Does Hand Sanitizer Expire?
COVID-19 has put our hygiene practices under the spotlight. Until now, we were probably more concerned about contracting a cold or a stomach bug, but in truth there are so many more viruses and bacteria which will make us sick. Much of the time, we wash our hands with soap and water, but running water and soap aren’t always accessible. This is why people are more frequently turning to hand sanitizer to disinfect their hands, but they may not have been using it quite as frequently as they are now. This begs the question, does hand sanitizer expire? And the short answer is, yes, hand sanitizer does expire*.
* It is important to note that due to the health crisis caused by the emergence of COVID-19, the FDA has put a temporary policy in place to speed up hand sanitizer production. They have opted to forgo the FDA required expiry date on the bottle. This has been done to ensure that more people can access hand sanitizer until the industry can catch up with the demand.
Why Does Hand Sanitizer Expire?
The expiry of hand sanitizer is not related to the ingredients spoiling the way some products do, or with continued use negatively affecting the user. Instead, hand sanitizer may lose its efficacy. Alcohol is the primary ingredient in hand sanitizer, and this changes things somewhat.
Alcohol is effective because it denatures the bacteria and viruses on our hands, killing them and eliminating the risk of infection. Without the recommended 60% concentration of alcohol in the formula, hand sanitizer is not sufficiently effective against germs. Because alcohol evaporates at a much lower temperature than other liquids, it is more likely to evaporate over time, thus rendering it less effective against germs.
How Do I Know if My Hand Sanitizer Has Expired?
You cannot tell if your hand sanitizer has expired just by looking at it. Some have suggested that you can tell if the alcohol content is reduced, judging by the viscosity of the liquid. Hand sanitizer supposedly appears thicker and less liquid than usual when it has expired, but this method is by no means recommended. Eyeballing your hand sanitizer is far from a scientific method.
Instead, you need to pay close attention to the best before date or expiry date on the packaging. In the US, FDA regulations require an expiry date on the packaging of over-the-counter topical antiseptic products. Moreover, the typical shelf life of hand sanitizer is two to three years. Manufacturers base the expiry date on how long it takes for the active ingredients such as alcohol to decrease below 95% of the stated level on the packaging. As hand sanitizer requires a minimum concentration of 60% alcohol as recommended by the CDC, it is highly recommended that you don’t assume your old hand sanitizer is still effective.
What if My Hand Sanitizer Has Expired?
This is where it gets tricky. In the absence of running water and soap, even expired hand sanitizer is still recommended rather than not trying to sanitize your hands at all. However, you must remember that you will not be as protected against germs as you would if the hand sanitizer has not exceeded its expiry date. The reasoning is that some germ-killing alcohol is better than none at all. Just remember that the solution may no longer kill 99.9% of germs as it would if the alcohol concentration is above 60%. As mentioned above, the best judge of whether your hand sanitizer is still effective enough to protect you is by the expiry date. If the product does not have an expiry date, it should still be effective for two years after purchase.
Where Should I Keep My Hands Sanitizer?
Because of its low boiling point, alcohol evaporates at a much faster rate than water. This, in turn, affects how we store our hand sanitizer. To prevent evaporation, which will negatively affect the efficacy of hand sanitizer, the FDA recommends storing it at temperatures between 59° and 86° Fahrenheit. This will ensure that the hand sanitizer is effective for a longer period of time.
There has been a story circulating on the internet regarding the ‘explosion’ of a bottle of hand sanitizer which had been left in a hot car. However, this is highly unlikely. The alcohol needs a source of ignition in order to combust, without which it would require a temperature of 685° Fahrenheit to combust. So, the only reason you want to keep your hand sanitizer out of your hot car is to prevent the germ-killing alcohol from evaporating and ensure that it is within reach whenever you need it.
Good Quality Packaging Slows Evaporation
In a bind, you may be inclined to reach for whichever hand sanitizer is left on the shelf, but one essential consideration is the packaging of the product. Good quality packaging will go a long to prevent the evaporation and expiration of your hand sanitizer. Some bottles may be more inclined to leak and allow the alcohol to evaporate more easily. Similarly, your older hand sanitizer is less likely to have lost its efficacy due to evaporation if the container is still sealed.
What Should You Do with Expired Hand Sanitizer?
Expired hand sanitizer will still have flammable properties, even if some of the alcohol has evaporated. For this reason, it is vital to dispose of expired hand sanitizer responsibly. Do not pour it down the drain. Rather take it to a hazardous household waste collection center.
Elyptol hand sanitizer has an alcohol concentration of 70%, which ensures it is still effective after a bit of evaporation. Our packaging also ensures that the sanitizer itself is less prone to evaporation. However, for the sake of safety, it is still important to store it in temperatures below 86° Fahrenheit and ensure that you adhere to the expiry date. This will ensure that it is still guaranteed 99.9999% effective against viruses and bacteria.