5 Things to Know About Expired Cleaning Products

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Devon Jarvis)

Food isn’t the only thing in your pantry that has those all-important use-by dates: Your cleaning products can go bad, too. Here are five key things you should know when it comes to the shelf life of your go-to cleaners, from Nancy Bock of the American Cleaning Institute.

1. Expired products just don’t work as well.

If a cleaning product is way old, chances are it simply won’t get stuff as clean — but the good news is that it likely won’t damage surfaces or materials, unless you’re using it on something for which it isn’t intended in the first place. So go ahead and keep using it until you can pick up a replacement at the store.

2. Dishwasher detergents are gonna be the first to go.

The enzymes in them degrade fastest and won’t be as good at removing grime after three months. Laundry detergents that also rely on enzymes to get your clothes clean won’t work as well six months to a year down the line. “The rate of degradation depends on many factors including the particular enzyme, the presence of other ingredients, the amount of water in the formula, the pH, and the product form like powders versus liquids,” Bock says.

Cool? How can you tell without a chemistry degree? Almost everything (aside from dishwasher and laundry detergent) lasts up to two years, but check the packaging for a date or call the manufacturer, who should be able to tell you how old your product is based on the serial numbers stamped on the packaging.

3. It’s actually fine to dump most of them down the drain.

If the product is water-soluble (and most cleaners are, unless there’s “oil” in the name), it’s fine to pour it out in the sink, with the water running. “Powders should be disposed of in small quantities at a time so they don’t form lumps in the drain,” Bock says. “And remember — just as you shouldn’t mix cleaning products together when using them, you shouldn’t mix unused products during disposal.” Dump one at a time with sufficient time in between. Wait a day or two if you’re worried! After all, you’ve had these bottles around for years, what’s one more day?

(Image credit: Devon Jarvis)

4. How you store them matters.

Powdered detergents and cleaners won’t only clump if left open and exposed to the air — they can lose efficacy. Storing them in airtight containers can help. If liquid cleaners are left open, they too can become compromised. Under the sink, especially in a bathroom, with the heat and moisture fluctuations, is actually a very bad place to keep your cleaning products. Instead, stash them in a place where the temperature and humidity are more consistent, like in the pantry or a hall closet.

5. When in doubt, ask for help.

If your favorite product isn’t working as well as it should, read the instructions (we know, who actually does that?) or call the manufacturer for advice. Often, you can score a discount on a replacement product if you complain that the one you have isn’t up to snuff.