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10 health items every home needs

They can help with everything from a shaving cut to a heart attack

Published: March 2013

Ever wonder what to use to stop the bleeding when you cut yourself shaving, or how to soothe a nasty bug bite? We asked doctors and other experts what health items they stock in their own homes. All of the items are easy to find and you can buy the whole group for less than $60. These items are in addition to the basics you should already have on hand, such as bandages, a fever thermometer, an ice pack, and, for some people, a blood-pressure monitor and blood glucose meter.

1. Aspirin

Why: It could be a lifesaver in the event of a heart attack, says Phillip Blanc, M.D., a resident emergency-room physician at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City. “Aspirin is a blood thinner, so it impedes the process of blood-clot formation,” he says. If you think you’re having a heart attack, call 911 and unlock your door. Then chew four 81-milligram (low-dose) tablets or one 325-mg tablet while you wait for help. (Use our calculator to estimate your risk of having a heart attack or stroke in the next 10 years.)

Price: About $3 for 36 low-dose tablets or $2 for 100 325-mg tablets.

2. Baking soda

Why: It’s 6:30 a.m. and you’re out of toothpaste. Wet your toothbrush and press some baking soda into it. Matthew Messina, D.D.S., a dentist in Cleveland and spokesman for the American Dental Association, says that baking soda makes a great toothpaste in a pinch 
because it’s a mild abrasive and will whiten teeth like a mild bleach. (Interested in the real thing? (See our buying guide for tooth whiteners.)

Price: About $3 for a 1-pound box.

3. Cigarette rolling paper

Why: Those little sheets can help stop the bleeding from shaving cuts, and they’re tidier than tissues or gauze, says Orly Avitzur, M.D., one of our medical advisers. (Avitzur, who has never smoked, tried the sheets after hearing about them from a friend.)

Price: About $1 per pack of 100 sheets.

4. Distilled white vinegar

Why: A dab of undiluted vinegar can take the itch out of bug bites, says Marvin M. Lipman, M.D., Consumer 
Reports’ chief medical adviser. It also makes a great nontoxic cleaner when mixed with water or baking soda. (See our report on healthty spring cleaning.) 

Price: $3 to $6 a gallon.

5. Measuring tape

Why: Measuring your waist circumference (the area just above your hip bones) every few months is a great way to keep tabs on your weight and your risk for heart disease, says Tracy Stevens, M.D., a cardiologist at Saint Luke’s Mid- America Heart Institute in Kansas City, Mo. Men and women with waists measuring more than 40 inches and 35 inches, respectively, are at a higher risk for heart problems. See our advice on how to control our weight, as well as our buying guide and Ratings for diet plans.

Price: About $4.

6. Meat thermometer

Why: It’s a must-have to prevent foodborne illness from undercooked meat, says Linda Greene, a food scientist at Consumer Reports. She uses the 
Polder THM-360 meat thermometer ($22), the top-rated model in our most recent tests. Steaks and roasts should 
be cooked to an internal temperature 
of 145°F; ground meat and egg dishes, 160°F; and poultry, 165°F.

Price: $6 and up.

7. Neti pot

Why: Rinsing your nasal passages with saline solution can help relieve congestion from allergies, says Cheryl Iglesia, M.D., an associate professor at Georgetown University’s School of Medicine. One caveat: The pots have been linked to a rare, deadly brain infection caused by contaminated tap water. So use yours only with a saline rinse, distilled water, 
or tap water that’s been boiled and cooled. Rinse the pot with the same type of water after use and dry it thoroughly.

Price: About $15 for a starter kit.

8. Plain petroleum jelly

Why: Dab it on minor cuts instead of an antibiotic ointment such as Neosporin, says Jessica Krant, M.D., a dermatologist in New York and member of our medical advisory board. It forms a barrier against infection without the risk of allergic reactions associated with topical antibiotics such as bacitracin zinc, neomycin sulfate, and polymyxin B.

Price: About $4.

9. Shea butter

Why: It’s a great natural remedy for rashes and dry skin, says Urvashi Rangan, Ph.D., a toxicologist and director of consumer safety for Consumer Reports, and it’s less likely to irritate sensitive skin than moisturizers that have multiple ingredients. Check the ingredient list and make sure it doesn’t contain fragrance or any items other than shea butter.
Price: $10 to $40.

10. Witch hazel

Why: It can relieve discomfort from hemorrhoids (and in fact is the active ingredient in drugstore remedies such as Tucks Medicated Cooling Pads), says Amy Newburger, M.D., director of  Dermatology Consultants of Westchester in Scarsdale, N.Y. For the price of 40 Tucks pads, you can buy a big bottle of witch hazel, which can also be used to relieve stinging and swelling from bug bites.

Price: About $5 for a 16-ounce bottle.

Editor's Note:

This article first appeared in the monthly newsletter Consumer Reports on Health. 

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