Cleaning Hacks

Bleach, Lysol, and Other Disinfectants *Do* Expire and Much Quicker Than You May Think

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Photo: Getty Images/Susumu Yoshioka
Perhaps unsurprisingly, when American consumers came together to pick the USA Products of the Year for 2021, they awarded top honors to disinfectants and cleaners—like the Microban 24 Sanitizing Spray, H2O e3 Cleaning System, and good ol’ reliable Dawn dish soap. Between COVID-19 and cold and flu season, it’s likely you have your own stockpile of such items around the house. And if that’s the case, then there’s something you should know: While these products do a great job of eliminating germs and bacteria, believe it or not, cleaners and disinfectants do expire. Often, their shelf lives are shorter than you may expect.

Much like perishable food items have a “best by” or “sell by” date, cleaning product expiration dates give you a sense of when they’ll become less effective at doing their jobs—they just aren’t always that easy to find. So, to make the process of ensuring your products are as potent as possible a little easier, we’ve rounded up a few solid rules of thumb to follow when it comes to knowing when they’re past their prime.

Bleach

One of the strongest cleaners under your bathroom or kitchen sink also has one of the shortest shelf lives. Bleach begins to degrade after about six months, and as each year passes, the cleaner becomes about 20-percent less effective.

Lysol (or other disinfectant) sprays and wipes 

Most disinfectants will last about a year before the chemicals that help them kill bacteria begin to break down. While expiration dates may not be readily available, you’ll likely find a manufacture date, so you’ve got approximately 12 months from it finish off your spray.

Some disinfectants do, however, have a greater lifespan. In particular Lysol claims to have a shelf life of about two years, making it one of the more effective cleaning products on the market. If you’re not sure, you can check the brand’s website for intel.

Hand sanitizer 

The key active ingredient in many hand sanitizers is alcohol, so generally speaking, its expiration date estimates when the alcohol level denigrates by a tenth of its total percentage. (So if it’s 90-percent alcohol, when it drops to 81-percent, you’ll want to reach for a new one.) That tends to translate to about two years, three years max. So if you’ve been hoarding sanitizer since 2016, it’s time to toss it.

Dish soap

You can expect a viable lifetime of about 12 to 18 months for these products. Afterward, their bacterial-fighting powers will likely begin to erode, so be mindful if you buy in bulk, that you’ll be able to go through your supply before then. And, of course, make sure you’re blasting your dirty dishes with hot water for at least a minute before you hand wash them to ensure they’re cleaned and disinfected.

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