Do Disinfectants Expire?

We may be more inclined to stock up on disinfecting products now more than ever. This is especially true as we get closer to the cold and flu season this winter. However, experts warn that disinfecting products do in fact have a shelf life, and buying more than we can use before they expire may not be a great idea. That's because cleaning products lose potency after they expire. In fact, some disinfectants have shown a 20% decrease in potency after 6 months (via Martha Stewart). 

This may be fine for cleaning surfaces that aren't touched frequently, but for surfaces like door handles, common area countertops, and refrigerators, it can mean germs survive the cleaning process and increase our risk of viral infections. While disinfectants remain on the low end of the expiration spectrum, other products, like glass cleaners, can last closer to 2 years. In any case, it's good to check bottles for expiration dates and properly dispose of any past their prime. If bottles don't have expiration dates, there are general rules of thumb you can follow.

Disinfectant product shelf lives

Bleach has one of the shortest shelf lives, which may sound surprising considering how potent it is. However, bleach can degrade as early as 6 months after opening and lose 20% efficacy every year after (via Well+Good). Most multi-surface cleaners can work for up to 2 years, but if they contain an antibacterial agent, their shelf life can be cut in half (via Good Housekeeping). 

Alcohol-based sanitizers can decrease in effectiveness over time due to the fact that alcohol evaporates when it's exposed to air. For alcohol-based disinfectants, in particular, alcohol concentrations less than 42.6% were found to be far less effective in killing viruses like the coronavirus, Ebola virus, Zika virus, influenza A and B, and herpes simplex viruses 1 and 2 (via Medical News Today). This also applies to disinfectant personal care products, like hand sanitizer. It's important to note that homemade mixtures or dilutions of any disinfectant products should be used immediately, as the disinfectant properties can lose their effectiveness as quickly as one day.