may want to label each shelf with a piece of tape or a sticky note to help you and your family put things away properly going forward.
Keep the items you use every day in easy reach on one of the lowermost shelves. If you’re not using an item at least once a week, move it to a longer-term storage space.
Have kiddos? Rosenthal suggests: “If you have little ones, dedicate the bottom shelf to keep their items where they can easily reach them and grab what they need.”
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The medicine cabinet is a common place to put medications, sharp objects like razors and needles, and toxic cleaners so safety should be a top consideration in your organization, says Dr. Khoury. If you have children that use the medicine cabinet, this is the perfect time to take inventory and remove all unsafe items and put them well out of their reach. (Don’t forget: Kids will climb onto countertops!)
Put sharp objects in closed containers so you don’t accidentally hurt yourself. Toxic cleaners should be stored in tightly sealed unbreakable containers, so even if they fall, they won’t break open and spill.
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Move your meds to a smarter spot
Oh, the irony: Turns out, the medicine cabinet is actually one of the worst places to store prescription and over-the-counter drugs, says Gina Harper, PharmD, BCPS, a UCHealth Pharmacist and Clinical Coordinator at Poudre Valley Hospital in Northern Colorado. “Moisture, temperature, oxygen, and light—all things found in bathrooms—can degrade medications faster than normal,” this pharmacist explains.
Unless the packaging indicates otherwise, most medicine should be stored at cool room temperature, in a dry, dark place, and in the original package… so, not in your bathroom. This is true for many skin care products, vitamins, and supplements as well.
Note: If you really want to keep your meds in your bathroom, consider buying a small medicine fridge for your counter. This allows you to control the temperature, humidity, and exposure to light and air.
(As for what definitely belongs in the bathroom, here are 10 items nurses always keep in their medicine cabinets.)
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An official warning: Do not toss expired prescription drugs
Throwing prescribed medications in the garbage can help someone searching for narcotics get their hands on them. Flushing them down the toilet? Also not a wise option—this can pollute the water supply. Your best bet is to take them to your pharmacy (many pharmacies periodically promote drug take-back days) or to a local police department.
If for any reason you have to throw medicine away, the National Library of Medicine suggests you should “ruin” the drugs by mixing them with coffee grounds or kitty litter in a sealed plastic bag.
Store big items first
Ideally, your cabinet has adjustable shelves to allow your tallest or bulkiest essentials to fit within easy reach, like toothbrushes, toothpaste tubes, or large ointment bottles. Then you can see just how much space you have to work with for the rest of your stuff.
If something takes up too much room and it’s not an item you access daily, it might be better stored in a closet elsewhere.
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Next, insert your lesser-used items
Prioritize by setting the things you use the most toward the front of your medicine cabinet, on the shelves that are the easiest to see and access, says Rosenthal.
Place lesser-used items in the back or corners. If you’re not using an item at least once a week, move it to a longer-term storage space, like a closet or a box under your sink.
Employ this system for the remainder of your items, discerning how prominently and accessibly each one should be placed based on how often you use it. Rosenthal says just remember: Your goal is to keep it safe, clean, and functional.
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Don’t lose loose items
Stray Q-tips or lip balm tubes adding to the clutter? Put them in a clear glass container. They’ll fit the vertical space better, and you’ll be able to see exactly what’s inside.
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Try magnetic strips for metal trinkets
What do nail clippers, tweezers, and hair clips have in common? They all stick to magnets! Put a magnetic strip on the back of the cabinet door or behind the shelves, and never think twice about where those small tools might be hiding.
What’s equally genius? These 13 stylists’ tricks for getting the shiniest hair ever.
Don’t ignore the door
Your cabinet door is prime storage real estate that often goes untouched, but there are a number of ways you can customize it for your storage needs. Stick on hooks to hold small scissors or plastic pockets to hold makeup supplies, for example. There also are a number of DIY storage solutions that help you use hidden nooks around your shower, sink, and cabinets too.
Label, label, label
Small bins are perfect for makeup and toiletries, but not all of them are see-through. Create your own colorful labels to stay organized in style. These easy tricks will also instantly organize other small areas of your home.
One tip? Forget Instagram—make a real-life plan. “Getting organized does not mean that you have to invent a complex color-coded system or invest in a million matching bins,” Rosenthal says. “The goal is to create a place for everything in a way that complements how your life operates.”
For instance, if you normally toss your toothbrush in the bottom of the medicine cabinet, add a small open box there to keep it contained with the toothpaste and floss. You’re not going to magically transform your movements throughout the day—so plan for what you actually do, not what you wish you’d do (or what someone on social media claims to do), she says.
Gotta love real talk.
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Take a picture—it’ll last longer
Especially if you’re not the organized-by-nature type, consider capturing an image of your work after you’ve found a home for all your goods. When things start to look disheveled again, you can take a quick peek and get everything back in place instead of starting back at square one.
Doing this in your bathroom, and even for your pantry, cleaning products, or medication storage might also alert you to those missing items you don’t use every single day. This way, you can replace them when you’re out of stock.
All year long, live healthy with TheHealthy. Read 25 Weight Loss Myths You Need to Stop Believing STAT and Can You Drink Lemon Water While Fasting?
- Gina Harper, PharmD, BCPS, a UCHealth Pharmacist and Clinical Coordinator at Poudre Valley Hospital in Northern Colorado
- Margaret Khoury, MD, an infectious disease specialist for Kaiser Permanente in Southern California
- Rachel Rosenthal, professional organizer and owner of Rachel and Company
- Centers for Disease Control: "Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Household Cleaning"
- Environmental Protection Agency: "List N: Disinfectants for Use Against SARS-CoV-2"
- National Library of Medicine: "Storing your medicine"
- CDC: "Covid-19 self-testing"
- CDC: "Prescription drug safety"
- Others: realsimple.com; mashable.com; goodhousekeeping.com; grandparents.com