Yes, Disinfectants Can Expire—Here's How to Tell if Yours Are Out of Date
Let's see a show of hands if you grabbed extra disinfecting wipes or sprays last spring when you were lucky enough to spot them on shelves! ✋🏿✋🏼✋🏾 Hey, you're not alone—but we're here with a little nudge to remind you to inspect your stash. That's because disinfectants and other cleaning products do actually expire. (ICYMI, here's the difference between disinfecting, sanitizing and cleaning.)
Unlike food expiration dates like "best by" and "sell by"—which often refer to an impact on flavor rather than safety—expiration dates on disinfectants can actually mean the products begin to lose their effectiveness. Unfortunately, it's a little fuzzier to know when this happens in wipes and sprays than in a legit expired food that's growing mold. It's a slow, gradual and invisible process.
Cleaning and disinfecting products also have a "best by" date, and swiping, spraying or squeezing them past their prime could mean they're killing fewer germs (if any at all). Read on to discover how long you can expect hand sanitizers, disinfectant sprays and bleach solutions to last.
So, How Long Do Disinfectants Last?
As we mentioned in our overview about why you shouldn't store your hand sanitizer in your car, the active ingredient in hand sanitizer, alcohol, can begin to evaporate when exposed to high heat or air. That means the alcohol percentage drops below what is touted on the label, making it less strong at fighting off germs.
All hand sanitizers are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and go through testing to guarantee how long they are effective. Most often, the dates on the bottle refer to when the alcohol falls below 90 percent of the total potency percentage stated on the label. Store-bought hand sanitizers generally last two or three years, max, and the WHO formula for homemade hand sanitizer has been tested and proven to have a shelf life of 19 months. (Remember your best bet is good ol' soap and water when they're available.)
Disinfectant Sprays and Wipes
Expect about a 12-month lifespan from store-bought disinfectants. This is when the chemical disinfectant may begin to degrade. Don't expect to see an official expiration date printed on the package, however. Keep your eye out for a "manufacture date" instead, then tack on 12 months to see when it's time to swap them out.
Homemade Bleach Sanitizing Solutions
Our DIY bleach solution came in clutch last March and April, when store-bought disinfecting products were about as hard to come by as toilet paper. But since these homemade cleaning recipes call for diluting bleach with water, it can begin to lose its potency within days or even hours. So instead of pre-mixing and storing your DIY bleach solution in a bottle for future use, plan to mix a small batch and use it immediately.