Do Perfumes Go Off? How to Tell If Perfume Has Expired

Updated on June 7, 2019
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Lynsey loves trying out beauty tips and products. She often makes her own products and enjoys sharing any useful information that she finds!

Learn how to tell if a perfume has gone bad and how you can prevent perfume from expiring prematurely.
Learn how to tell if a perfume has gone bad and how you can prevent perfume from expiring prematurely.

Can Perfume Expire?

Short answer: Yes. Perfumes can change their composition as they age, and they may start smelling different or causing allergic reactions that they didn't cause previously.

Perfumes don't usually come with obvious use-by dates, which makes it especially difficult to tell if they have gone bad. While a label on the box might say "Use within 12 months," that doesn't necessarily mean that you cannot use the product anymore after the time has passed—it just means that the quality of the perfume will have diminished after the recommended time.

Over the years, I have received multiple gift sets and bottles of perfume, and I have built up quite the collection. I recently made the decision to start using them, but I noticed that I've had some of them for over five years! It's awful, I know, but I tend to have just one favourite perfume and I only really use the others for work. I had to go through them all to determine whether they had gone off or if they were still usable.

Why Should I Check If My Perfume Has Expired?

Because of the different storage methods, temperatures, and general environmental issues that a bottle of perfume may have to endure in its lifetime, the chemical balance of the perfume can change—molecules in the perfume can break down and recombine. These chemical changes can cause irritation and even an allergic reaction if you don't stop using the perfume from your skin right away. This might make you think that you're allergic to your favourite perfume when, in fact, the bottle you have is simply out of date.

Does Expired Perfume Smell Different?

Yes, it does. This is the most obvious sign that your perfume has turned bad. When you spray it on, you probably won't like the smell of out-of-date perfume.

Now, depending on the type of perfume, there can be differences in smell when they expire. Personally, I have found that Eau de Toilette sprays tend to smell more like alcohol as they age. Let's face it, you don't want to walk around smelling like you've been drinking—especially first thing in the morning! On the other hand, Eau de Parfum sprays tend to take on an almost spicy, curry-like smell. Still, other perfumes simply lose their strength. It's hard to describe, but I assure you, you will notice the difference from the usual smell!

However, if you have a good, high-quality perfume, it is unlikely that it will go bad if you take proper care of it—that is, keep it from being exposed to light and heat. Some perfumes even smell better with age! In general, perfumes with heavy base notes that are nutty or woody will last longer than floral scents.

What Does Expired Perfume Look Like?

One of the first signs that a chemical change has happened is that the liquid changes colour, often turning darker. This can be difficult to judge if you haven't looked at the bottle for a while. Other times, the liquid takes on a milky appearance. You may start to see a milky layer at the bottom of the bottle where some of the particles have settled. But even if this change hasn't occurred, there is another obvious way to tell if the perfume has expired—its smell.

Check for the expiration date or batch code on the packaging.
Check for the expiration date or batch code on the packaging.

Is There a Way to Check the Recommended Expiration Date on Perfume and Cosmetics?

Yes. If you are interested in finding out the recommended date of expiration, you can use a cosmetic calculator that will show you when your bottle was manufactured using the batch code at the bottom of the bottle. This website also recommends using all perfume within three years of the date of manufacture, but, as you have discovered in this article, there are other ways to tell whether your perfume has expired or not. This can also be used to check the expiration date of other cosmetic products, such as makeup, skin care, and nail polish.

What Is the Average Shelf Life of Perfume and Cologne?

Most perfumes last for about 3–5 years. However, how long it takes for a perfume to expire really depends on the quality of the perfume—some may go bad after one year, while others last for 10 years. It also depends on how well you took care of it—if you keep your in a cupboard, stored in a dark bottle, and with the lid on, it will probably last longer. It's important to use the tips listed above to check if your perfume is still usable.

Instead of throwing them out, use your expired perfumes as decorations!
Instead of throwing them out, use your expired perfumes as decorations!

How Do I Prevent Perfume From Expiring?

Now, unfortunately, if you have discovered that your perfume is out of date, there is probably nothing better to do with it than dispose of it it, particularly if the scent has altered to some unpleasant spicy smell.

What you can do, however, is try to prevent this from happening again by storing your perfume properly. Proper storage could prevent your perfume from expiring prematurely, so make sure to:

  • Keep your perfumes away from extreme heat or cold. Definitely do not freeze your perfume, and try to keep it in a place that's a little bit colder than room temperature.
  • Keep them out of the bathroom. Though it's convenient to place your the bottles on a dresser or on your bathroom counter, it's probably not for the best if you want to make your perfumes last longer—the humidity and heat in the bathroom could speed up the breakdown of your favorite perfume.
  • Store perfumes out of direct sunlight. This could mean transferring the liquid to a dark or frosted bottle. Or, if that's too complicated, simply keep your perfume in a cabinet or drawer.
  • Keep the lid on. Scents with a high alcohol content could start to evaporate faster if they are not sealed properly, so be sure to replace the lid after each use.

Try to Use Up Your Fragrances

Think of your perfumes as consumables and use them in order of purchase, starting with the oldest first. You wouldn't use your freshest eggs first and let the older ones go to waste, would you? You should think of perfume in the same way.

There are many ways to maximize the use of your perfume so that you can get through the whole bottle before it expires. Here are a few ideas:

  • Soak a few cotton balls in perfume, place them in a small mesh bag, and use them as clothes fresheners. You can also just spray it on a paper towel.
  • Use it as an air freshener
  • Place it in your car to keep that musty smell out.
  • Spray it on a piece of paper to send a romantic letter to your significant other!

If there are perfumes that you simply don't like, perhaps arrange a swap with a friend. You wouldn't believe the number of bottles over the years I've received as gifts that I just can't wear for one reason or another. I'm sure there are plenty of others out there who are the same! You can also just gift them to a friend or to a women's shelter.

Remember, prevention is better than cure. Try to limit your consumption and spending to the things you need, and don't buy a new bottle of perfume until you've already used what you have. I'd definitely prefer to use up all of my bottles rather than dispose of them, but I unfortunately left it too late this time. Don't make the same mistake!

How Can I Dispose of Expired Perfume and Cosmetics Properly?

It happens to all of us—between all the scents that are out on the market right now, it can be all too easy to let the bottles of perfume and cologne pile up. Sometimes you get them as gifts, or sometimes you just fall in love with a certain smell; unfortunately, this often means that we start building a collection of perfumes that don't get used up before they expire.

If your perfume is already used up, feel free to just rinse the bottle and toss it in the recycling bin. You can also use the bottle as decoration on your shelf, either filled with beads or on its own. In addition, if you bought the perfume from a specific store, some companies—such as Lush and the Body Shop—will gladly take your perfume empties and recycle them properly. However, if there's still a sizeable amount of liquid in there and you don't know where to get rid of it, it'd be better to send it to a hazardous waste facility in your area, where they can dispose of your perfumes properly.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2013 Lynsey Hart

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    • sparkleyfinger profile imageAUTHOR

      Lynsey Hart 

      4 weeks ago from Lanarkshire

      Hi Josey, Thanks for stopping by. All of the information I have about expired perfumes is in the article.

    • profile image

      Josey 

      4 weeks ago

      Hey i hope i can use an expired can of perfume though its off in terms of date ....is it harmful to me please

    • profile image

      Liza 

      5 months ago

      Excellent article!

      I just discovered that expensive perfums I was hoarding for "special occasions" changed so much that I am embarrased to wear them!

      But cannot bin them either...

    • profile image

      Bealza 

      11 months ago

      This is directed to Suzy, who had old bottles of her mothers perfumes. To get a brief general sense of what the perfume once smelled like, mix the perfume with a drop of vodka per each five year span after you assume it may have expired. Example: I purchase my favorite perfume in 1980. By 1985, the fragrance has begun smelling a bit more like a trashy prostitute than the light airy scent it once had. Being 2018, take one drop of the perfume, in a small glass vial, and add approximately 3 small drops of vodka to the vial. Stir lightly with a toothpick. And let the strong odor of vodka air a bit. Then, smell the toothpick. For a brief period of time, you should be able to get an idea of what the perfume smelled like when she was doing the "S-a-f-e-t-y Dance", to Men Without Hats.

    • profile image

      WitchyD 

      13 months ago

      Yes, perfume can definitely go off! I order a once-favored discontinued scent from Ebay and it was really horrible and not at all as I remembered. It's hard to describe the smell of old, off perfume... just sort of musky-alcohol bad--I guess you'd say it's lost all of it's top notes. It's really a bummer if you miss an old favorite scent and think you can find on Ebay or something.

    • sparkleyfinger profile imageAUTHOR

      Lynsey Hart 

      14 months ago from Lanarkshire

      Hi Lila, if you read the article it will give you some tips on how to identify whether the scent has spoiled and how to use it if so. Thanks for visiting and leaving your comment.

    • profile image

      Lila Reaume 

      14 months ago

      Hi : I have a bottle of Chanel #5 and its around the four year old mark ; do you think useable ? Was exspensive but if gone bad ; it cant be worn . Thanks

    • sparkleyfinger profile imageAUTHOR

      Lynsey Hart 

      16 months ago from Lanarkshire

      Hi Cee, yes it is Secret Fantasy and it is from Avon. Not sure if they still do it though.

    • profile image

      Cee 

      16 months ago

      Do you know the name of the perfume in front and the fuschia bottle with the S on it. ?

    • sparkleyfinger profile imageAUTHOR

      Lynsey Hart 

      17 months ago from Lanarkshire

      Hi Virginia, if it was me, I would check the manufacture date using the link in the hub. If it is old I'd try to return it. Hope this helps.

    • profile image

      Virginia hacker 

      17 months ago

      I have just bought some eaude toilette spray from fragrance ware house I bought some enigma , it does not look like my old one and the smell is not the same this one is reddish brown in colour , and my original one was very light in colour , what should I do .

    • sparkleyfinger profile imageAUTHOR

      Lynsey Hart 

      21 months ago from Lanarkshire

      Hi Shane, I'm afraid I couldn't really answer this. I mean, if the fragrance has been discontinued, then it means that the ebay seller has some old stock, which may have deteriorated. Depending on storage conditions, it may smell ok, but it may not... You could always order a bottle, try it out and if it doesn't smell right, ask for a refund?

    • profile image

      Shane 

      21 months ago

      Hi, I have always loved mens Kenneth Cole Signature cologne. I can't buy it in stores anymore, but EBay sales them sealed in the box new. Would it be worth the gamble to buy this?

    • profile image

      Alice 

      21 months ago

      Hi,I have a perfume,it's Eau de Perfume Vaporisateur L'arte di Gucci,it's about 25 years old,is it still useable?I can't tell by the smell because it's been years since I use it,and I can't tell by the colour too since the bottle is black.

    • profile image

      Jaime hidrogo 

      23 months ago

      Since I was a kid I love to wear fresh scents but now I'm mature person I'd like to know what kind of fragrances are suitable for one person over fifty

    • sparkleyfinger profile imageAUTHOR

      Lynsey Hart 

      24 months ago from Lanarkshire

      Hi Antigone, thanks for dropping by and leaving your comment. Unfortunately I haven't heard of any ways of rejuvenating an old bottle, so if you find anything, please let us all know!

    • profile image

      Antigone 

      24 months ago

      Hello; I found your blog entry here while searching for a way to restore spoiled fragrance; I'm letting mine air out overnight in the hope that it will make a difference. If not, at least I'm a collector and adore the set nonetheless though it would have been phenomenal if the juice hadn't lost it's 'joie de vivre'. (It's first-edition Niki de Saint Phalle). Ah, well, perhaps she will revive and perhaps not. Fortunately, it still adds sentimental and historical value to my collection.

      As Robert Frost said, "Nothing gold can stay".

      Great topic, and thank you for sharing your experience.

    • sparkleyfinger profile imageAUTHOR

      Lynsey Hart 

      2 years ago from Lanarkshire

      Hi Ashley, thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. Yes, the recommended shelf life for most cosmetic type products is 12 months. Some are 18 months. In my opinion, it is to make us feel that we have to replace them quicker than normal. Obviously, they are important in some products, such as makeup, but perfume can last for years!

    • profile image

      Ashley 

      2 years ago

      I noticed that on my perfume bottle it said 12 months. The perfume still smells good, even though I had it for about 4-5 years! Time really does go by quickly.

    • sparkleyfinger profile imageAUTHOR

      Lynsey Hart 

      2 years ago from Lanarkshire

      Hi Rumeur! WOW!!! A bottle from the 80s! Im amazed it has lasted so long! I tend to use my perfume up within a year now, and don't allow myself to buy any more until the last one is done! Well done on keeping a bottle for so long!!

    • profile image

      Rumeur 

      2 years ago

      I have a bottle of perfume from sometime in the '80s!! I went to see "Phantom of the opera" with a friend & I think either in the theater or across the street was a gift shop all things Broadway. Beautiful bottle ( I'd never throw it out for that reason alone) but it actually still smells pretty good. Not quite as strong & long lasting. I don't think they make it anymore either. I'll be sad when it is all

    • sparkleyfinger profile imageAUTHOR

      Lynsey Hart 

      2 years ago from Lanarkshire

      Hi Adrienne, if it still smells ok, and you are happy to use it, then I don't see why not!

    • profile image

      Adrienne yee 

      2 years ago

      I have a perfume that I really like and I don't think it is sold anymore. I want to keep using it but it has changed color and has gone a bit milky. It smells fine though and I don't have type of allergic reaction to it. Is it fine to keep using it or should i toss it?

    • sparkleyfinger profile imageAUTHOR

      Lynsey Hart 

      2 years ago from Lanarkshire

      Hi Meia thatnks for stopping by, I'm glad I could help! I was in the same situation, but I have now managed to use everything up and will not allow myself to have more than 4 bottles at a time- 1 cheap one for work, another light, fruity day fragrance and 2 evening fragrances. Means I should get through them all well before they turn bad!

    • profile image

      Meia 

      2 years ago

      I have a really big collection of perfume and I was a bit worried that I wouldn't be able to use it all before the recommended three years of use time was up! Thanks, this page was really helpful.

    • sparkleyfinger profile imageAUTHOR

      Lynsey Hart 

      2 years ago from Lanarkshire

      Thanks for dropping by, Mary, hope you found hat you were looking for.

    • profile image

      mary 

      2 years ago

      I want to get some answers so I read it.

    • profile image

      said 

      2 years ago

      thanks you so much

    • sparkleyfinger profile imageAUTHOR

      Lynsey Hart 

      3 years ago from Lanarkshire

      It is likely that the scent may have changed a bit from their best, but if they still smell good, I don't see why you couldn't use them. Just be careful as your skin may be sensitive to them.

    • profile image

      Suzy 

      3 years ago

      I found some bottles of perfume that belonged to my mother. They are at least 20 years pld. I don't know what they are supposed to smell like so cannot tell if they have spoiled.

    • sparkleyfinger profile imageAUTHOR

      Lynsey Hart 

      3 years ago from Lanarkshire

      Hi City! Thanks for that info- I'm gonna have to try that with some of my other bottles! I have found, though, that plenty of perfumes last longer than recommended, so the sniff test is always a good one!

    • profile image

      City 

      3 years ago

      Yeah there is a code in the bottom of each bottle. Then go to

      http://checkcosmetic.net/ and click the brand name and type in your code. It'll then show which month and year your bottle was manufactured. It also says to use your bottle 3 years from date of manufacture.

    • sparkleyfinger profile imageAUTHOR

      Lynsey Hart 

      4 years ago from Lanarkshire

      I'm sure there is a way to find this out. Maybe a batch number of some kind? But, unfortunately I don't know the secret to that! If you find out, please let me know :-)

    • profile image

      Sarah 

      4 years ago

      I adore Estee by Estee Lauder, I've had it for just under a year and it does not smell bad, but it definitely does not smell as heavenly from when I first got it. I've had strangers stop and ask me what I was wearing (when it was fresh) but not anymore. I was really hoping to find a 'made on' date to determine how long it's been on the store shelves. (was wondering if the possible 'made on' date was in code)

    • sparkleyfinger profile imageAUTHOR

      Lynsey Hart 

      4 years ago from Lanarkshire

      Yes tupac, a timeless classic. Not all perfumes smell bad, they can just lose their power over time. Well done on getting a good run out of your Versace!

    • profile image

      Tupac Shakur 

      4 years ago

      i received a fragrance in 1996 and it still smells good today in 2014. Versace blue jeans

    • sparkleyfinger profile imageAUTHOR

      Lynsey Hart 

      6 years ago from Lanarkshire

      yeah, its so hard to put a timeframe on it! I had a bottle of perfume I got for my 16th birthday that still smelt good when i was 21!! That's why i made this hub, because it is quite hard to tell :)

    • profile image

      Brianna Stuart 

      6 years ago

      I had J-Lo Glow perfume for more than 3 years and it still smells great... If it smelled bad, I would have thrown it out by now thought. Its almost gone, so I'm going to use the rest unless the smell changes I guess.

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