Does Hand Sanitizer Expire? What You Need To Know

by Joshua Matzkin

If you ever wonder if hand sanitizer expires? The short answer is yes, they do. While an expired hand sanitizer may become less effective it can still offer some protection against germs. 

The U.S Food and Drug Administration regulates hand sanitizers and related antiseptic products. The regulatory framework includes that hand rub labels should feature a lot number and expiration date.

This date specifies the timeframe within which a product can be trusted to offer the effectiveness and protection promised at initial production.

According to the World Health Organization, a sanitizer is most effective within two years after production.

After expiration, hand sanitizers may remain ‘somewhat’ useful though, since it still has some of its active ingredient, alcohol. While the original alcohol percentage may drop, making the product less effective (or ineffective) doesn’t automatically become dangerous.

So, although an expired hand sanitizer may still protect your hands from contracting and spreading germs, you should quickly seek a replacement to reduce exposure risk.

Now we’ve discussed the Does hand sanitizer expire? question, one predictable next query may be why do they expire? If you’re wondering same, read on…

hand sanitzer being applied to woman's hand

Why Does Hand Sanitizer Expire?

Alcohol evaporates quickly with air exposure. Most often, our hand sanitizers are exposed to little air leaks, which causes gradual evaporation.

Such evaporation reduces the alcohol content, the main active ingredient in your rub. So, your product’s effectiveness may decrease as the day counts and with more air exposures.

Although this bit-by-bit reduction may seem too-insignificant-to-matter, it adds up to reduce the value of your product significantly over time.

Hand sanitizer manufacturers specify an estimated expiration duration. This time indicates a period it’d take for alcohol, the active ingredient, to fall below 90 percent of the original alcohol concentration printed on the label.

This period is referred to as the best use before date or expiration date.

Can You Use Expired Hand Sanitizer? 

If all you have is expired hand sanitizer then use it! While hand washing with soap and water is your best bet, expired hand sanitizer may offer some microbial protection. 

You should consider a quick replacement for your expired hand rub. But, in a pinch, an expired hand sanitizer may be a lifesaver. Of course, low alcohol is safer than no alcohol. 

Expired alcohol that is yet unopened will most likely have had less evaporation than an expired one that has been exposed to air.

For this, it may be fair to think an expired bottle of unopened hand rub may be more potent than an expired product that has been opened.

That said, note that factors, including storage condition and alcohol used typically determine a product’s longevity.

Remember that hand sanitizers are broadly divided into two, based on their ingredients:

  • Alcohol-based hand sanitizers
  • Alcohol-free hand sanitizers

 Alcohol-free Sanitizers vs Alcohol-based

Alcohol-based vs alcohol-free hand sanitizer

Alcohol-based hand rubs contain isopropyl or ethanol as an approved active ingredient. On the other hand, non-alcohol sanitizers contain Benzalkonium chloride as the main ingredient.

Both alcohol-based and alcohol-free variants contain little water, glycerol and other substances that help retain or preserve moisture. Since alcohol can quickly dry out skin, these additives help reduce the effect and revitalize the skin.

The CDC, FDA, and WHO unanimously recommend hand sanitizers with an alcohol concentration of not less than 60 percent. The more alcohol, the higher effect against germs.

However, experts warn that concentrations above 90 percent may not be effective. Why so? We discussed this in an earlier article, Why 70 percent alcohol is better than 95 percent alcohol.

 Hand sanitizers vs Hand Washing

Hand washing is your most effective line of defense against getting sick. To emphasize its relevance, the world celebrates International Handwashing Day on October 15 annually.

Adequate washing of hands with running water and soap is the best bet to fight germs hitch-hiking on your hands.

For more effectiveness, the CDC recommends the best handwashing practice. Here’s how to wash your hands and make them germs-free

  1. Wet hands with water
  2. Apply soap and lather
  3. Scrub your entire hand (reaching between fingers, front and back of your palm; from fingertips to wrist). Continue for at least 20 seconds. That sounds like the time it’d take to hum the happy birthday song twice.
  4. Rinse of lather with adequate running water
  5. Air dry or wipe off with a clean towel

When then should I use hand sanitizer?

Simple – when soap and water are unavailable, or hand washing isn’t convenient.

When navigating through hand sanitizer options, go for one with not less than 60% alcohol-based ingredient. Sanitizer with less alcohol concentration may ‘spare’ some germs and leave you ignorantly exposed.

As with hand washing, for effective results, here’s a quick guide to using hand sanitizers

  • Pump or squeeze liquid into your palm.
  • Rub hands together, covering every surface from the wrist to fingertip and between fingers. Continue until the gel dries up. This should take about 20 seconds.

Take note that hand rubs may not work on hands with visible dirt or grime. So, for visibly stained hands. Prefer to wash them with soap and water.

Conclusively, while soap and water is the most effective way to get rid of those harm-causing germs lurking on your hands, hand sanitizers seem the most practical; most accessible, and convenient.

Think of the possibility of getting a faucet and soap every single time you make contact with a ‘suspicious’ surface. That sounds way unrealistic – compared to grabbing out your pocket-sized rubs from your purse or pocket whenever your hands make an ‘untrusted’ contact.

MOXE hand sanitizer expires after two years of manufacture date

Quick Facts About Hand Sanitizer Expiration? 

Besides the printed expiration date, here are some quick facts you should know:

Shelf life

As mentioned, hand sanitizers enjoy a two-to-three-year shelf life – a period within which the product ingredient remains effective and stable.

Content drop

Hand sanitizers expiration date typically refers to the point where the alcohol concentration of a product falls below 90 percent of what the label originally claims.

For instance, when a 60-percent alcohol concentrated product expires, it basically means the alcohol concentration has dropped to about 54 percent.

Safe but increasingly less effective

Although hand sanitizers may reach their best used before date, they do not actually ‘go bad’ per se. It can still be relatively safe to use an ‘expired’ product.

However, anytime you apply an expired hand sanitizer, remind yourself that the germ-fighting capacity might have grown weaker than promised on the labels. So, while they may help, don’t feel entirely germs-free with them.

Takeaway: Does hand sanitizer expire? 

Now, take out that hand sanitizer lying somewhere down in your handbag or that old bottle standing dusty on your shelf. Check the expiring date.

If expired or the dates do not read clearly, consider a replacement as soon as possible. While you may be tempted to type “how to make hand sanitizers’’ on Google and try a DIY, remember that such homemade options do not guarantee your safety. Categorically, the CDC warns against homemade hand rub formulas.

If you ever wondered, does hand sanitizer expire? Now you know better. Do you think it’s time to replace your expired hand rub? Order for your premium alcohol-based hand sanitizers right away and keep the germs at bay.

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