Does Hand Sanitizer Expire?

If you thought those cleaning products under your sink will be good to use for a lifetime, you might want to read their labels. Chemical solutions—yes, even hand sanitizers—can expire just like anything else, leading to poorer performance that might cost you your health.

Nothing lasts forever, although some food items in your home might come pretty close. Dried beans, honey, and white rice can last many years if stored in comfortable temperatures, for instance. Liquor can be stored indefinitely, thanks to its high alcohol content.

But just because strong spirits achieve near-immortality in your pantry doesn’t mean your sanitizers will find the same success! It isn’t just alcohol that keeps something suitable for use after long periods of time, and while alcoholic beverages are merely used for enjoyment, the standards for sanitizing products are generally higher where alcohol concentrations are involved. Sooner or later, that hand sanitizer of yours will lose its edge in the face of bacterial invasions.

So how long does it take for hand sanitizer to expire? Why does hand sanitizer expire in the first place? And is it safe to use hand sanitizer after it does expire?

Let’s tackle these questions one at a time.

What is the Shelf Life of Hand Sanitizer?

The total length of time your hand sanitizer will remain effective often varies from brand to brand. Different mixtures and alcoholic concentrations yield different timetables that indicate when you should throw them away.

As a baseline, the health and wellness industry considers a hand sanitizer shelf life of 2 to 3 years to be typical. Each bottle of hand sanitizer should have a label somewhere on its packaging that lists the expiration date, so be sure to inspect those spare solutions you might have lying around. A hand sanitizer’s expiration date represents the day the manufacturer estimates its total alcohol concentration will drop below 90% of the amount listed in the ingredients. At that point, the product is far less effective than a new supply.

Why Does Hand Sanitizer Expire?

Hand sanitizer (and other alcohol-based cleaning products) expires due to ethyl alcohol and isopropyl alcohol being its primary ingredients. Both of these types of alcohol are volatile, meaning they evaporate when they are exposed to air. This is why hand sanitizer dries from your hands relatively quickly—it’s not being absorbed into your skin, but rather rapidly transitioning from a liquid to a gas.

Manufacturers try to keep hand sanitizer bottles as airtight as possible, but at least a little bit of air will naturally find its way inside over time. The presence of air will gradually cause the alcohol in the sanitizer to disappear, leaving behind the inactive ingredients (like water, fragrances, and in the case of Muse Health’s Fragrance-free Hand Sanitizer, natural oils) that don’t directly help to eliminate germs. Of course, this process is very slow, but a hand sanitizer left alone for more than a few years will have significantly less strength as a result.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), you should only use hand sanitizers that contain at least 60% alcohol concentration, as any lesser amount won’t be powerful enough to kill most strains of bacteria. If you use a sanitizer with 62% ethyl alcohol like Muse Health’s own brand, then the expiration date represents the day your solution will consist of only 55.8% alcohol. Even though such a percentage gap isn’t very large, keep in mind that any alcohol concentration below 60% is considered “subpotent” by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and is no longer capable of neutralizing the novel coronavirus associated with COVID-19.

Is It Safe to Use Expired Hand Sanitizer?

Let’s say you just dug out an old bottle of hand sanitizer from the back of the junk drawer. It’s about a year past its expiration date. Is it still safe to use?

The answer is simple: yes, expired hand sanitizer is perfectly hazard-free to use. Whether or not it will actually get the job done, however, is another story.

Research has shown that hand sanitizers are most effective when containing 60 to 95 percent alcohol (although more than 70% tends to be a little overkill for most daily applications). When dealing with an alcohol concentration below 60%, however, the active ingredient might only discourage or “slow” the growth of bacteria rather than outright killing them off. Worse still, subpotent hand sanitizers might be completely ineffective against a variety of dangerous bacteria strains. You might receive some protection when using expired hand sanitizer, but it will be awfully limited.

Your best bet is to bite the bullet and replace any sanitizers (not just hand sanitizers!) that are past their expiration dates. It might even be a good idea to purchase new bottles a year out from your current stock’s expiry, seeing as alcohol solutions start losing their effectiveness much earlier than the date listed on the packaging anyway. Better still, err on the side of proper handwashing as much as possible so you don’t have to take any chances.

But when you’re out and about and don’t have access to a sink or hand soap, carrying your own bottle of hand sanitizer is still the way to go. Just make sure to check the label before you place your trust in it!

Hands Drying Out? Grab a Quality Hand Sanitizer

One of the biggest detriments of hand sanitizers is how quickly they can cause skin to crack and chafe. Higher alcohol concentrations can be worse than milder choices, but the truth is that any hand sanitizer will produce uncomfortable skin conditions when used frequently. Because alcohol removes the natural oils found in the skin on your hands, you’re often left high and dry just for practicing good hygiene.

Muse Health’s solution to this problem is to incorporate moisturizing oils into our hand sanitizer formula that preserves your skin while still eliminating 99% of germs. This makes our sanitizers double as miniature lotions, allowing you to clean your hands much more frequently without fear.

Time to stock up on a fresh supply of hand sanitizers? Don’t settle for generic brands that might hurt your skin; visit our store page for more information!