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Does Hand Sanitizer Expire? What You Should Know

We’re all (hopefully) using hand sanitizer every day as we try to stay clean and avoid spreading regular germs and COVID-19 around. But although many more people use alcohol based sanitizers for hands than they ever did before, most of them are under the mistaken impression that hand sanitizers lasts forever. This leads them to buy huge stockpiles of the stuff.

In reality, hand sanitizer expiration is a serious factor and something that can affect whether hand sanitizer is still good a few years from now compared to straight off the shelf. 

Let’s break down what exactly happens when hand sanitizers expire and what you need to know if your bottle is approaching its expiration date.

Does Hand Sanitizer Expire?

In short, yes, a sanitizer for hands can and does expire. But it’s a little more complicated than a simple yes or no.

All legal hand sanitizer products are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, or FDA. This means that every hand sanitizer product needs to have both a lot number and expiration date somewhere on the bottle or container for the convenience of consumers.

The expiration date for hand sanitizers describes how much time that a hand sanitizer’s active ingredients are both stable and effective – in other words, it’s how long you have before the hand sanitizer’s overall effectiveness might start to drop off and when the hand sanitizer manufacturer can’t be held responsible for ineffective sterilization.

Just how long does hand sanitizer last? It varies from product to product, but the industry standard is about 2 to 3 years. 

Dr. Brite’s unscented hand sanitizer will also last for about this long, even though it’s made with more natural ingredients compared to most sanitizers that use harsh, synthetic compounds.

Why Does Hand Sanitizer Expire?

Hand sanitizer’s natural ingredient is some form of alcohol (for instance, Dr. Brite’s hand sanitizer uses isopropyl alcohol at concentrations of 70% or more). But although alcohol is a fantastic sterilization ingredient and is detrimental to bacteria and many types of harmful viruses, it’s also vulnerable to evaporation.

Because alcohol is such a volatile liquid, itquickly evaporates when it’s exposed to air. Normal hand sanitizer containers will protect the alcohol from the air to some degree. But the seal is never airtight. This means that typical hand sanitizer products will inevitably expire and the alcohol content will become weaker and less effective over time, no matter what.

 

 

As the alcohol evaporates, the percentage of a sanitizer for hands that contains this critical active ingredient will go down. For instance, if a hand sanitizer product started with70% isopropyl alcohol, it may drop to 60%, 50%, or even lower over the course of two or three years.

The expiration date on the back of a hand sanitizer container is the manufacturer’s estimate for how long you have before the active ingredient percentage drops below 90% of the percentage stated on the label.

What Affects Hand Sanitizer Expiration? 

Lots of things can affect whether a given hand sanitizer product will expire sooner or later.

  • Container use– How well-sealed and “airtight” a container is will affect how quickly the alcohol evaporates. Try to make sure that any hand sanitizer product you purchase uses a sealed lid and a strong pump. Even better, use hand sanitizers with solid caps for storing the stuff over the long-term.
  • Concentration of alcohol– If a sanitizer for hands only has 60% alcohol concentrations, it’ll evaporate a little more quickly and become less effective faster. This is partially why Dr. Brite’shand sanitizer products all reach a minimum of 70% alcohol concentration before being shipped out to users.
  • Amount of hand sanitizer – Larger amounts of alcohol based sanitizers for hands often last a little longer. That’s just because they have more alcohol in their containers to evaporate, so it takes longer for that 90% benchmark to be hit.Dr. Brite’s 1-gallon jug of hand sanitizer is a good choice for bulk hand sanitizer needs for this reason and more.
  • Ingredients used – Lastly, the quality of active ingredients can affect whether hand sanitizer will expire faster or slower. In general, harsh chemicals like parabens and other synthetic ingredients will last for a long time but can also lead totoxic side effects. Look forhand sanitizers made of natural ingredients and essential oils where possible to get the best of both worlds: slow expiration and no side effects.

Can Hand Sanitizer Still Be Effective Past the Expiration Date?

Technically, yes. If a sanitizer for hands product drops to 89% concentration of alcohol  (in relation to what is printed on the label), it can still do a pretty good job of eliminating germs and bacteria. However, the FDA recommends that you try to replace any expired hand sanitizers to maximize your chances of thoroughly disinfecting any surface you use the sanitizer with.

It’s just a matter of odds. Still, using even expired hand sanitizer is better than not sanitizing at all. In a pinch, feel free to use a sanitizer for hands that you find in your car that expired a few months ago since you’ll give yourself a better chance of staying germ-free than if you avoided using hand sanitizer overall. It won’t make a huge difference if sanitizer is three years and one month old compared to two years and eleven months – it’s all about averages!

But remember to purchase some new hand sanitizer at your earliest opportunity!

How to Avoid Too Much Hand Sanitizer Expiring

The best way to avoid having tons of expired bottle of hand sanitizer in your business or in your car is to avoid buying too much of the stuff at once. Tons of people ran into this problem when they purchased hand sanitizer in bulk at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, only to find that they couldn’t possibly use all of the hand sanitizer they purchased before it expired.

That’s because you only ever need a few drops of sanitizer for hands to totally disinfect your hands (just make sure your hands get saturated!). Using more than necessary doesn’t exactly hurt you, but it doesn’t help, either.

Meanwhile, hand sanitizer you don’t use just sits there and the alcohol continues to slowly evaporate. 

Our advice? Purchase sanitizer for hands as you need it. 

For instance, pick up a new bottle of hand sanitizer as your current bottle reaches below the halfway point. This will ensure you always have a fresh bottle of hand sanitizer ready to go when you need it.

If you are buying for an office, try to purchase one jug per dispenser at first, then increase or decrease your ordering supplies based on how quickly people go through that sanitizer. It may be helpful to keep a chart of hand sanitizers use or to measure the dispensers at regular intervals.

The bottom line is this: don’t buy so much sanitizer for hands that you can’t use it all, and you won’t have to worry about your hand sanitizer expiring in the first place.

Summary

Even though a hand sanitizer expires eventually, it’s still one of the best disinfecting tools we have at our disposal to combat both COVID-19 and regular pathogens. It’s important to keep using hand sanitizer regularly, and intelligently, as we stay healthy and pull together throughout this pandemic.

 

 

Combine sanitizer with soap and water to avoid burning through so much of the stuff that you end up purchasing more than you need. Remember, soap and waterand store hand sanitizer mustboth be used to maintain clean hands and a disinfected environment.

Let us know if you have any further questions!

FAQs

1. Can we eat after use sanitizer?

A trace of alcohol poisoning can occur in children who consume even a small amount of alcohol sanitizer for hands. There is no need to worry if your children eat with or lick their hands after using a sanitizer for hands.

2. Does sanitizer expire?

Hand sanitizers are generally recommended to be used for two to three years according to industry standards. Using alcohol based hand sanitizers beyond its expiration date is not harmful, but it may be less effective or ineffective altogether. Therefore, we recommend washing our hands with soap and water whenever possible.

3. Does expired hand sanitizer still work?

When an alcohol based hand sanitizer approaches its expiration date, it becomes less effective, but it will still kill certain bacteria. You can still use expired hand sanitizer, but Dr. Williams notes that it will not be as effective in killing germs as a fresh batch.

4. How do you know when a sanitizer for hands is bad?

An expiration date ought to be printed on the label or mentioned at the bottom of the container. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates sanitizer for hands as an over-the-counter topical antiseptic medication; it mandates that it either contain a printed expiration date or have a shelf life of three years.

5. How long does it take for hand sanitizer to expire?

Therefore, it is necessary for alcohol based hand sanitizers sold in stores to include expiration dates. How long a product is anticipated to be stable and effective is indicated by its expiration date. Choosing a sanitizer with a shelf life of at least two years is advised by the World Health Organization (WHO).

6. What can you do with old hand sanitizer?

Although the EPA advises that it would be preferable to transport small "residential" amounts to a nearby household hazardous-waste collection site, it is acceptable to dispose of small amounts of sanitizer for hands into the ordinary garbage, according to the agency.

7.What does expired hand sanitizer smell like?

The unpleasant odor, which is commonly compared to that of rotting garbage or tequila, is a byproduct naturally produced when ethanol is produced from organic materials such as corn, sugar cane, beets, and other sources.

8. Can you put expired hand sanitizer down the drain?

A sanitizer for hands should never be flushed down the toilet or dumped in the facility garbage, regardless of whether it is returned to the provider or disposed of as waste. The environmental compliance department at your organization can provide you with more details on how to manage hand sanitizer effectively.

Sources:

https://www.healthline.com/health/does-hand-sanitizer-expire#hand-sanitizer-vs-handwashing

https://blog.gotopac.com/2017/05/15/why-is-70-isopropyl-alcohol-ipa-a-better-disinfectant-than-99-isopropanol-and-what-is-ipa-used-for/

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/chilling-science-evaporative-cooling-with-liquids