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10/30/2014 07:00 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Do You Know The Shelf Life Of Your Household Products?

We've all cleaned a toilet (or twenty) in our lifetime, but we don't generally think about one key ingredient to the process: the product we use to do said cleaning. Has it expired, and -- wait -- can cleaning products even go bad?

We decided to check in with Dr. Mark A. Benvenuto, Professor and Department Chair of Chemistry & Biochemistry at University of Detroit Mercy, and Dr. Scott P. Lockledge, CEO and Co-Founder of Tiptek, to help us figure out what household products we should toss and when (if ever) we should toss them:

1. Bleach
Shelf life: About 6 months
bleach

A good rule of thumb is to remember that bleach starts to degrade (break down) about six months after you purchase it. Benvenuto assures us that while bleach might become "less effective, its toxicity does not increase" so no need to worry if you use that old bleach under the sink.

2. Drano
Expires: 2 years

Straight from the manufacturer's mouth: You've got two years to use this plumbing miracle worker before it expires. If you have a another brand at home, take note: Lockledge says it's difficult to compare Drano to a generic as "most manufacturers have proprietary formulations and it is difficult to infer."

3. Laundry detergent (liquid or powdered)
Shelf life: 6 months to 1 year
laundry detergent

Laundry detergents don't expire, they break down, which can happen six months after opening and 9 months to a year if left unopened.

4. Lysol Disinfectant/Wipes
Stays fresh: About 2 years

Good Housekeeping estimates that these Lysol products are good for about two years before the potency of the disinfectant wears off. After that, "you'll likely notice the fragrance diminishing."

5. Plain, white vinegar
Expires: Never
vinegar

According to The Vinegar Institute (yes, that really exists) and Professor Benvenuto, vinegar "is often stable for decades," so keep using the best natural cleaner ever for as long as you want.

6. Scrubbing Bubbles Bathroom Cleaner
Expires: 1 year

To ensure that you're killing all of that nasty bacteria, throw this product out one year after you purchase it. For generic toilet sanitizers, Benvenuto says "you have to compare an ingredients list for a name brand to a generic."

7. Baking soda
Loses freshness: Never
baking soda

You can still use baking soda as it gets older (for cleaning, not baking), but it won't be quite as potent as a fresh batch. As Lockledge tells us, "Chemically, the baking soda remains the same over time and does not deteriorate."

8. Fabric Softener
Works for: About 1 year

"Fabric softeners may lose their volatile molecules with time (the ones that make them smell good)," according to Professor Benvenuto. Additionally, he adds, "dryer sheets might lose their ability to impart a smoother feel with time if their volatiles evaporate." Good Housekeeping estimates that liquid fabric softener and the sheets all have "softening power for about a year."

Important takeaway tips:

  • Liquid products will usually degrade before solid products "It is difficult to generalize, but all things being equal, liquid products will degrade more quickly than solids ones," says Dr. Lockledge.
  • Lot numbers will be a BIG help If you want to be extra careful, Lockledge also advises looking at a product's "lot numbers," which are sort of like non-food product expiration dates.
  • Products won't totally go bad, they just won't be as totally fresh or effective if they're old. Dr. Lockledge for all of your budgeting needs: "Many of the cleaners may degrade slightly (i.e. slight change in color) over a couple of years, but are still quite effective at their intended function."
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BEFORE YOU GO

  • Glass Cleaner
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  • Laundry Detergent
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    We were surprised to learn that we're only supposed to be using a tablespoon at a time. Pouring excess amounts into the wash can create a film that prevents clothes from actually getting clean.
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