You’d throw away old mascara. But tampons and sanitary pads last forever, don’t they? Yes and no.
How long can you keep sanitary pads and tampons?
Unfortunately, this isn’t always indicated on the packaging. Some manufacturers only display the date of production and the fact that their products last for a ‘long time’. After checking with a number of traders and manufacturers of products that are available in the Netherlands, we’ve found out that the average lifespan of these menstrual products is around five years. That’s from the date of production, not from the moment you buy them. And only if the tampons or pads have been kept in optimal conditions. Also, tampons have a slightly longer shelf life than pads and panty liners.
What’s the best place to store sanitary pads and tampons?
Definitely not in a hot and humid bathroom. That’s logical, as these products are made to absorb liquid. However, some people tend to forget that they also absorb the steam and moisture from your shower or bath water. The best place is dry. And cool. So outside your bathroom and preferably in their original packaging.
It can’t hurt to store them loose in your bag, can it?
If you store loose tampons and pads in your bag, the wrapper can get damaged. If you want to make sure you always have a couple available, keep them in a case, pouch or holder for protection. These special tampon cases aren’t just for decoration.
When shouldn’t you use them (anymore)?
Tampons are wrapped individually to ensure they can’t absorb any liquid before you insert them. If that wrapper is damaged, throw them away. Same goes for pads; if the upper layer is damaged, you shouldn’t use them anymore. Not even if they’re still pristine white.
Unlike medical bandages, menstrual products aren’t packaged and sealed as sterile products. This means there’s a possibility for mould and bacterial growth, especially if they haven’t been stored properly. If there’s any sign of discolouration or fluff sticking out of the wrapper, it’s a no go. Products that smell a bit strange should of course also be disposed of immediately.
What’s the risk when using products after their expiry date?
Menstrual products that haven’t gone past their expiration date can also sometimes cause complaints, for example if they contain fragrances and/or are too absorbent which dries out your vagina and disturbs the vaginal flora. Or because you don’t use them in the right way.
When using products that are damaged and/or have gone past their expiry date, there’s of course a bigger risk of skin irritation, rash and abnormal vaginal discharge. Usually, these complaints disappear again after your menstruation, when the skin’s natural pH levels go back to normal.
If they don’t and the irritation or rash continues, make sure to visit a doctor. In very rare cases, using sanitary products that are too old or damaged can lead to Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS); a bacterial infection that can also happen when you leave in a very absorbing tampon for too long.
What do the suppliers and manufacturers say about their products?
Some manufacturers, such as Sanature, do add an expiry date to their product, others, for example Cottons, don’t. Procter & Gamble’s products (Always and Tampax) in the Netherlands come with a serial number instead, which enables them to be traced back to the date of production. Libresse doesn’t have a best before date, but advises using their products within three years to guarantee the best quality. All suppliers and manufacturers recommend keeping the products in their original packaging and storing them away from moisture. Provided that tampons are hygienic, clean and are stored dry, you can use tampons for years, says tampon brand o.b. Breaking news: this Johnson & Johnson-label just launched an organic cotton tampon too.
How about organic tampons and pads?
Organic menstrual products are just as absorbent as non-organic products. When it comes to preservability, however, there’s a difference. That’s because organic menstrual products are designed to be compostable, explains Dutch brand Yoni. This makes them better for the environment, but it also means they’ll start to biodegrade in warm or humid conditions. That’s why it’s even more important to store them in the right conditions – in a cool and dry place.
Organic brand Natracare reports there’s no official expiry date printed on their packaging. Instead, consumers are advised to use pads and panty liners within two years of purchase. The company is still in the process of adding a best before date to their tampons, which should be used within four years from manufacture. Gentleday (Genialday) doesn’t have a best before date on their tampon packs. The expiry date on their sanitary pads is currently three years from the date of production.
Long story short:
- Always wash your hands before and after changing a sanitary product.
- Use products that suit your flow; of the right size and with the right absorbency level (as low as possible).
- Follow the instructions on the packaging; don’t keep in tampons any longer than 4 to 8 hours.
- Alternate tampons with sanitary pads or try something different, like a menstrual cup.
- Store products in a cool and dry place.
- If the individual wrapper is damaged, immediately discard the product.
- Stop using products when you experience physical complaints such as a rash or pain.
- If you experience any serious and sudden complaints like a fever, dizziness, vomiting, painful limbs, confusion, etc, immediately visit your GP.
Period! is an independent, online magazine about all aspects of menstruation. Period! is not intended as a substitute for medical advice. If you’re suffering from medical complaints, always visit your doctor or GP. Editorial articles can contain affiliate links. Sponsored collaborations can be found in the category Spotlight. Do you have any questions? Check our Contact page.