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 hand sanitizer than they ever did before, most of them are under the mistaken impression that hand sanitizer 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 sanitizer expires and what you need to know if your bottle is approaching its expiration date.
Does Hand Sanitizer Expire?
In short, yes, hand sanitizer 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 sanitizer 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, it quickly 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 the hand sanitizer that contains this critical active ingredient will go down. For instance, if a hand sanitizer product started with 70% 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 hand sanitizer only has 60% alcohol concentration, it’ll evaporate a little more quickly and become less effective faster. This is partially why Dr. Brite’s hand sanitizer products all reach a minimum of 70% alcohol concentration before being shipped out to users.
- Amount of hand sanitizer – Larger amounts of hand sanitizer 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 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 to toxic side effects. Look for hand 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 hand sanitizer product drops to 89% alcohol concentration (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 sanitizer 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 hand sanitizer 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 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 hand sanitizer 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 hand sanitizer 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 sanitizer use or to measure the dispensers at regular intervals.
The bottom line is this: don’t buy so much hand sanitizer that you can’t use it all, and you won’t have to worry about your hand sanitizer expiring in the first place.
Even though 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 water and hand sanitizer must both be used to maintain clean hands and a disinfected environment.
Let us know if you have any further questions!