If you’ve found a tampon in your cupboard and are wondering if it’s safe to use — well, it depends how old it is.
Tampons do have a shelf life, but it’s likely you’ll use them before they pass their expiry date.
Keep reading to learn more about how long tampons last, how to identify an expired tampon, and more.
What’s the shelf life of tampons?
The shelf life of tampons is about five years — provided they’re left in the package undisturbed and not exposed to excessive moisture.
Tampons are sanitary products, but they’re not packaged and sealed as sterile products. This means bacteria and mold can grow if they’re not stored properly.
The shelf life of organic tampons is also believed to be about five years, because cotton is susceptible to bacteria and mold.
If you know a tampon is expired, don’t use it, even if it looks fresh. Mold isn’t always visible and may be hidden by the applicator.
How can I make tampons last longer?
To be on the safe side, always store your tampons in a cabinet in a cool, dry place. While the bathroom may be the most convenient place to keep them, it’s also the most likely breeding ground for bacteria.
Your tampons’ shelf life can also be shortened if they come into contact with other foreign bacteria, such as perfume and dust:
- Always store them in their original packaging to reduce the risk of contamination.
- Don’t let them roll around in your purse for weeks, which can result in their packaging becoming ripped.
Takeaway Always store your tampons in a cabinet in a cool, dry place — not your bathroom. You should also keep them in their original packaging to prevent contamination from perfume, dust, and other debris.
How to tell if a tampon is expired
Most brands of tampons don’t come with a clear expiry date. Carefree states that their tampons don’t have an expiry date and should last for a “long time” if you store them in a dry place.
Tampax tampons display an expiry date on all boxes. They actually show two dates: the date of production and the month and year they’ll expire. So, if you use Tampax, there’s no guesswork involved.
You can’t always rely on visible signs that a tampon has gone bad. It will likely only be visibly moldy if the seal is broken and dirt or other debris has entered the packaging.
Never use a tampon if you notice:
- patches of mold
Pro Tip If you use a brand that doesn’t show an expiry date, mark your packages with the month and date of purchase — especially if you buy in bulk.
What can happen if you use an expired tampon
Using a moldy tampon can cause symptoms like itching and an increase in vaginal discharge. However, this should resolve itself as the vagina returns to its natural pH levels after your period.
If your symptoms last more than a few days, see your doctor. They may prescribe an antibiotic to clear any possible infection.
TSS occurs when bacterial toxins get into the bloodstream. TSS is life-threatening and requires immediate medical attention.
Seek emergency medical attention if you experience:
- high fever
- body pain
- dizziness or fainting
- breathing difficulties
- low blood pressure
- peeling of the skin
- organ failure
TSS can be fatal if not diagnosed and treated early. To help reduce your risk of TSS:
- Wash your hands both before and after inserting a tampon.
- Use the lowest absorbency tampon that’s recommended for your menstrual flow.
- Change tampons as indicated on the packaging — normally every four to eight hours.
- Insert only one tampon at a time.
- Alternate tampons with a sanitary napkin or other menstrual hygiene product.
- Don’t use tampons unless you have a steady flow. When your current period ends, discontinue use until your next period.
The bottom line
If your box of tampons doesn’t come with an expiry date, get into the habit of writing the month and year of purchase on the side.
Store your tampons in a dry place and discard any that have broken seals or are showing obvious signs of mold.
If you experience any uncomfortable or unpleasant symptoms after using a tampon, make an appointment with your doctor.
Although developing TSS after using an expired tampon is rare, it’s still possible.
Seek immediate medical attention if you think you have any symptoms of TSS.