You’ve spotted an unopened box of laundry detergent at the back of your pantry or an unfinished bottle of liquid detergent in your utility room from months ago and are now wondering – can I still use this?
Well the short answer is whilst laundry detergents do not have an expiration date the same way food does, all types of laundry detergents come with a shelf life, after which their effectiveness is reduced. Using the detergents by their ‘Best Before’ date ensures you will get the most effective results.
The duration of the shelf life depends on what type of laundry detergent it is and if it has been opened or not. In certain situations, you may need to discard your laundry detergent if it has disintegrated because of undisirable storage conditions.
In this article we will discuss the shelf life of the different types of detergents and how the longitivtiy of your detergent can be prolonged. Keep reading to find out more!
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The Different Types Of Laundry Detergents
Laundry detergents are powerful cleaners made from petrochemicals. There are many different kinds of detergents in the market: biological detergents, non biological detergents, color safe detergents, delicate detergents and odor eliminating detergents.
These different types of detergents come in the following forms: powder, liquid, pod and home-made. Read on to find out about each type of laundry detergent in some more detail.
There may be affiliate links in this article. You can read more about this in my disclosure.
Laundry Detergent in the form of powder is the most commonly used type of detergent. It’s less expensive than the other types of store bought laundry detergents, making it the more popular choice amongst households.
The good news is, both opened and unopened powder laundry detergent has the same shelf life.
Typically, powdered laundry detergents do not have an expiry date the same way liquid detergents do since they are solid particles and do not react to environmental temperatures in the same way liquid detergents do.
But do be careful – unfavorable temperatures can cause the powder to harden and clamp together. A high humidity environment can cause chemical reactions in the powder, thereby reducing its cleaning abilities.
The key is to keep the box in a cool dry place to prolong its viability.
Liquid detergents are easier to dissolve than its powder counterpart, particularly in low temperatures, making this kind of detergent a popular consumer choice. Add to this, the liquid detergent doesn’t leave residue after a wash.
It is, however, important to be mindful about the temperature in which the liquid detergent is stored. The higher the environmental temperature, the shorter the viability of the detergent.
Unlike powder detergents, liquid detergents degrade faster. Once the ‘Best Before’ date has passed, the ingredients in the detergent may break down, causing the liquid to separate.
Whilst you can just shake the bottle and continue to use it, the effectiveness of the detergent will be questionable. If you forget to shake the contents of the bottle and pour it into your washing machine dispenser, it can clog the machine.
Detergent pods are ideal for the fast paced life we live in.
Each pod contains pre-measured liquid detergent required for a single wash. No messy spills or wasting time measuring out detergent – so convenient!
As long as the zip lock bag, in which these pods come in, is securely closed after each use, the pods should stay fresh. Remember to keep the bag in cool and dry place.
However, just like powder and liquid detergents, high humid temperatures can cause the detergent chemicals inside the pods to disintegrate. It is also important to note pods are manufactured using polyvinyl film, which is a fast dissolving material.
Therefore, any moisture will cause them to react and start the chemical process. This will not only reduce its effectiveness but also cause the separate pods to clump together inside the storage bag – causing the pods to rip when pulled apart.
Some people may choose to make their own detergent at home, using basic ingredients such as borax, washing soda and soap flakes. This detergent can prove to be cost effective for some families.
Furthermore, an additional advantage of making your own detergent is that you control the ingredients being used – you can avoid harmful dyes or strong fragrances that may irritate sensitive skin. This may be particularly popular for parents who have children with skin conditions or those who have just had a newborn baby.
However it is important to note, unlike store bought detergents, home-made detergents do not contain anti-caking and bacterial inhibitors. Therefore, it has a shelf life even shorter than that of its liquid detergent counterpart.
Home-made detergents are easily effected by changing environmental temperatures causing mold and mildew growth. They should be kept in ideal temperatures (cool and dry) to preserve it for longer and should also be stored correctly – sealed in an air tight container.
It is advisable to make small batches frequently. This will ensure the efficacy of the detergent remains desirable.
How Long Does Laundry Detergent Last?
How long your detergent lasts will entirely depend on what type of detergent you choose to purchase.
The detergent should come with a ‘Best Before’ date on the packaging. If there is no date to go by, then you can use the following time frames.
- Powdered detergents have no expiration date but should ideally be used within a year of purchase in order to preserve its cleaning effectiveness.
- Single use pod detergents have a shelf life of up to 12 months but since they react to moisture instantly they should be used within 6 months of purchase.
- Liquid detergents have two sets of ‘Best Before’ dates, for unopened sealed liquid detergents it’s 9-12 months and for opened it’s 6 months.
- Home-made detergents have a shelf life of only 2 months
Laundry detergents that are enzyme based or contain hydrogen peroxide – also known as oxygen bleach – will degenerate and lose their cleaning action after 18 months. However in liquid form, it looses its effectiveness within a few weeks after opening the bottle.
Fabric Softeners, like liquid laundry detergents, can also separate and lose its stability fairly quickly compared to powdered and pod detergents. Therefore, once opened they should be used fairly quickly within 6 months.
Chlorine bleach also loses its efficacy within 6 months of being opened since it reacts to light and air. The sooner you use it the more effective it will be in fulfilling its purpose.
These times are subject to how you well your store your detergents in favorable conditions.
Can Laundry Detergent Go Bad?
Detergents do not ‘go bad’ or spoil in the same way food does, therefore you can continue to use it even after its ‘Best Before’ date.
When purchasing the laundry product best suited to your needs, be sure to check the ‘Best Before’ date. This will indicate the length of time during which this product will remain effective in washing your clothes.
However, it should be noted, the detergent’s physical state may alter causing the product to be rendered unusable. For example, home-made detergents can grow mold, and therefore should be discarded, if that is the case.
How To Tell If Your Laundry Detergent Has Gone Bad?
You may notice the laundry detergent just isn’t cleaning as well as it was previously, with stains still remaining on your clothes. If this is the case, then most likely the detergent has ‘gone bad.’
Alternatively, you may notice the physical properties of the detergent have altered.
For instance, the ingredients in your liquid detergent may break down and separate causing clumping. Your home-made detergent will have mold and midrew particles.
Your powdered detergent may clamp together or become hard and cakey. Or your fabric conditioner may not be giving off the same scent it was previously.
Can You Use Expired Laundry Detergent?
You can still continue to use the laundry products even after the ‘Best Before’ date has passed however bear in mind the stability and the viability of the product will not be as you expect it to be.
It may be useful to note laundry detergents do not become toxic after their shelf life has passed but almost all lose their scent.
What Happens If You Use Expired Laundry Detergent?
If you use expired laundry detergents it could mean the cleaning enzymes in the product may not successfully be able to get rid of the stains, odors and germs.
Furthermore, if you use hardened or cakey powdered detergent it can clog your washing machine. The powder will not be able to dissolve correctly, whilst leaving soap residue on your clothes.
Using clumpy liquid detergent and fabric softener can clog the automatic dispenser in your washing machine. Remember to give them a good shake before using them each time.
What Do You Do With Expired Laundry Detergent?
You can still use laundry detergents passed their ‘Best Before’ dates bearing in mind they will not be as efficient in cleaning your clothes as you would have previously expected them to.
It is advisable to throw away hardened or cakey powdered detergent in order to prevent damage to your machine and your clothes. Liquid detergents which have separated should be shaken hard to eliminate the clumping.
Pods that are denigrated due to moisture should be handled with care whilst you’re wearing gloves to avoid a negative skin or eye reaction. It is advisable to dispose of pods which have degreased in order to prevent a health hazard.
Can You Make Laundry Detergent Last Longer?
You can keep your laundry detergents fresh and valid for longer if they are kept in suitable climate controlled environments. If your laundry detergents are not kept in favorable conditions, they can degenerate reducing their efficacy.
Take the following steps to ensure your laundry detergents remain effective for longer:
- Store them in dry and cool places, out of direct sunlight or areas where the temperature fluctuates.
- Keep your laundry detergent packaging tightly closed so that the detergents do not react with external particles such as air, water, moisture etc. This includes in between each use.
- Keep your detergents in the containers they were bought in as the manufactures have opted to use the best storage for their product’s longitivtiy.
- Never use wet hands to handle pods or powdered laundry detergents
- Beware of touching the pods with wet hands! Any slight moisture even from your hands can start the pods to degenerate, reducing its effectiveness when washing clothes.
- Be careful! Pods that have stuck together due to excessive moisture are a hazard to separate as they can rip and squirt in your eyes or skin when you try to separate them.
- Remember to give your liquid detergent a vigorous shake if it has clumping on the bottle.
- If your powdered or home-made detergent is hardened and clamped together – give it a vigorous shake to break the particles up again.
- Keep your laundry detergents in the packaging it was bought in in order to maintain its quality and so that you can refer to the ‘Best Before’ date with ease.
- Detergent pods are particularly colorful and attractive to young children therefore should be kept in a hidden location out of reach of children.
- Due to health and safety reasons, detergent containers should not be used for any other purpose other than storing the detergent.
- It isn’t only high humid conditions which cause detergents to reduce its stability. Freezing low temperatures can also cause the same undesired results.
- Dispose of home-made laundry detergent where mold and mildew particles are visible.
Whilst laundry detergents don’t expire – the chemicals in the detergents can break down causing the detergents to become less effective.
It is important to use the laundry products by their ‘Best Before’ date in order to ensure they will work efficiently. The detergent will likely lose its efficacy once this date has passed.
In most cases, the products will still be useable even after the ‘Best Before’ date as long as the product is kept in cool, dark and dry conditions. The laundry detergents should be sealed properly in between each use.
You should remember to avoid keeping the laundry detergents in environments with high temperatures, humidity or moisture.
If exposed to these conditions, the physical properties of the detergents may change, making them appear as though they have ‘gone bad’. In this case, they can cause damage to your washing machine or your clothes.
As a busy mom, Raz knows firsthand the challenges of balancing parenting and household management. Raz is constantly searching for ways to simplify her life and loves sharing her experiences and tips with others. Whether it's finding creative meal solutions for picky eaters or discovering the latest time-saving home organization hack, she is always on the lookout for ways to make life easier for her family and herself.
Last update on 2023-03-21 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API