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Shelf Life

By Dr. Laundry October 26, 2010

Q. I have a small bottle of chlorine bleach which hasn’t been used for a while – don’t know how long. I opened it today and it no longer has that nice, clean, bleach-y smell. It really has no smell at all. Will it still be functional as bleach? If not, how long does it take for this to happen? What happened to the smell? How do I dispose of it, if it is now useless?

A. Thanks for the question; here’s a little background on the shelf-life of Clorox® Regular-Bleach:

The active ingredient in bleach, sodium hypochlorite, naturally breaks down into salt and water. The rate of breakdown increases rapidly when bleach is stored in extreme hot or freezing temperatures, or when a bottle is more than one year old. Generally, bleach stored at room temperature (~70°F) has a shelf life of one year, but after that point it should be replaced.

Since you don’t remember when you bought your bleach, and it has no bleach smell, it is definitely quite old. The missing bleach smell indicates that most of the active ingredients have converted to salt and water. You are right, it won’t function much as bleach anymore. To dispose of it, I would add it to your toilet bowl and then flush—any small amount of sodium hypochlorite active that may remain will finish breaking down as it travels through your home’s pipes and out to the sewer. You can find many different ways to use it at so your next bottle is used up more quickly.