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Does Fabric Softener Expire? (And can you still use it?) 

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There’s nothing like the smell of fresh laundry coming out of the washer. And when the laundry dries out, it keeps its soothing scent and feels soft and fluffy to the touch. You got the fabric softener to thank for that. And that brings up the question, does fabric softener expire? And, if it does, can you still use it?

Much like all chemical products that you use at home, a fabric softener has an expiry date which is usually written on the back of the bottle. But once you open it, you can expect it to last between 6 to 12 months, depending on the storage conditions. An unopened fabric softener bottle has a shelf life of 3 years.

You should always buy fabric softeners in small bottles to avoid them going bad after you’ve opened the bottle. So what happens when the fabric softener expires? Read more to find out why fabric softeners expire and why they get clumpy sometimes.

What is Fabric Softener Made Of?

Like many detergents, fabric softeners have chemical compounds including emulsifiers and conditioning agents. They also contain colors and fragrances to give the laundry this fresh scent. Besides these ingredients, the manufacturers also add preservatives and emulsion stabilizers to give the product long shelf life.

Many of these chemical compounds in the fabric softener pose a health risk when inhaled or ingested. Benzyl Acetate for example causes irritation in the respiratory tract and the eyes if one is exposed to it for too long. This is why you should treat fabric softeners as well as other chemical products with caution and avoid inhaling their vapors.

Does Fabric Softener Expire?

The preservatives and emulsion stabilizers in the fabric softener can only make the product last for a limited period of time. That expiry date is usually three years from production time. After that shelf life, the chemical ingredients start to break down as the fabric softener goes bad. So you should check the expiry date on the bottle before buying it. 

Once you open the fabric softener bottle, you have a limited time to use it before it spoils. The oxygen in the air interacts with the chemicals in the softener accelerating their deterioration. If you leave the bottle open, keep it in the sun, and the place is damp all the time, the opened fabric softener could go bad within 6 months or less. 

What Happens when my Fabric Softener Expires?

The fabric softener has two functions inside the washer. It keeps the fabrics soft and prevents strong detergents from damaging the textiles. It also gives the clothes a nice and fresh scent that hides any malodorous stains that the detergent had failed to remove.

When the fabric softener expires, it loses its effectiveness rather quickly. The scent is the first to go and is replaced by a foul smell that deepens as the chemicals in the softener further degrade. So instead of giving the clothes a nice smell, the expired softener makes them smell bad.

The conditioning agents in the softener lose their neutralizing and softening properties the further in time you go after the expiry date. Moreover, these chemicals could damage delicate and sensitive fabrics.

Finally, the liquid in the bottle starts to form clumps. The clumps get bigger as an indication that the softener is no longer usable and should be disposed of safely.  

How Long can you Keep the Fabric Softener?

You can keep a fabric softener bottle for up to one year after opening it and 3 years if left unopened. To make sure that your fabric softener will stay in good condition for a long time in your house, always buy a bottle with a long expiry date. If you’re not going to use the bottle, don’t open it. Instead, you should store it in a dry and cool place away from sunlight and heat sources.

When you open the fabric softener bottle, make sure to replace the bottle cap after using it and tighten it. Don’t leave the bottle out in the sun or in a damp and hot place. This can expedite its deterioration regardless of the printed expiry date.

I also wrote a guide on if you Can Mix Different Fabric Softeners that may interest you.

Is it Okay to Use an Expired Fabric Softener?

It’s always best to respect the expiry date on the fabric softener bottle. Once the chemical ingredients in the fabric softener start to break down, there’s no telling how toxic they can get. The last thing anyone would want is to wear clothes that are soaked in hazardous chemicals long past their expiry date.

That said, you can still use the expired fabric softener as long as you don’t see any clumps floating on the surface. Another telltale sign that your fabric softener is no longer usable is when the smell turns bad. The texture of the liquid might also become watery as the ingredients lose their potency.

Why does my Fabric Softener Go Clumpy?

Clumps are a bad sign in the fabric softener. It’s a dead giveaway that the softener has gone bad. At first, you’ll notice small clumps floating when you shake the bottle. But as the softener ages, the clumps grow bigger. This is a direct result of the degradation of the chemical ingredients as a result of bad storage conditions. 

Extreme temperatures can also change the texture of the softener. High temperatures cause clumps to form in the liquid. Freezing temperatures will cause it to become thicker like gel. You should discard clumpy fabric softeners.

Conclusion

Your fabric softener has an expiry date printed on the bottle. When you open the bottle, you have between 6 to 12 months to use it. Always keep the bottle in a dry and cool place away from heat sources and direct sunlight. You shouldn’t use a fabric softener that has a bad smell or has floating clumps on the surface. You can still use the fabric softener after it has expired but you should shake the bottle and remove the clumps first. 

Next, you can learn how to add fabric softener to your washer.

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