If you are an extreme couponer or a firm believer in shopping when products are on sale and buying ahead, you can save money on laundry supplies. But even with careful planning, you sometimes end up with more laundry detergent than your family can use in a reasonable amount of time. So is that bottle of detergent that you bought a couple of years ago still safe to use?
Does Laundry Detergent Expire?
Laundry detergents come in liquid, powder, and in individual pods or packet formulas. While most detergents do not "go bad" or spoil, it is possible that they can lose some of their effectiveness in cleaning clothes and stability during storage. Let's take a look at the stability of each type of detergent.
Liquid Formula Laundry Detergents
Some liquid laundry detergents have a “best used by” date stamped on the bottle. After this date, the manufacturer can not ensure that the formula won't begin to break down and that the ingredients won't separate. The separation is often affected by drastic changes in temperature like excessive heat or if the laundry detergent is allowed to freeze.
You can still use the product—it is not harmful—but you may find that there is some clumping. Give the bottle a good shake each time before using it. "Lumpy" liquid laundry detergent should not be used in automatic dispensers, because it may clog the dispenser. Pour the liquid directly into the empty washer drum before you load in dirty clothes.
If the product doesn't have a "best used by" date, use this rule of thumb:
- Unopened liquid laundry detergent: The product is at its best for nine months to one year after purchase date.
- Opened liquid laundry detergent: Use the product within six months for best results.
Homemade liquid laundry detergent can develop mold and mildew growth, because it does not contain any bacteria inhibitors. Homemade products should be stored in a climate-controlled area to lessen the growth of mold. Dispose of any mildew-infested product and only make batches that are small enough that you can use them up within two months. If you like to make larger batches, then share with family and neighbors.
Powdered Formula Laundry Detergents
Powdered laundry detergents do not expire or lose effectiveness unless they have been exposed to moisture.
If a powdered detergent becomes hard or cakey, it should be discarded. The powder will probably not dissolve correctly or completely in the washer leaving soap deposits on your clothing. This can easily happen with a homemade powdered detergent, because it does not contain anti-caking ingredients. Always make homemade detergent in small batches that can be used quickly and store the product in an air-tight container.
Single-Dose Laundry Detergents
If you have used single-dose laundry detergent packs, you know that the polyvinyl film is manufactured to be quick-dissolving. Even wet hands can start the process before the pack is in the washer.
Always store single-dose laundry detergent in an air-tight container to keep moisture at bay and try to use within six months of purchase.
If the packs that contain liquid ingredients have been exposed to excessive moisture, they will clump together and must be discarded. Trying to separate the packs is nearly impossible and even dangerous. The contents of the packets can quickly spurt causing eye irritation. Even single-dose packs that contain dry ingredients can burst or dissolve and should be discarded.
Do Other Laundry Products Expire?
- Chlorine bleach is one laundry product that should be monitored closely for usage dates. Chlorine bleach is volatile and begins to lose effectiveness immediately after the bottle is opened and exposed to light and air. An opened bottle of chlorine bleach begins to revert to an ineffective cleaning solution and should be discarded after six months.
- Oxygen-based bleaches are the most stable in powdered formulas because they are activated when you dissolve them in water. The solution loses its cleaning effectiveness after eight hours and should be discarded. Liquid oxygen bleaches begin to lose effectiveness after opening and revert to plain water within a few weeks.
- Fabric softener ingredients can become unstable and separate. Always give the bottle a good shake each time before using it. Dispose of any excessively lumpy fabric softener that can clog dispensers and leave residue on clothes. If you don't, you may have "greasy stains" from fabric softener residue.
- Dry dryer sheets do not ever expire or go bad. Pre-moistened dryer sheets can mildew or dry out. If they are mildewed, dispose of them. Dried out sheets can be reactivated by adding a few tablespoons of water to the container.