It is best to dispose of insect repellent after three years, experts say.
mother spraying bug spray on child's arms outdoors
Credit: galitskaya / Getty Images

The arrival of warmer weather brings a lot of exciting things, including longer days, backyard barbecues, and trips to the beach. One thing we can almost assure you that no one is looking forward to when temperatures begin to rise, however, is bugs. The pesky critters do everything from bite and sting to swarm around your food. That's why it helps to have some sort of insect repellent handy to keep mosquitoes, flies, and other unwelcome bugs at bay. If you still have a stray bottle or two tucked away in your medicine cabinet you may be wondering: Does bug spray ever expire? If so, how long does it last? To help you answer these questions, we consulted a few experts.

The most common active ingredients in bug spray include DEET, picaridin, IR3535, and oil of lemon eucalyptus, which are all approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although those additives are quite stable and can last for a long time, it is recommended to dispose of insect repellent after three years. This isn't necessarily because the product expires—but rather, it loses its efficacy. "Expiration dates are not required on packaging unless the product expires in less than three years," explains Laura Patel, director of marketing with Murphy's Naturals. She notes that most repellents include a batch code on their packaging, which consumers can use to find out more about a specific product.

Many all-natural bug sprays use oil of lemon eucalyptus as its active ingredient. Patel explains that this CDC-approved additive never goes bad, but it can become less effective over time. "If the product doesn't smell as potent as it normally does, or if the product looks damaged, it's possibly expired," she says. In general, it's best to be cautious with oil-based repellents, notes Nichole Powell, founder and CEO of Kinfield, which creates all-natural products for the outdoors, including repellent. "Essential oils do not spoil in the way that a food might, but they do change over time in unpredictable ways," she explains. If you notice any changes in smell, texture, or appearance, Powell recommends disposing of the product.

Not all bug sprays use essential oils as their active ingredient, though. DEET—a chemical featured in many popular insect repellent brands—is an effective and highly stable ingredient that, like oil-based products, doesn't expire. It is important to note, however, that even formulas made with DEET can lose their punch over time. "Expiration dates vary by ingredients and by production date, so it is important to check with the manufacturer to ensure your product is still effective and good for use," Patel explains. 


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