Does shampoo expire? Even though shampoo doesn’t have expiration dates like food and drinks, it can still go bad after a period of time. Read on to learn how long shampoo lasts, how to check if your shampoo is expired, and how to properly dispose of old shampoo in our complete guide.


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Does Shampoo Expire?

Image titled Does Shampoo Expire and showing a name tag that says Hello I Am expiring soon

I’ve been deep-cleaning each room in my home over the last week. When I started on my bathroom, I hesitated to throw away some half-empty bottles of shampoo that had been sitting in the shower for a few months. And, if you’re like me, you might be asking:

  • Does shampoo expire?
  • Is this stuff still good?
  • Will I go bald if I use expired shampoo?!

I decided to do some research on shampoo expiration dates to find out.

The Quick Answer:

As it turns out, shampoo does have a shelf life. It doesn’t last forever, and a good rule of thumb is to toss it after 18 months. But figuring out whether your shampoo is expired isn’t as easy as looking for the expiration date.

Why? Because shampoo doesn’t have expiration dates. The Food and Drug Administration doesn’t require cosmetics and personal care products to have a specific shelf life or expiration date printed on the bottle. 

That certainly makes things a little harder. But if you know where to look on your shampoo bottle, you should be able to find out how long it’s good for (or if it’s already expired). Keep reading to learn 3 methods you can use to find out. 

3 Ways To Determine If Shampoo Is Expired

There may be no printed expiration date in sight, but you can still find out how long your shampoo is good for when you know where to look. 

Using the Period After Opening (PAO) label, the manufacturer’s lot code, or the general rule of thumb for shampoo expiration, you can easily check to see if your shampoo is expired. 

1. Check the Period After Opening (PAO) Label

Pao label icons in various colors and shades for a piece on does shampoo expire
Alla Koala/Shutterstock

Some bottles of shampoo have a Period After Opening (PAO) label that shows how long the contents are safe to use after opening. You’ve probably seen these labels on cosmetics and skin care as well. 

They typically show a cosmetics container with an open lid and a number followed by the letter M (an abbreviation for months). You’ll see these labels depicting anywhere from 6 months to 36 months. 

Typically, shampoo PAO labels will show 12M, 18M, or 24M. This would mean your bottle of shampoo should be safe to use within 12, 18, or 24 months of opening. But there are two big problems with using the PAO label to determine if shampoo is expired (at least for me).

  1. First, I have no idea when I opened this bottle. The manufacturer’s guess is as good as mine. Never in my life have I jotted down the date I opened a bottle of shampoo. And I’m betting you haven’t, either. 
  2. Second, I checked the 4 (open!) bottles of shampoo I somehow had in my shower and only 1 had a PAO label. The others only had a series of numbers and letters that looked like a manufacturer’s batch code. 

Without knowing what this seemingly random batch code means, you’re no closer to determining whether that shampoo is expired or not. But I learned that there’s an easy way to decipher the batch code to find out. 

2. Check for a Manufacturer’s Batch Code

Close up of a batch and bar code that you'd tend to find on a shampoo bottle to tell when it expires
Sakarin Sawasdinaka/Shutterstock

If your bottle of shampoo is missing a PAO label, it may have a lot or batch code – a series of numbers and/or letters – printed somewhere on the bottle. This code identifies when the shampoo was manufactured and can help you determine how long it’ll be safe for use. 

There are a few websites you can use to check the batch code on your shampoo bottle. I like Check Fresh the best. You choose the manufacturer/brand from a dropdown list and enter the batch code found on your bottle.

You’ll learn the production date, product age, and any notes on how the manufacturer uses or repeats batch codes. I tried it on a bottle of Dove shampoo and learned that this recently purchased shampoo is actually 6 months and 20 days old. Good to know! 

What if your bottle doesn’t have a batch code, or you can’t pull up any info on the batch code when you search? Then it’s time to rely on the old rule of thumb. 

3. Use the 18 Month Rule of Thumb

A set of after product opening icons with a red arrow pointing to the 18 month one
Graficriver_icons_logo/Shutterstock

If there’s no real indicator of when your shampoo expires, you can always fall back on a general rule of thumb. Most shampoos that come with a PAO label recommend using within 12 to 24 months of opening.

So it’s usually safe to meet in the middle – 18 months – when there’s no PAO label. When in doubt, use the following rules of thumb: 

  • If it’s been open for 18 months or more, it’s time to toss it. 
  • If it’s unopened but you’ve had it for 3 or more years, assume it’s expired and dispose of it. 

It’s really important to properly dispose of old or expired shampoo. I’ll explain how to throw out old shampoo the right way in a little bit. 

How Long Can Shampoo Last?

Generally, shampoo has a good shelf life. It can last an average of 18 months after opening or 3 years if the bottle is unopened. Some last much longer, up to 36 months, and some are only good for about 12 months after opening. 

Why does shampoo expire faster after you open it? When you open a bottle of shampoo, you’re letting in oxygen, bacteria, and fungus that shorten the lifespan of the shampoo.

Over time, microbes and oxygen can break down the chemicals in the shampoo to make it change chemically and become less effective. 

What Happens If You Use Expired Shampoo?

Hipster girl in overalls holding her nose because she didn't know if shampoo expires
File404/Shutterstock

If you accidentally use expired shampoo, what will happen? Probably nothing, but there’s a reason manufacturers give recommendations on when the product should be used after opening. 

  • The effectiveness of shampoo drops off after a period of time. 
  • Expired shampoo changes on a chemical level, affecting the smell, texture, and color. 
  • Expired shampoo can cause irritation or itching on the scalp. 

While you might be able to get away with using expired shampoo, it’s risky and won’t get your hair as clean or smell as good as fresh shampoo. If you’re at all in doubt about your shampoo’s freshness, assume it’s expired and get a new bottle. 

How Do You Know If Shampoo Is Expired? 

If all else fails and you want to check your shampoo for expiration, rely on your senses. If it smells, feels, or looks off, it’s probably expired. Shampoo that has expired might:

  • Smell different than it used to
  • Look discolored
  • Feel clumpy or runny
  • Fail to lather properly
  • Leave a sticky residue on hair
  • Separate in the bottle

If you notice any of these things happening with your shampoo, assume it’s reached its expiration date and prepare to dispose of it properly. 

Disposing of Expired Shampoo

Disposing of expired shampoo and hair products lay flat image
Mehaniq/Shutterstock

Once you know your shampoo is expired, you need to ensure you properly dispose of it. You might be tempted to dump the rest of the shampoo down the drain before recycling or throwing the bottle away.

But that results in a lot of shampoo and the chemicals in it making their merry way into your community water supply – not good. Shampoo, cosmetics, insect repellant, and mouthwash are all considered household hazardous waste by federal government regulations. 

The best course of action is emptying the shampoo from the bottle into another container and bringing it to your local hazardous waste facility for disposal. You can then wipe the original bottle out and recycle it or throw it in the garbage.

But say your recycling facilities aren’t available in your area, or if your area only holds Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) disposal events a few times a year.

In either case, you can always throw the entire (closed) bottle of expired shampoo away. It’ll still end up in the landfill, but the plastic container should keep the shampoo contained and prevent it from seeping out. 

So, Does Shampoo Expire?

How to Check When Shampoo Expires

So yes, shampoo does expire after a while – anywhere from 12 months to 36 months after you open it and 3 years if it’s unopened. If you’ve got no idea when you first opened the bottle but know it’s been a while, you should err on the side of caution and properly dispose of it. 

But if there’s no change in the smell, texture, or effectiveness of the shampoo and you don’t think you’ve had it longer than 18 months, it’s likely safe to keep using. Keep an eye out for any changes in the shampoo itself or how it affects your hair.

If anything changes or seems off, you’ll know it’s time to toss it. It’s frustrating how complicated manufacturers make it to find out when shampoo expires. But through all my research, I came up with a better plan.

From now on, I’m going to jot the month and year on the shampoo bottle with a Sharpie as soon as I open it. It might be a little over the top, but I’ll never have to worry about lathering up with expired shampoo!

Author: Debra Carpenter

Debra is a Nashville-based content creator and strategist. As the daughter of a long-time hair stylist and salon owner, she’s spent most of her life as a guinea pig for new color and cut techniques. Writing for respected publications like Forbes and HuffPost, she’s committed to bringing her passion for great hair to the masses.