Hand sanitizer does have an expiration date. Recently expired sanitizer may retain some effectiveness but is likely less effective than an in-date product.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulate hand sanitizer and other over-the-counter antiseptic products. As a result, commercially available hand sanitizers are required to have expiration dates.
An expiration date indicates how long a product is expected to remain stable and effective.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommend choosing a sanitizer with a shelf life of at least 2 years. However, they note that the actual shelf life depends on storage temperatures and the type of alcohol in the sanitizer.
Also, health experts warn against hand sanitizers manufactured by Eskbiochem SA de CV, as the products contain methanol, which is toxic when absorbed through the skin.
Here, learn how hand sanitizers expire and whether they are still safe or effective after the expiration date passes. We also provide tips for using hand sanitizer.
There are two types of hand sanitizers: Alcohol-based and non-alcohol-based.
Alcohol-based sanitizers contain either ethanol or isopropyl as the primary active ingredient. Non-alcohol-based hand sanitizers contain the antiseptic benzalkonium chloride. Both types also contain water, along with glycerol or other humectants to help prevent skin dryness.
Alcohol evaporates when exposed to the air. Hand sanitizer containers are not air-tight, so some alcohol evaporation can occur after removing the seal. As a result, the alcohol concentration of alcohol-based hand sanitizer slowly decreases over time, reducing the antiseptic properties of the product.
Whether an expired hand sanitizer remains effective depends partly on how much of its alcohol has evaporated. If its alcohol content drops below 60%, it may become less effective against certain pathogens but remain effective against others.
A 2018 review evaluated the effectiveness of different alcohol concentrations against various viruses. According to the findings, ethanol concentrations of 42.6% are effective against several, including:
- the coronavirus responsible for severe acute respiratory syndrome, better known as SARS
- the coronavirus responsible for Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS
- the types of Ebolavirus responsible for the disease in humans
- the Zika virus
- influenza A and B
- herpes simplex viruses 1 and 2
The same review found that ethanol concentrations of 73.6% are effective against the hepatitis C virus, while ethanol concentrations of 40% are not.
Expired hand sanitizers may be less effective against certain pathogens, but they are still generally safe to use.
However, the FDA warn against using hand sanitizers manufactured by Eskbiochem SA de CV. These formulations contain methanol, which is toxic when absorbed through the skin or ingested.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
Follow these steps:
- Check the bottle to make sure the hand sanitizer has not expired.
- Apply a generous amount to the palm of one hand.
- Rub the hands together, distributing the hand sanitizer over the surfaces of the hands and fingers.
- Allow the sanitizer to air dry.
Hand sanitizer is intended for external use only. Swallowing it can cause serious adverse effects, especially in children.
A 2017 review found that between 2011 and 2014, a total of 70,669 hand sanitizer ingestions were reported in children younger than 13 in the United States. The most common side effects were:
The CDC advise people to wash their hands with soap and water as often as possible. Compared with hand sanitizer, soap and water are more effective against the following infectious pathogens:
- Cryptosporidium, a parasite sometimes called “crypto”
- Clostridioides difficile, a type of bacteria sometimes called “C. diff“
The CDC specifically recommend washing the hands with soap and water:
- when the hands are visibly dirty
- before, during, and after preparing food
- before eating food
- after using the bathroom
- after blowing the nose, coughing, or sneezing
- before and after interacting with someone who is sick
- before and after treating a cut or wound
- after interacting with animals or coming into contact with animal food or waste
- after touching garbage
However, if soap and water are not available, using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer can reduce the number of pathogens on the hands.
If possible, wash with soap and water, but if they are not available, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer can reduce the number of pathogens on the hands.
There are two types of hand sanitizer: alcohol-based and non-alcohol-based. The CDC recommend sanitizers that contain at least 60% alcohol.
Alcohol is a volatile compound that rapidly evaporates when exposed to the air. As a result, alcohol-based hand sanitizers may become less effective as their alcohol gradually evaporates.
Opt for a product with a shelf life of at least 2 years, and try to replace any hand sanitizer that expires.