The coronavirus pandemic has led to a huge uptick in the number of people stocking up on essential supplies, with hand sanitizer often on the top of the list. With this in mind, the question remains:  does hand sanitizer expire? Depending on how long this crisis lasts, there’s a very good chance a decent amount of product could remain locked away in storage for a considerable amount of time.

does hand sanitizer expire

This article will discuss what hand sanitizer is made of, how it works, and how long it will last in your pantry.

What’s in Hand Sanitizer?

The majority of commercial hand sanitizer contains at least four main ingredients:  ethanol or isopropanol alcohol, glycerol, hydrogen peroxide, and distilled water. Some producers add fragrance and/or components meant to moisturize the skin. Other common additives include benzalkonium chloride and chlorhexidine for additional germ-killing power. 

The most important element in the solution is alcohol, due to its antibacterial abilities. In order to be effective, hand sanitizer should contain at minimum 60% isopropanol or ethanol, according to guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Many varieties contain upwards of 95% alcohol. 

Does Hand Sanitizer Expire?

Hand sanitizer is considered an over-the-counter (OTC) drug regulated by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Despite the ingredients being shelf-stable, the FDA mandates an expiration date be printed on products they govern. The majority of hand sanitizer has an expiration date of three years after its manufacturing date. But does hand sanitizer expire?

It is possible for hand sanitizer to work after its three year lifespan, however there is a chance it will be less effective. The alcohol content evaporates over time, especially if the container is opened and closed frequently. Unopened bottles of hand sanitizer could easily work for a considerable amount of time post-expiration date.

How Does Hand Sanitizer Work?

does hand sanitizer expire
Hands spraying alcohol hand sanitizer for disinfection hygiene and protection against COVID-19 and other diseases

Hand sanitizer begins as a spray, gel, or foam but when exposed to air and skin, quickly evaporates. The alcohol within kills germs and bacteria by damaging their cells internally, according to a 2014 study. When applied properly, hand sanitizer eliminates up to 99% of pathogens on the skin.

To use hand sanitizer:

  • Apply a liberal amount to the hands (check the product label to know exactly how much to use)
  • Rub the solution around the hands, making sure to cover the entire surface
  • Continue rubbing hands together until hands are dry

What About Alcohol-Free Hand Sanitizer?

While there are products on the market designed to disinfect without the use of alcohol, they are not recommended because they kill less germs. The CDC even issued a warning to consumers about the risks involved with using hand sanitizer containing less than 60% alcohol content. Always be certain to check the ingredients list for ethanol or isopropanol.

Can I Make My Own Hand Sanitizer?

Making homemade hand sanitizer is not endorsed by healthcare professionals, except for in extreme circumstances. This would typically only include those in underdeveloped countries where supply chains are non-existent. Always purchase hand sanitizer from a reputable retailer, especially in times of crisis when more people are looking to take advantage of shortages. 

Final Thought

In conclusion: does hand sanitizer expire? Hand sanitizer may technically expire after three years, but chances are it will still be effective for a long period once the date on the bottle has passed. The alcohol within hand sanitizer, which acts as the main antibacterial agent, may evaporate over time especially if the container is opened and closed frequently. While washing hands with soap and warm water is the best way to prevent the spread of germs, using hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol is a great way to kill pathogens quickly and easily.