How To Know If Your Essential Oils Have Expired (In 5 Seconds Or Less)

Photo by @Madeleine_Steinbach

Essential oils are packed with some pretty amazing healing benefits—but alas, nothing lasts forever.

Just like the oils we cook with, essential oils do eventually "go bad." While an expired oil won't be dangerous to use per se, it will lose its potency and become just another good smell—or a not-so-great one. "Expired oils will smell nasty!" says Mariza Snyder, D.C., a functional medicine practitioner and author of Smart Mom's Guide to Essential Oils. "If it smells like something you don't want to put on yourself, you probably shouldn't."

Though Snyder adds that if you're not sure what a high-quality oil smells like in the first place, you might not be able to tell when one has gone rancid based on scent alone. In that case, it's worth noting the shelf life of a few common types of oils. (For all you chemistry nerds out there, different categories of oils have different structural compounds, which dictate how quickly they go bad—pretty cool!):

  • Citrus (monoterpenes or oxides): 4 years
  • Florals (phenols): 3 to 5 years
  • Calming scents like jasmine or clary sage (ketones or esters): 5 to 7 years
  • Woody scents like vetiver and sandalwood (sesquiterpenes): They just get better over time!

"The quality of oil definitely plays a big role in the shelf life," Snyder adds, so if you want your oil to last a while, you'll want to make sure you're buying one that isn't made using additives or carrier oils.

More telltale signs that an oil will last? It'll be packaged in a dark bottle (too much light can deteriorate your oils over time), have an orifice reducer (because oils will go bad quicker when they're exposed to oxygen), and be clearly marked with the plant's Latin name and expiration date. "Not all oils have expiration dates on them, which really concerns me," Snyder says. "If they don't, you really don't know what you're working with."

Choosing a high-quality oil is the first step, and from there you need to make sure you're taking proper care of your new sensory sidekicks. It's pretty simple: Just keep the bottles closed when they're not in use—remember what I said about oxygen exposure?—and don't leave them out in really hot places if you can avoid it.

If you do have oils that are on the verge of going bad, it's time to dust off their bottles and put those babies to work. The quickest way to do so is by mixing up a home cleaner. Simply add the antimicrobial oil of your choice (like lemon or orange) to a mixture of distilled vinegar and water. Here's one smell-good recipe to get started with.

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