Medically Approved

Tips on how to store medication

4 minute read
Person storing their medication

News flash: Your bathroom medicine cabinet isn’t the best place for your pills. Read on for expert tips on where to store those pills, liquids and more.

Jennifer Howze

By Jennifer Howze

You might think a lot about the medications you put into your body. But you probably think less about where you put those medications in your home. Maybe you just stick your prescription pill bottles in your bathroom medicine cabinet. But that’s not usually the best place for them.

Heat and moisture can affect medications, according to the Cleveland Clinic. And these factors can reduce a medication’s effectiveness and change its chemical composition.

Nearly half of all Americans took at least 1 prescription medication in the past 30 days, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That’s a lot of people who can be affected by the hazards of storing medications the wrong way.

To keep your prescription medications safe, follow these smart storage tips.

Skip the medicine cabinet

It may surprise you. But your bathroom medicine cabinet isn’t an ideal place to store your prescription and over-the-counter medications.

The bathroom often gets hot and wet, which isn’t good for medications. Moisture and heat from the shower and sink can reduce their potency or cause them to go bad before their expiration date, according to the National Library of Medicine.

Capsules can react especially poorly to moisture. They’re typically made of gelatin and are intended to release their contents when they become wet. If they get wet in a steamy bathroom, the medication may be released too early.

“Most medications should be stored at room temperature [between 68 and 77 °F], away from heat and moisture,” says Amber Turrentine, PharmD. She’s associate director of Optum Store Business Performance. Good places to store them include:

  • A bedroom dresser drawer
  • A kitchen cabinet (away from the stove and sink)
  • On a shelf in a closet

Man holding up medication
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Read the package instructions

When you get your medication from the pharmacy, you might notice instructions attached to the bag or bottle your medication comes in. You should read them right away.

“Most prescription labels include a statement about storage requirements,” Turrentine says. Your pharmacist might apply a separate sticker to let you know you need to keep it in the refrigerator.

You can also find storage recommendations on the medication information handout that comes with your prescription. These instructions also provide valuable information on correct dosage and possible side effects — and what to do if you accidentally take too much.

Check if your medication needs to go in the fridge

Certain liquid antibiotics need to be kept cold. Your pharmacist will let you know this, says Turrentine. The same goes for some kinds of insulin. “Insulin vials or pens that have not been opened should be stored in the refrigerator,” she says.

Some eyedrops and topical preparations also do best in the refrigerator. They should all typically be stored between 36 and 46 °F. Unsure whether your medication needs the cold treatment? Ask your pharmacist.

Don’t leave medication in a car

Temperatures in a parked car or trunk can be extreme, both cold and hot. When you travel with medication, keep it in the passenger area in a purse or tote bag. And take it with you when you get out of the car.

As a rule, keep medications in their container

Pillboxes are great for organizing dosages for the day or the week. Just be careful when you transfer them from their original prescription vials to a pillbox, says Turrentine. It’s important to ensure you place the right medications in the right compartments.

Otherwise, you should keep prescription medications in their original containers. These have child-resistant closures and labels.

And certain medications should never be removed from their original glass bottle, Turrentine says. One example is nitroglycerin sublingual tablets used to treat angina (chest pain) and heart pain. The amber-colored bottle helps keep UV light from damaging the medication inside.

Toss the cotton ball

You should remove the little cotton ball that comes in some pill bottles once the bottle is open. The cotton pulls moisture into the bottle that could damage the medication, says the National Library of Medicine.

Check expiration dates

More than a quarter of people never check expiration dates on their medication, per a 2021 study. If it’s out of date, it should be out of your home.

Don’t be tempted to use expired medications, no matter what. You can drop them off at a pharmacy, but you should not flush them. They can be harmful to the water supply.

Take a closer look

Even if it’s well before the marked expiration date, medications can go bad if they’re not stored properly. Pay attention to any physical changes in your medication, such as:

  • New odor
  • Changes in color
  • Changes in texture
  • Pills that are cracked, chipped or clumped

If they don’t look right, you should safely dispose of them.

Keep your medications away from children and other vulnerable people

When storing your medications, don’t forget about keeping them out of the wrong hands. Around 50,000 children end up in the emergency room each year because they’ve ingested medications when adults weren’t looking, according to the CDC. You’ll want to keep them away from adults with memory issues and curious adolescents looking to experiment with drugs, too.

The Optum Store provides total care for your body and mind. Refill medications, schedule a virtual visit or shop for health essentials all from the comfort of home. Start exploring.

Additional sources
Medication and heat: Cleveland Clinic (2019). “Medication Safety and Disposal Tips”
Statistics on medication use: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2021). “Therapeutic Drug Use”
Safe medication storage overview: National Library of Medicine (2020). “Storing your medicines”
Study on home storage of medications: International Journal of Research and Review (2021). “Assessment of Storage of Medicines at Home using Home Medication Review in Pediatric Population - A Community Based Study”
Overview of safe storage: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2020). “Put Your Medicines Up and Away and Out of Sight”