First Aid Kits Expire: Here’s What you Need to Do

Do First Aid Kits Expire?

First aid kits are an important part of being prepared for an emergency. In fact, there are very few things that are more important, but can you just relax once you have one?

Do first aid kits expire? Yes, most first aid kits expire between 3 – 5 years from the date that they’re manufactured. You should periodically inspect the items in your first aid kit to make sure that they haven’t expired. Pay special attention to any medications that may be in your first aid kit.

Let’s look at why we need to inspect our first aid kits periodically to make sure that they’re still good and nothing has expired.

Inspecting First Aid Kits

Inspecting your first aid kits should be a normal part of maintaining your home or emergency kits. It’s not as easy as buying a first aid kit and then calling it good…you need to make sure that first aid kit is still good every once in a while.

Most first aid kits are good for 3 – 5 years but that can change based on a lot of different factors.

If you use a first aid kit a lot then it’s going to need to be replaced much sooner than 3 years. If you store a first aid kit in your car, then it’s probably going to need to be replaced in less than the manufacturer’s recommended date. It just depends on how that first aid kit is used, where it’s stored and what’s inside that first aid kit.

How Often Should First Aid Kits Be Inspected?

WebMD suggests that you should inspect your first aid kits at least annually so you can replace expired and out of date items. I tend to agree.

Inspecting your first aid kits every year is a good rule of thumb. It’s a nice even length of time that isn’t too short but is still short enough to let you catch expired items in a timely manner.

I try to inspect all of my first aid kits in the springtime. I don’t always do it right on time, so sometimes I’m a month early or a month late, but it lets me just remember that during the spring I need to go through my first aid kits. Choose a timeframe that works for you and try to stick to it.

How to Inspect and Maintain a First Aid Kit

Inspecting and maintaining a first aid kit is easy and doesn’t take a lot of time.

Inspecting a first aid kit:

  • Clean any dirt, dust, and stains off of the exterior of the first aid kit.
  • Remove the contents of the first aid kit and lay them out in a clean area so you can inspect each one.
  • Check the use by or expiration date of each item. If it’s expired, remove them from your first aid kit.
  •  Look over each item that’s within its date carefully, if there are any tears, leaks, openings or breaks in the packaging you should get rid of them.
  • If any other items look suspect for any other reason, remove them as well.
  • Replace any items that you removed and repack the first aid kit.

That’s all there is to it! It should only take a couple of minutes a year to make sure that you have an up to date first aid kit that’s ready for an emergency.

I like to keep the expired supplies in a plastic bin rather than just throwing them away. Bandages and things like antibiotic ointment don’t just magically stop working after their expiration dates.

What Expires in a First Aid Kit

Items in your first aid kit can go bad. Items that contain liquids can dry out or be contaminated when they’re used, chemicals can break down and lose their effectiveness, the adhesive on the paper that protects bandages and keeps them sterile can break down and expose them to contaminants. This can be even worse when first aid kits are stored in harsh environments like extreme cold and extreme heat. Sunlight and moisture also affect the packaging of bandages and other sterile items.

Bandages

Most first aid kits have several different types of bandages in them.

Band-aids are normally good for at least 5 years after the manufacture date. You can pull one out and test it to make sure that the adhesive is still good. If there are no stains on the wrappers and the adhesive still works then they should be good.

Sterile and non-sterile gauze don’t really have an expiration date but their packaging needs to be inspected to make sure that they’re still good. If the packaging is wet, moldy, stained, torn, or damaged in another way, it should probably be thrown away. Gauze is cheap so it’s not worth hanging onto if you think it could be contaminated.

Isreali style bandages are sterile and usually have two layers of plastic over them. The expiration date on the outside of the package is really a recommendation in my eyes.

I take the expired ones out of my first aid kit and replace them, but I still hang on to the expired ones just in case I need them at a later date.

Triangular bandages sometimes have an expiration date. They’re usually used as slings, improvised splints, and all kinds of other things.

If they’re expired, I wouldn’t really worry about it. They normally don’t touch a wound directly so unless there is obvious damage to the packaging they should be fine.

Burn bandages have an expiration because they’re impregnated with a gel that keeps them from adhering to burns. I usually stick to their expiration dates pretty closely since I don’t want to think I’m applying a non-adhering bandage just to have it stick because it was expired.

Hemostatic Bandages (Celox, QuikClot, etc.) are good when the outer package isn’t damaged and they haven’t expired. I always replace old hemostatic bandages because they’re too important to not have them work when you would actually need them.

Instant Cold Compresses

Instant ice packs have an expiration date that’s normally about 3 years after the date of manufacture.

I always just throw old instant cold compresses out once they’ve expired. There have been several times when I tried to use an old instant cold compress and they just didn’t work.

You can still hang onto them if you want, but my experience with them after they get old hasn’t been that great.

Gloves

Do latex gloves expire? Latex gloves are actually pretty delicate. They can fail even if they’re still sealed in the outer sterile wrapping.

Take gloves out of your first aid kits when they expire or if the outer wrapper is torn, damaged or has gotten wet.

Medications

Medications like aspirin and ibuprofen are required by law to have expiration dates on them. These dates are usually a lot earlier than when they would actually start to lose their effectiveness.

The Food and Drug Administration found that most medications could be extended at least a year past their expiration dates and many could be extended even further. Things like heat and humidity can decrease the amount of time that they are good for.

I always replace expired medications just because I want to make sure that they’re as effective as possible if I need them. I still hang onto expired pain relievers because I’d rather have slightly less effective pain relievers if I need them rather than not have any at all.

Other medications like sting and bite kits, antibiotic ointments, and hydrocortisone creams should also be replaced when they expire. Like most other common items in a first aid kit, they only lose their effectiveness as they age and don’t technically “go bad”.

Tape

The adhesive on tape can easily break down in extreme temperatures. I’d suggest testing a small piece to see if it’s still sticky.

If the tape has water damage, any stains, or is no longer sticky then it should be replaced.

Scissors / Forceps / Tweezers / Sterile Blades

Metal items like scissors, tweezers, and scalpels don’t expire per se, but they can get contaminated and no longer be sterile. If the packaging is wet (or has gotten wet), torn, opened, or damaged in any other way, then assume that they’re not sterile and can’t be used for any application that needs sterile instruments.

Can You Use Out of Date First Aid Supplies

Eventually, everything can go bad in your first aid kit, but just because the packaging says it’s expired does that mean that you can’t use it anymore? That’s a good question and the answer is “it depends.”

Bandages

Band-aids are good until they’re obviously damaged or they won’t stick anymore. I don’t remember seeing any expiration dates on band-aid boxes, but if you run into one with an expiration date, you can continue to use them after that date.

Sterile and non-sterile gauze is usable after the expiration date if they’re still in good shape. I usually just assume that sterile gauze isn’t sterile any more after the expiration date, but keep using it as non-sterile gauze after that date.

Isreali style bandages should still be good after the expiration date. They’re double-wrapped which helps keep them sterile for longer.

If you have any doubts, you can just consider them to not be sterile anymore and use them as a bandage instead of a sterile dressing.

Triangular bandages are really just a piece of cloth so you can keep using them after they expire. Even if the packaging is damaged, I suggest keeping them around since they’re great for a bunch of non-medical things as well.

Hemostatic Bandages (Celox, QuikClot, etc.) should get replaced when they’re out of date. If you’re using one, then you need to know that they’re going to work! Don’t risk using expired ones.

Instant Cold Compresses

Instant ice packs can be used after their expiration date but I don’t keep them in first aid kits after that date. In a first aid kit, I want to know they’re going to work right away and for a decent amount of time.

You can just keep them with any old medical supplies you have so they’re there if you really need them in the future.

Gloves

Latex gloves can be used after they expire but you should test them to make sure they’re still strong and aren’t going to just tear the second that you try to put them on.

If you’re not sure about them then just use them to keep paint or other things off your hands while you’re working and don’t use them for medical purposes.

Medications

Medications in your first aid kit should be replaced but you can keep using them after they expire.

Think of the expiration as more of a best by date than a true expiration date. They’ll still be good after the date on the package, they may just not be as effective as they were before.

Tape

You can use expired tape (if you happen to have some with an expiration date) as long as it’s still sticky and hasn’t gotten wet or stained.

Scissors / Forceps / Tweezers / Sterile Blades

Unless they’re corroded, rusted or bent you can keep on using them. They obviously don’t just stop working once they’re opened, but you need to be aware that they’re no longer sterile.

How Do You Dispose of Expired First Aid Supplies?

Most first aid supplies like bandages can be thrown out when they’re expired. You can also call around to veterinary clinics and see if they want them. There’s an animal hospital near me that takes expired bandages for use on animals.

Any medications should be disposed of properly according to the rules in your area. This page from the FDA will help you find a drop off location near you for both prescription and over the counter meds.

Where to Buy Replacement Items for a First Aid Kit

Sourcing replacement items for a first aid kit can get expensive. If you’re only looking for a couple of aspirin packets then you’re probably going to have to but 50 or 100 of them.

I like to try to buy refill kits instead of buying each piece individually. A lot of the time you can find refills for first aid kits for much cheaper than the cost of buying separate pieces.

The best part is you’ll have a bunch of leftover first aid supplies that you can use to replace old items in other kits or have on hand in case you need them later on.

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