Disinfecting wipes are a handy way to clean surfaces and disinfect them in the process, but they don’t last forever. Here’s what you need to know about when they expire, how to read the expiration code, and more.
Most of us have purchased quite a few packs of disinfecting wipes over the last few years thanks to the coronavirus pandemic and, if we’re all being honest with ourselves, we may have purchased a few packs too many. You might be curious how long wipes last and if your extra packs will still be useful when you pull them off the shelf. Here’s what you need to know about disinfecting wipe expiration dates.
The answer to “Do disinfecting wipes expire?” is yes, but it’s a bit more complicated than that. Disinfecting wipes, like bleach, do expire. It’s not quite like milk going bad, however, in that one day they’re perfectly fine to use and then the next they aren’t.
The general rule, and the answer Clorox will give you you contact their support line, is that disinfecting wipes “expire” a year after manufacture. Expiration, in this case, means that the chemical compounds in the wipe solution have begun to break down.
Tip: Disinfectant wipes should be considered expired 1 year after their date of manufacture.
This breakdown means that whatever claims the manufacturer is making about the product—such as “this product kills 99.99% of germs when used on a non-porous surface and left to dry for at least 10 minutes”—are no longer valid and you should use a fresh batch of the product or an alternative method of disinfecting.
Whether or not you find an easy-to-read “best by” style date on your container of disinfecting wipes is entirely up to the manufactures design choices as there is no regulation requiring them to provide a clear expiration indicator.
When we looked at different brands of disinfectant wipes we found a variety of date formats and labeling. The clearest was that on the Kirkland brand disinfecting wipes, which had a straightforward “Best if used by:” label with an easy-to-read date.
Clorox products, including their disinfecting wipes, however, have a pretty arcane labeling system. Somewhere on the container (but not on the actual label), you’ll find a small sequence of letters and numbers like A921085 followed by a timestamp and addition letters and numbers.
The first two characters are the manufacturing plant ID, the next two characters are the year, and the next three characters are the day of the year. So a Clorox wipes canister with the label A921085 can be read as “Manufactured at plant A9, on March 26th, 2021” as the 85th day of the year is March 26th. (The same code format is used for bottles of Clorox bleach and disinfecting spray too.)
When in doubt about how a particular label is formatted, contact the manufacturer for clarification.
If you need the level of disinfection indicated by the label, and your wipes are expired, you should replace the wipes or use an alternative method of disinfection appropriate for your application like alcohol or bleach that has a time-on-surface disinfection rate that meets your needs.
That doesn’t mean the wipes are completely useless, however. It simply means that you should not rely on them to perform exactly as labeled on the container. Wipes that are just over the expiration date still have the ability to disinfect and in a bind, they’re better than nothing.
Further, while the disinfecting compounds in the wipe might have partially broken down, the wipes themselves are still sturdy cleaning cloths that you can use in other cleaning applications around your home. It would be a waste of money and a perfectly good tool to throw them away just because they are old. When I come across a really old pack of wipes they don’t get thrown in the trash They just get demoted to the garage or basement to become “wipe the gunk off tools” wipes instead.
So there you have it, after a year you should assume your wipes have lost some or all of their magic, repurpose them for other cleaning tasks, and replace them with a fresh batch.