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How to handle expired cleaning products

Some of the claims a product makes, such

Some of the claims a product makes, such as its germ-killing efficacy, may no longer be valid once the product expires. Credit: Getty Images/TNS/Kathrin Ziegler

Cleaning products can expire. And once expired, some of the claims a product makes, such as the percentage of germs it kills on a surface, may no longer be valid.

The next time you're embarking on a cleaning spree, check the expiration date or manufacture date — often in small print — on that bottle of bleach, cleaning spray and dishwashing liquid you've had stashed in the cabinet for years. Here's what to know about safety and disposal.

Safety

Expired surface cleaning sprays and dishwashing liquids likely won't damage the surfaces they're intended to be used on, but they simply won't clean as effectively. You may have to use a little more of the product or clean for longer to get the same results.

"However, when it comes to disinfectants and hand sanitizers, it needs to be within that shelf life to have the desired effect," says Brian Sansoni, senior vice president of communications, outreach and membership at the American Cleaning Institute. "This is especially important now, as we fight coronavirus." Be sure to double-check the expiration dates on disinfectants and hand sanitizers and replace them as needed.

Shelf life

The easiest way to tell if your cleaning supplies are expired is to check the date printed on the bottle or box. If there isn't any expiration date, there may be a manufacture date — then use the general guide below to determine if the product is expired.

Pro tip: The next time you open a new cleaning product, use a permanent marker to date it so you never have to wonder how long it's been open.

Bleach: Once opened, bleach has a surprisingly short shelf life and starts to become less effective after six months.

Multi-surface cleaning sprays: Most cleaning sprays will last for two years.

Dish detergent: About one year to 18 months.

Laundry detergent: Lasts for six months to one year after opening.

Disinfecting sprays: About two years after the manufacture date.

Hand sanitizer: Check for an expiration date on the bottle — most last two to three years.

Storage, disposal

"The expiration date tells you how long that shelf life is under typical conditions (at room temperature, stored out of direct sunlight, etc.)," Sansoni says. If you're storing your hand sanitizer in a hot car, it could be losing potency faster and may end up containing less than 60% alcohol (the amount needed to be sufficiently effective, according to the CDC) before it even reaches its expiration date.

Store your cleaning supplies in a cool, dry spot to help them last longer.

Dispose of expired cleaning products.

If you find some decades-old bleach in the back of your cabinet, how do you get rid of it safely? A small amount can typically be diluted in water and poured down the sink. For larger amounts, check if there are any disposal instructions printed on the container. If not, call your local hazardous waste disposal facility for their recommendations.

Keep in mind that certain cleaning chemicals should never be combined — such as bleach and ammonia — and that holds true when disposing of them, too. Pouring these chemicals down the sink at the same time can create a toxic gas.

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