Cleaning Products Can Actually Go Bad — Here’s What You Need to Know

published May 11, 2022
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Credit: Joe Lingeman

I have an excess of cleaning supplies that I stashed during the early days of the pandemic. At the time, I didn’t feel like I was going overboard, but something happens to you when there’s a rush on disinfecting sprays and you don’t know anything about what a virus does or how it spreads to you or your kids.

But now, two years later, I haven’t used even half of my supply. I am faced with what I euphemistically call a “stash,” but could rightly be regarded as a hoard. The thing is, cleaning supplies won’t last indefinitely. Many of them have a shelf life, and it’s not as long as you might think.

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Apartment Therapy

While it’s tough knowing that your expired supply will have been wasted, there’s no sense keeping products that are past the point of being able to do what they’re supposed to do (especially if you think you’re disinfecting and you’re really not!). These now-defunct products aren’t really doing you any good, and they’re taking up valuable space! Realizing they’ve expired will give you the push you need to finally get rid of them. First, let’s go over a few pointers.

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Apartment Therapy

4 Important Things You Really Should Know About Expired Cleaning Products

1. How can you tell if a cleaning product has expired?

The most obvious answer is that it’s past the expiration or “best by” date on the bottle or box. However, not all products have that information. Any cleaning product that looks different, smells different, or is in a damaged container is almost certainly no longer useful. (Do not start huffing open containers! The smell point is just if you notice it smells different the next time you go to use it.) You might also notice that a product simply isn’t working like it used to. If you notice any of these indicators, it’s time to get rid of it.

2. Is it bad to keep using expired products?

Expired surface cleaning sprays won’t damage the surfaces they’re intended for, but they just won’t clean as effectively. Expired disinfectants won’t be able to, well, disinfect: If they go past their prime, the chemicals that help kill bacteria will begin to break down and become totally useless.

3. What should you do with your expired cleaning products?

Whatever you do, don’t mix them. This could lead to dangerous chemical reactions and toxic fumes. Next, check the label of the product’s container, which should include proper disposal instructions. If you need more information, reach out! Look on the manufacturer’s website or call.

4. What’s the best way to store cleaning products?

Powdered detergents and cleaners can easily lose their efficacy if left open and are exposed to the air. Make sure you always close and tighten lids. Try stashing products in a place where the temperature and humidity are consistent, such as in the pantry or a hall closet.

Credit: Sarah Crowley

How Long Do Cleaning Supplies Last? 

Let’s take a look at the typical shelf life of seven common cleaning products.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Bleach: 6 months to 1 year

Under ideal conditions, bleach can last about a year. But if it’s been exposed to excess light, heat, cold, or humidity, it will last for considerably less time. In fact, it begins to degrade and loses its effectiveness by 20 percent each year. If it no longer smells like bleach when you pour it, that’s a sure indication it’s lost its potency.

Credit: Cat Meschia

Castile soap: About 3 years

If you’ve ever had a bottle of Castile soap go rancid, you’ll definitely remember it. It can develop a strong unpleasant smell. It can also develop a slimy texture or visible mold.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

All-purpose cleaner: About 2 years

Common ingredients in most all-purpose cleaners, including counter sprays, are expected to last about two years. Keep in mind that if they contain antibacterial components, their shelf life is much shorter. 

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Dish soap: 6 to 18 months

This one feels surprising because it seems like soap would last forever. Not so. Expect liquid dish soap to last a year to 18 months. Opened powdered detergent, however, will only last about six months. 

Credit: Rochelle Bilow

Drain de-clogger: 2 years

Having drain de-clogger on hand offers peace of mind in an emergency. But if you’ve held on to it for more than two years, it’s not going to do you much good. 

Credit: Shutterstock / Alina Troeva

Disinfectants: 1 year

This one is especially pertinent, considering our pandemic buying habits. Disinfecting spray and wipes are expected to last only about a year from the date of manufacture.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

OxiClean: Indefinitely, if it doesn’t get wet

Good news: That Costco-sized container of oxygen bleach will last you forever — as long as you keep it safe from humidity and other moisture. 

Do you keep track of your cleaning products’ expiration dates? Tell us how in the comments below.