Does Bug Spray Expire? And How Can You Tell?

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As the weather changes from cold to warm, so do the itchy biting bugs come out to play. It could be you’ve got an indoor infestation of creepy-crawly intruders, and your defense strategy lies in a forgotten can of insect repellant. But does bug spray expire, and how can you tell?

Bug spray, especially the type formulated to protect your skin, contains active ingredients that don’t technically expire. These include DEET, Picaridin, and Oil of lemon eucalyptus. There’s also para-menthane-3.8-diol and ethyl butyl acetyl-amino propionate, also known as IR3535. Depending on the brand’s formulation, the effectiveness of this insect repellant will have a shelf life of between 18 and 36 months.

To learn how you can tell if a can of bug spray has gone past expiration, I shall elaborate on this essential product’s utility, safe use, and expiry. Since using expired insect repellent might be a health hazard, I will also cover your options when the anti-bug spray is past its effectiveness date.

What is Bug Spray, and Doesn’t the Product Have an Expiry Date?

Bug spray is a crucial accompaniment when you plan to venture outside, especially in warm weather. You can refer to it as insect repellent applied on skin or clothing to keep these harmful nuisances away. A can of this product will offer protection for you, your children, and your pets, whether playing in the backyard, camping, or taking hikes.

Some bugs, such as ticks and mosquitoes, carry diseases like Lyme disease, malaria, dengue fever, and the dreaded Zika virus. Based on the ingredients of your bug spray product and how long it’s been sitting, using it could cause more harm than good.

According to manufacturers’ advice, consumers should discard any bug spray over three years old. It’s important to discard any container that shows in shape, dents, or rust that will affect the efficacy of a product.

While some products have expiry dates, it’s not a Food and Drug Administration requirement for manufacturers to indicate these parameters on bug spray products. Therefore, having an expiration date depends on the brand, the nature of the product, or whether its active ingredients are synthetic or natural.

Do the Active Ingredients of Bug Spray Determine Its Expiry Date?

As you head outdoors, a must-have personal protection item is your bug spray. Worry about mosquitoes, biting flies, ticks, and other insects, but whether or not your insect repellent is effective shouldn’t be guesswork.

Using old insect repellant on your skins or clothes can lead to rashes, skin irritation, and fabric damage.

A significantly common insect spray active ingredient is DEET, whose chemical name is N.N-diethyl-meta-toluamide. Other alternatives include Picaridin, a product with synthetic ingredients, Oil of lemon eucalyptus, para-menthane-diol, 2 Underanone, and IR3535.

The Environmental Protection Agency or EPA has deemed these compounds safe, considered effective for insect repelling. According to your bug spray’s active ingredient, here’s how approximately long they’ll last.

DEET or N.N-Diethyl-Meta-Toluamide

Popular bug spray brands contain this highly effective insect repellent ingredient, which doesn’t expire. DEET is a stable chemical that features a long shelf life and has set the gold standard in anti-bug products. Although it receives a bad rep for its profound effectiveness and lousy chemical smell, clinical studies have found it safe. 


It’s another effective bug-repelling chemical that’s also stable and will not have an expiry date, similar to DEET. Brands like Ranger Ready and Sawyer, which don’t have ‘best for use by’ parameters printed on their bottles, contain Picaridin. Its sprays can have a hazardous smell to them, but they are as effective and safe.

IR3535 or Ethyl Butyl Acetyl-Amino Propionate

Being less stable than Picaridin and DEET, bug sprays with IR3535 as an active ingredient will feature expiration dates. While proven safe even on ingestion, brands that contain this chemical will expire after 18 months from the date of manufacture. These include renowned insect repellent products such as Coleman and Avon, alongside non-spray items like creams and lotions.

PMD or Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus

OLE or Oil of lemon eucalyptus is a versatile natural product that has excellent bug repelling properties. You’ve probably also used its synthesized version, known as PMD or para-menthane-3, 8-diol. Such bug spray brands don’t have an expiration date seeing as the ingredients are stable. Common brands that use OLE or PMD include Murphy’s Natural and Repel bug sprays.

Despite what might be written on your bug spray, anything that causes you skin irritation or rashes should be discontinued immediately. As always, avoid having insect repellant spray enter your eyes, nostrils, or mouth. In such contamination, wash thoroughly with water and seek medical attention where significant amounts have been ingested.

How Can You Tell If Bug Spray Is Expired?

If you are unsure whether your bug spray is expired, look for the manufacturer’s helpline numbers, usually printed on the product to confirm. You can also check the brand’s website for conclusive information on its insect repellent spray’s expiry.  Once you’ve found these dates, mark them clearly on the can, considering they shouldn’t exceed three years.

For a container that’s damaged in any way through improper usage or exposed storage, it’s best to buy another can as its contents won’t be as effective as intended.

When none of the above indications bear fruit to whether your bug spray has expired or not, there are steps you can take. They include;

Testing the Bug Spray Smell

Take a piece of paper and spray some bug repellant on it, after which you can smell its odor from a safe distance. If the smell is strong and regular, then you’ll be set to zap ill-mannered bugs to their Valhalla. When there is a fainter-than-usual smell or when the spray stinks, you should get another insect guard.

Testing the Texture

Rub a small amount of bug spray in your hand and feel the texture. If its consistency feels watery and thin, proceed to discard the can as it has expired.

The altered texture will result from the settling of ingredients which forms chemical by-products that cause skin irritation.

Taking the Bug Spray on a Trial Run

Test your bug spray for a short period. For instance, you can decide to put on some insect repellant when working in the garden or relaxing in the yard. If you end up bite or sting-free, then your spray can is ready to be taken for a longer outdoors haul.

Can You Make Bug Spray Last Longer?

Follow the manufacturer’s storage guidelines if your bug spray will last its intended usage time. Keep cans of insect repellant away from extreme conditions such as cold, heat, or moisture. These attributes will affect the active ingredient’s chemical make-up, making the spray ineffective. 

Manufacturers recommend a standard where no matter how well stored or compelling a product appears, it should be discarded after three years. Even though ingredients like DEET or Picaridin don’t expire, they may have lost their efficacy while other product components can develop toxic properties. 

Seeing that it’s your health and loved ones or pets at stake, you can’t rely on packaging labels or proper storage to gauge your bug spray’s safety. A product manufacturer can’t guarantee effectiveness further than the recommended 18 to 36 months.

Other factors that contribute to the shelf life, safety, and efficacy of your insect repellant include;

Ingredient Formulation: 

Some insect repellants offer a fine vapor, while others a lotion particle spray that you then rub onto your skin.

Container Type and Materials: 

Packaging can be in aluminum containers that are element resistant or plastic spray bottles that can be affected by heat or cold conditions.

Stabilizers and Emulsifiers: 

For active ingredients to mix well with other spray contents, stabilizers are used in a bug spray formulation. Emulsifiers give the spray its sheen so to provide an effective protective layer on your skin. When these fail for one reason or another, the formula breaks down, and your insect repellant becomes less effective or hazardous.

By spraying insect repellent, you aim to prevent bites that can lead to their deadly diseases. It’s, therefore, best to use a bug spray that’s acting at full potential than one which is expired, ineffective, and possibly hazardous.

How to Dispose of Expired Bug Spray?

Whether or not your bug spray is Picaridin, PMD, or DEET-based, you’ll still have to dispose of it after 36 months. Most insect repellent brands come in no-refillable containers that indicate they shouldn’t be punctured or burned after use. You can spray the remaining contents of the bottle against a concrete wall until it’s empty and then recycle the container.

When that isn’t an option, place the bug spray container in a plastic garbage bag and then tie it tightly. You can also contact your local water disposal operator when you’re unsure of the correct way to dispose of the expired insect repellent.

How To Safely Use Bug Spray

The correct way to apply bug spray is to ensure that the active chemicals don’t contaminate your internal organs. Practical and safe application of insect repellent will include;

Ensuring you spray on the insect repellant in an open space with proper ventilation. It’s best to apply bug spray outside so that you’ll inhale as few chemicals as possible. Hold the aerosol sprayer away from you, at least one foot, when spraying.

If you are going to the outdoors in a buggy place, use two brands of unequal strength for additional protection. Start covering your skin or clothes with the less harsh variety, and you can add the ‘come-near-me-you-die!’ type as bug attacks increase. It’s unnecessary to spray a hardcore chemical brand if you’re not going outside for an extended period.

Avoid spraying insect repellent on your face. Keep the spray trained at the palms of your hands and then rub it on your face. Take care not to get the chemical in your mouth, eyes, or nostrils. Spray your hair, too, as bugs love buzzing and stinging up there.

You must cover your clothing with bug spray, especially if you’re walking through tick-prone areas. After your outdoors endeavor, wash your body and clothes immediately to eliminate the chemicals and avoid contaminating your living space.

Don’t use the two-in-one sunscreen lotion and repellant combinations. Even when packaged as a typical bug spray, these products are half as effective as the real deal. If you need sunscreen, apply it first and then spray on your insect repellant.

Is Bug Spray Safe for Children?

When applying any insect repellant on young ones, always refer closely to the manufacturer’s instructions. While many active ingredients of bug sprays are safe for kids, there are exceptions, such as tiny babies. It’s best to check with the manufacturer when there are children involved, and you can call to hear it from them or check online guidelines.

It’s also essential to ensure the bug spray you use on children’s delicate skin is far from expired. Some insect repellent active ingredients such as IR3535 will turn toxic and cause rashes, skin and eye irritation.


Bug spray will last as long as you’re using and storing it correctly. Some will get done way before their expiry date with frequent use, but there are those which only come out a day or two in spring and summer. If there is no expiration date printed on the can, use the product within the two or three recommended years and then replace it.

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