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Check the Expiration Date: 5 Household Items You’d Never Expect to Go Bad

4 minute read

By Heather Fishel

When you think about expiration dates, you probably think about perishable items – the types of food and beverages that go bad quickly. Items like milk, sour cream, eggs, and even sauces and condiments come with clear “sell by” or “best by” dates printed on their containers. And even though fresh produce doesn’t come with a printed expiration date, it too can expire before you know it.

If you’ve ever accidentally eaten something past its expiration date, you know exactly how awful it can be when you keep items past their “best by” deadlines. But not all items come with expiration dates. In fact, some seem like they’re good to use until you actually use up the products themselves.

Supit Choosavang / Shutterstock

Just because you don’t see an expiration date on a product doesn’t mean you should still use it. Some of the longest-lasting items can actually go bad surprisingly fast – and if you don’t know that they can expire, you could be using ineffective items.

Here are five common household items that many people don’t think expire.

1. Bleach

Bleach is one of the handiest cleaning products. It’s potent enough to tackle the toughest messes, including those in the bathroom, kitchen, and laundry room. You can use it on many types of surfaces and even on clothing. And most importantly, it’s one of the best ways to eliminate germs, mold, and more.

But bleach can actually expire. Bleach has a limited shelf life, meaning it needs to be thrown out and replaced regularly.

Bleach expires after three months. At the three-month mark, bleach begins to lose potency – which means it starts to become less effective. As bleach sits under your sink or in your laundry room, it becomes increasingly less powerful and can fall below the EPA standards for disinfectants quickly.

2. Spices and Seasoning Packets

If you’re guilty of keeping spices in your pantry for years and years, you certainly aren’t alone. Plenty of people only replace their spices when they’ve finally used up the whole bottle. After all, spices are dried and often stored in airtight containers.

Unfortunately, keeping your spices securely stored in a cupboard or pantry isn’t enough to make them last forever. Spices, along with the spice-filled seasoning packets typically used to make sauces and add flavor to recipes, have an expiration date.

Spices and seasoning packets can last anywhere from two years to four years. The longer you keep spices, the less potent they become – their flavor will begin to weaken, and they’ll essentially become useless.

But even more importantly, old and expired spices can actually cause digestive problems. While expired spices aren’t likely going to do lasting damage to your health, using them on food can leave you with a stomach ache or gastrointestinal discomfort.

3. Hydrogen Peroxide

Hydrogen peroxide is incredibly handy to have around the house. It’s an antiseptic, so it can help eliminate different types of bacteria, viruses, fungi, and even mold spores. It’s also a staple in many household first aid kits, as it can be used to clean scrapes and other wounds.

And many people keep bottles of hydrogen peroxide on hand for years and years. However, like bleach, hydrogen peroxide isn’t as strong, powerful, or effective if it’s left sitting on a shelf for a long time. In fact, it can even expire before it’s been opened.

Once opened and used, hydrogen peroxide loses effectiveness after about six months. If left unopened, hydrogen peroxide will expire between one year and three years. Once it expires, it’ll slowly turn to water. To check if your bottle is still good, look for bubbles and fizzing when you open it.

4. Household Cleaners and Disinfectants

The average household keeps plenty of different cleaning products and supplies on hand. And while you’re most likely using those cleaning products pretty regularly, sometimes you can have an extra supply on hand.

Make sure to check your cleaning supplies. Although they’re relatively “shelf stable”, or able to be stored for periods of time without expiring, the chemicals inside certain types of cleaners can cause them to expire.

Multi-surface household cleaners and disinfectants typically last up to two years. If these cleaners contain antibacterial ingredients, they’ll last just one year. Check your older cleaning supplies and see if anything is a year or more old.

Usually, cleaning products simply become less effective when they expire. However, when they’re stored in plastic containers, that plastic can also deteriorate over time, which can change the cleaning products’ chemical formulas.

5. Sunscreen

Sunscreen is a product many people don’t think about until spring arrives. When the weather becomes sunny once again, it’s time to break out your supply of sunscreen and practice good skincare habits.

But do you ever check your sunscreen to see if it’s expired? Many people don’t.

Sunscreen does expire, though it has a long shelf life. Sunscreen can last as long as three years. However, once it reaches the three-year mark, it’s time to toss it. Like other products, sunscreen becomes less effective – and less able to protect your skin from the sun’s rays – once it expires.

If your sunscreen doesn’t have an expiration date printed on the bottle, try to remember when you purchased it. If you can’t remember how long you’ve had it, it’s likely time to toss it out and buy new sunscreen.

Don’t Let Items Sit and Expire

It’s easy to keep track of food expiration dates. After all, plenty of food products come with clear expiration dates – or the food goes bad in visible ways. But you should be just as careful about other household products that are hiding under the sink, in a closet, or on bathroom shelves.

Some of the most common household items can go bad. And they don’t often come with clear expiration dates. If you’re unsure if the item you’re about to open is still good, you can check online and find recommendations from experts and government officials. The FDA offers good resources for product shelf life.

Just make sure you take the time to double-check before you use a potentially expired product. It could save you from some unexpected hardship.

Heather Fishel



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