Can You Still Use Expired Hand Sanitizer? What to Know
Did your company stock up on hand sanitizer throughout the COVID-19 pandemic when it became very difficult to find? If so, you may have done it in part because you were under the impression that it wouldn’t expire.
But now that the COVID-19 pandemic is over, you might be noticing the hand sanitizer expiration date stamped on the tops of all the bottles of hand sanitizer you purchased. And you may be realizing that you now have a whole lot of expired hand sanitizer on your hands.
So, now what? Should you continue using hand sanitizer even though it’s expired? Or should you figure out how to dispose of hand sanitizer and begin choosing hand sanitizer for your company that isn’t expired?
We’re going to answer these questions for you in this article so that you know what you should do with expired hand sanitizer next. Keep reading to discover everything you need to know about hand sanitizer that has expired.
Does Hand Sanitizer Expire?
If we were to ask you if you think hand soap expires, what would you say? There is a pretty good chance that you would say that hand soap does not have an expiration date on it.
But guess what? Hand soap actually does have an expiration date on it. Most hand soaps will last for about 3 years before they pass their expiration dates.
With this in mind, it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise to hear that the answer to the question, “Does hand sanitizer expire?”, is “yes.” Hand sanitizer is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and as a result, it’s required by law to have a hand sanitizer expiration date on it just like other cleaning products that fall into the same category.
Unfortunately, companies don’t always realize this until it’s too late. But if your company has gotten into the habit of stocking up on hand sanitizer and using hand sanitizer slowly over time, you might have some expired hand sanitizer on your hands that you’ll want to consider getting rid of soon.
How Long Does Hand Sanitizer Last?
Technically, you can let a bottle of hand sanitizer sit in a closet in your company’s building for years or even decades on end without it changing much in terms of the way it looks. The hand sanitizer itself will last for a really long time without doing anything other than gathering dust on it.
But that doesn’t mean you can keep it for that long and try to use it. Most hand sanitizers are only going to be as effective as you’ll want them to be for somewhere between 2 and 3 years. If you attempt to use it beyond that, you’ll likely be using expired hand sanitizer that isn’t going to deliver the intended results when you squirt it into your hands and rub them together.
Where Can You Find a Hand Sanitizer Expiration Date?
There are very few people who will sit and stare at a bottle of hand sanitizer for a long enough time to see its expiration date. This is a big part of the reason why so many people don’t know the answer to the question, “Does hand sanitizer expire?”, right off the tops of their heads.
But the next time you pick up a bottle of hand sanitizer and use it, you should sneak a peek at the top of it. It should have its hand sanitizer expiration date stamped right near the top. It should also have a lot number listed on it, which is another thing that’s required by law.
Any time your company invests in hand sanitizer, you should always make a note of when it’ll go from being perfectly good hand sanitizer to expired hand sanitizer. You should have 2 or 3 years before you reach that point. But even still, it’ll help you to know how soon you’ll need to use this hand sanitizer before it expires.
Why Does Hand Sanitizer Expire?
There are some hand sanitizers that have ethyl alcohol and isopropyl alcohol in them and others that don’t. You’re welcome to choose whichever type of hand sanitizer you would like your company to use. But the CDC recommends that Americans should use hand sanitizers that are at least 60% alcohol to get the best results while using them.
This is what creates a problem, though, when it comes to expired hand sanitizer. The alcohol that is used in hand sanitizers is known to evaporate very quickly. And even though the bottles that hand sanitizers come in can slow down the evaporation of alcohol that will take place over time, there will always be at least a little bit of alcohol evaporating from hand sanitizer all the time.
As this alcohol from hand sanitizer evaporates, it’ll make the hand sanitizer less effective. In fact, the hand sanitizer expiration date that manufacturers put on their bottles will represent the date when they believe the alcohol levels in their products will fall below 90% of the advertised alcohol content in their hand sanitizers.
This means that, if you have an expired bottle of hand sanitizer that is supposed to be made up of 60% alcohol, it’ll likely only be made up of about 54% alcohol when it’s expired. It might look and feel the same to you, but it won’t be quite as effective as it was when it was still on the newer side.
Does Expired Hand Sanitizer Still Work?
Now that you know that it is possible for hand sanitizer to expire and that expired hand sanitizer might not be as effective as new hand sanitizer, you may be wondering whether or not it’s worth using a bottle of hand sanitizer if it’s beyond its expiration date. You’ll be happy to hear that, while this hand sanitizer will be expired, it should still work to some degree.
One recent study actually found that, as long as hand sanitizer is made up of at least 42.6% alcohol, it should still be able to eliminate many pathogens. You’ll be able to count on it to kill viruses like:
- Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS)
- Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS)
- Zika virus
- Influenza A and B
- And others
But at this point, it’s worth noting that expired hand sanitizer might not do the trick on all viruses that it comes into contact with. Something like the hepatitis C virus will be able to tolerate hand sanitizers that only have a 45% alcohol content. You’ll need a much stronger form of hand sanitizer to take something like this virus out.
For this reason, you shouldn’t keep expired hand sanitizer around for any longer than you absolutely have to. It would be a much better idea to discard expired hand sanitizer and invest in new hand sanitizer that’ll still have all its active ingredients firing on all cylinders.
It Is Safe to Use Expired Hand Sanitizer?
Generally speaking, using expired hand sanitizer isn’t going to put you in harm’s way in and of itself. Although it might not be as effective as it once was, it’s also not going to suddenly turn into a substance that will hurt you if you use it on your hands.
But with that being said, there is a chance that using hand sanitizer that has expired within your company might result in some of your employees putting their safety at risk. If they believe they’re using newer hand sanitizer and expecting it to be every bit as effective as it says on the bottle, you could be compromising their safety by letting them think this.
This is another great reason to discard expired hand sanitizer and purchase a fresh batch of it to put in its place. By doing this, you’ll guarantee that those within your company will know exactly what they’re using when they pick up a bottle of hand sanitizer.
You should also make sure you stay away from certain types of hand sanitizers that the FDA has issued warnings about. Even if these hand sanitizers are brand-new, you’ll be doing everyone within your company a disservice if you continue to buy them and allow people to use them.
Should You Use Expired Hand Sanitizer?
If those within your company end up using expired hand sanitizer, it isn’t going to be the end of the world. This hand sanitizer won’t be as effective as you or they might like. But it also isn’t going to do them any direct harm if they have to use it when they’re in a bind.
You should, however, make it your mission to keep tabs on how old your company’s hand sanitizer is and replace it as it inches closer to its expiration date. When you do this, you’ll be able to avoid having those people within your company using expired hand sanitizer without always realizing it.
You might need to start ordering hand sanitizer more frequently than you do now to prevent people from using expired hand sanitizer. But this will be a small price to pay when you consider that it’ll help to make those within your company much safer.
Your best bet will be to order enough hand sanitizer to last your company for one full year and then replenish your hand sanitizer supply on an annual basis. It’ll help keep your company’s hand sanitizer as fresh and potent as it can be.
What Should You Do If You Discover Expired Hand Sanitizer?
Do you know whether or not you have expired hand sanitizer being used within your company right now? If you aren’t sure, the first thing you should do is walk around and sneak a peek at all the different bottles of hand sanitizer that are currently being used.
Ideally, you should find that many of these bottles of hand sanitizer will not yet be expired. Those within your company can continue to use them just like they normally do.
If, however, you find that you have expired hand sanitizer on your hands, you should try to make every effort to get rid of it and replenish your hand sanitizer supply. This hand sanitizer might not harm any of the people who work for your company. But depending on how old it is, it also might not be helping them as much as it should when they use it.
Throwing out boxes and boxes of hand sanitizer that have expired might have a small impact on your company’s bottom line at first. But at the same time, allowing those within your company to continue to use expired hand sanitizer could come back to bite you.
If some of these people are using hand sanitizer to keep their hands clean and it’s expired, it could result in them having to deal with certain illnesses. They won’t be able to get as much protection when they use hand sanitizer as they would under normal circumstances.
Can You Throw Expired Hand Sanitizer in the Regular Trash?
If you have a few bottles of expired hand sanitizer scattered throughout your company’s headquarters and they’re almost empty at this point, you’re free to go ahead and throw them in the regular trash. You might also be able to toss them into your recycling bins depending on what is left in them and what kind of plastic their bottles are made out of.
But if you have quite a few expired bottles of hand sanitizer and most, if not all, of them are still full, it’ll be a much different story. It might not be safe or eco-friendly for you to toss these bottles into the regular trash or recycling bin. You’ll need to figure out how to dispose of hand sanitizer like this in the right way so that you don’t do any harm to the planet while getting rid of them.
How Should You Dispose of Expired Hand Sanitizer?
Ever since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been more people using hand sanitizer than ever before. It has led to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency releasing guidelines on how people should dispose of hand sanitizer.
As we just alluded to, the EPA doesn’t seem to have a problem with anyone discarding empty bottles of hand sanitizer in the regular trash or recycling. But if you have full or even half-full bottles of hand sanitizer, you shouldn’t take this approach to discarding them regardless of if they’re expired or not.
Instead of throwing these bottles of hand sanitizer in the trash or trying to recycle them on your own, you should arrange to bring them to a hazardous waste drop-off location. A hazardous waste facility will know how to properly dispose of hand sanitizer without it having too much of an impact on the environment.
It’ll be especially important for companies looking to discard hand sanitizer to take this approach to getting rid of it. If your company gets caught throwing out expired hand sanitizer in the wrong way, it could hurt your reputation. You might also end up facing fines and other penalties that’ll make you wish you had taken the time to explore the right ways to discard hand sanitizer.
Is It Worth Replacing Expired Hand Sanitizer?
Now that the COVID-19 pandemic is in America’s rear-view mirror for the most part, you might wonder whether you should bother replacing expired hand sanitizer. Wouldn’t it be a better idea to simply let your employees go back to washing their hands with soap rather than using hand sanitizer?
You’re free to do this if you would like. But if the COVID-19 pandemic taught us all anything, it’s that it never hurts to have hand sanitizer around. If those within your company are always shaking hands with others or using tools that they share with others, germs and viruses can start to spread very quickly. It can lead to many people within your company getting sick at certain times of the year.
By strategically positioning bottles of hand sanitizer throughout your company’s headquarters and encouraging people to use them, you might be able to create a much healthier environment. People won’t be spreading germs and viruses as quickly as they are now.
It’s why it could very well be worth discarding any expired hand sanitizer bottles you have and putting new ones in their place. As long as your employees use them early and often, these bottles of hand sanitizer could work wonders for the safety of everyone within your company.
Is Using Hand Sanitizer Better Than Washing Hands With Soap?
While it’s nice to have hand sanitizer readily available for those within your company, one thing you should keep in mind is that using hand sanitizer should not be seen as an alternative to people washing their hands with soap. Even if people use hand sanitizer multiple times each day, they’ll still need to make it a point to wash their hands, too.
Many studies have suggested that washing hands with soap is more effective than using hand sanitizer when it comes to fighting off certain pathogens. Soap and water will work better against pathogens like:
- Clostridioides difficile
The CDC has also advised U.S. companies and all those who work for them that they should make every effort to wash their hands with soap rather than simply using hand sanitizer in some specific situations. According to the CDC, people should wash their hands when:
- They can see visible dirt on their hands
- They plan on preparing food for themselves or others
- They’re getting ready to eat food
- They just finished using the restroom
- They just coughed into their hands or used their hands to wipe their noses
- They came into contact with someone who is currently sick
- They just got done treating a wound
- They interacted with animals and touched them in any way
- They took out the trash or touched trash for another reason
In each of these scenarios, using hand sanitizer might help kill some of the germs, viruses, etc. that’ll be left behind on a person’s hands. But it may not be able to kill them all. For this reason, people should put the hand sanitizer down and wash their hands with warm water and soap instead.
How Can You Avoid Allowing Hand Sanitizer to Expire?
If you’re going to continue to provide those within your company with hand sanitizer, you should talk to them about still washing their hands. You should also change your procedures so that you’re able to offer these people more than just expired hand sanitizer within your building.
So, how can you steer clear of finding yourself with expired hand sanitizer in a few years? There are several steps you can take to avoid getting stuck with any bottles of expired hand sanitizer down the line.
First and foremost, you should begin ordering a little bit less hand sanitizer so that you don’t have too many bottles of it stockpiled away. You should also keep the bottles of hand sanitizer that you stick in storage more organized.
The bottles of hand sanitizer that are set to expire first should be in the front so that people grab them rather than the bottles that won’t reach their expiration dates for another few years. It’ll enable your company to make the most of the hand sanitizer that you have. It’ll also prevent you from having to worry about dealing with expired hand sanitizer ever again.
Make Sure Safety Is Always Your Company’s Top Priority
Trying to avoid providing your company’s employees with expired hand sanitizer is just one way you can make your company safer overall. Kelleher, Helmrich and Associates, Inc. (KHA) also offers other solutions for those companies that want to push safety as a top priority.
We’ve been providing Safety Data Sheet (SDS) Management to companies for almost 40 years now. We invite you to learn more about how your company can take full advantage of the latest technological advances involving safety.
Reach out to KHA today to discover more about how we can assist you.