Plus, how to dispose of past-their-prime cleaning supplies.

By Katie Holdefehr
August 13, 2020
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If you look closely at your cleaning supplies, you'll notice that many of them are printed with an expiration date. But if we're being honest, most of us likely don't check this fine print. The next time you're embarking on a big cleaning spree, check the expiration date or manufacture date on that bottle of bleach, cleaning spray, and dishwashing liquid you've had stashed in the cabinet for years. If you find they are past their prime, follow the steps below to dispose of them safely.

In short: yes, cleaning products can expire. "Like many products purchased at the grocery store, cleaning products can degrade over time," says Brian Sansoni, senior vice president of communications, outreach & membership at the American Cleaning Institute (ACI). "Even if they contain preservatives, that doesn’t mean they last forever. As they begin to break down, it might affect how well the enzymes work or change the pH, resulting in a less effective product," Sansoni explains. 

Once a cleaning product is expired, some of the claims the product makes, such as the percentage of germs it kills on a surface, may no longer be valid. 

Expired surface cleaning sprays and dishwashing liquids likely won't damage the surfaces they're intended to be used on, but they simply won't clean as effectively. You may have to use a little more of the product or clean for longer to get the same results. 

"However, when it comes to disinfectants and hand sanitizers, it needs to be within that shelf life to have the desired effect. This is especially important now, as we fight coronavirus," Sansoni says. Be sure to double-check the expiration dates on disinfectants and hand sanitizers and replace them as needed. 

The easiest way to tell if your cleaning supplies are expired is simply to check the date printed on the bottle or box. If there isn't any expiration date, there may be a manufacture date—then use the general guide below to determine if the product is expired. 

Pro tip: The next time you open a new cleaning product, use a permanent marker to date it so you never have to wonder how long it's been opened.

  • Bleach: Once opened, bleach has a surprisingly short shelf life and starts to become less effective after 6 months. 
  • Multi-surface cleaning sprays: Most cleaning sprays will last for 2 years.
  • Dish detergent: About 1 year to 18 months
  • Laundry detergent: Lasts for 6 months to 1 year after opening. 
  • Disinfecting sprays: About 2 years after the manufacture date. 
  • Hand sanitizer: check for an expiration date on the bottle—most last for 2 to 3 years

"The expiration date tells you how long that shelf life is under typical conditions (at room temperature, stored out of direct sunlight, etc.)," Sansoni says. If you're storing your hand sanitizer in a hot car, it could be losing potency faster and may end up containing less than 60 percent alcohol (the amount needed to be sufficiently effective, according to the CDC) before it even reaches its expiration date. 

Store your cleaning supplies in a cool, dry spot to help them last longer. 

If you find some decades-old bleach in the back of your cleaning cabinet, how do you get rid of it safely? A small amount can typically be diluted in water and poured down the sink. For larger amounts, check if there are any disposal instructions printed on the container. If not, call your local hazardous waste disposal facility for their recommendations. 

Keep in mind that certain cleaning chemicals should never be combined—such as bleach and ammonia—and that holds true when disposing of them, too. Pouring these chemicals down the sink at the same time can create a toxic gas.