Can Essential Oils Go Bad? Tips to Extend Their Life

Can Essential Oils Go Bad? Tips to Extend Their Life

Discover if essential oils go bad and learn how to prolong their shelf life with our expert tips. Keep your oils fresh and effective.

Essential oils have long been prized for their aromatic and therapeutic qualities, dating back centuries in various cultures around the world. Unfortunately, like all natural products, essential oils do succumb to time's wear-and-tear. In this article, we explore their shelf life, impactful factors, and effective strategies for prolonging it.

Essential Oils and Oxidation

Oxidation is an integral factor that determines the shelf life of essential oils. When exposed to oxygen, essential oils undergo chemical reactions which change their composition - leading to decreased effectiveness and altered scent, often producing less-than-pleasant scents. Oxidation also increases skin irritation risk when using essential oils.

Essential oils contain volatile compounds that are vulnerable to oxidation. This process occurs through interaction between these volatile molecules and oxygen molecules, leading to peroxides and other reactive substances being formed that alter properties and diminish therapeutic benefits of an oil.

Factors Accelerating Oxidation

  • Air Exposure: When opening an essential oil bottle more often, more air exposure occurs, increasing oxidation rates.
  • Light Exposure: Ultraviolet (UV) light has the capability of destabilizing essential oils' chemical structures and making them more prone to oxidation.
  • Heat Exposure: Exposure to high temperatures can accelerate the evaporation of volatile components found in essential oils, thus decreasing their potency and shelf life.

How Can I Extend the Shelf Life of Essential Oils?

Proper storage is key when it comes to extending the shelf life of essential oils, as minimizing their exposure to air, light, and heat can significantly extend their usability. Here are some practical suggestions:

Storage Tips

  • Utilize Dark Glass Bottles: Amber or cobalt blue bottles provide the optimal environment to protect essential oils from UV light exposure, and should be used when storing essential oils.
  • Tighten Caps: To ensure airtight storage conditions for essential oils, ensure bottle caps are tightly closed when placing in storage.
  • Cool, Dark Place: For maximum efficacy, essential oils should be stored in an area with consistent temperatures such as a cabinet or refrigerator. Be mindful not to store them near windows or in bathrooms where temperatures might fluctuate rapidly.
  • Use Smaller Bottles: If you have large quantities of essential oils, break up into multiple smaller bottles. This reduces how often air comes into contact with the oil when opening or re-closing a bottle and allows more of it to penetrate through.

Enhancing Antioxidants

Essential oils may benefit from adding natural antioxidants like vitamin E or rosemary extract, which can slow the rate of oxidation.

What Are the Shelf Lives of Essential Oils?

Shelf lives for essential oils can vary significantly depending on their chemical makeup and type. Here is a general guideline:

  • Citrus Oils: (e.g., Lemon, Orange, and Grapefruit) should last between 1-2 years for best results.
  • Essential Oils High in Monoterpenes: such as Pine Needle, Cypress, and Juniper are usually safe up to 2-4 years.
  • Essential Oils High in Aldehydes: such as Lemongrass and Citronella have 2-3 year shelf lives.
  • Essential Oils High in Esters: (Lavender and Roman Chamomile) should last for 4-5 years.

Several Factors Impacting Essential Oil Quality

These factors include:

Harvesting and Distillation

Essential oil quality starts with its raw plant material, extraction method and harvesting technique. Accurate harvesting times and methods, along with accurate distillation processes are crucial in producing high-grade oils.

Storage Conditions

As previously discussed, storage conditions of essential oils play a significant role in their shelf life and degradation of product over time. Improper storage may result in rapid degradation.

Purity and Adulteration

Pure essential oils that are free from additives or contaminants generally have longer shelf lives, whereas adulterated ones containing carrier oils or synthetic compounds may deteriorate more quickly.

Package Your Oil for Maximum Integrity

High-quality airtight packaging can protect oil's integrity from exposure to air and light, helping preserve its freshness.

What to Do with "Expired" Essential Oils

Do you find yourself with expired essential oils that have outlived their usefulness? There may still be an array of applications for them - do not throw them out just yet - they may provide another useful purpose than you thought! Here are a few ideas of ways these expired oils could still provide value:

Household Cleaning

Essential oils contain antimicrobial properties that make them highly effective at household cleaning applications. Use essential oils to add a pleasant scent to your cleaning solutions for a refreshing scent in your home and add just a few drops for daily freshening of your space.

Insect Repellent

Essential oils like peppermint, eucalyptus and citronella are effective natural ways to repel insects. Even once expired they can help keep pests at bay.

Aromatherapy Blends

Although expired essential oils may no longer be appropriate for therapeutic use, they can still be used in diffusers to give your home a pleasant scent.

Craft Projects

Create fragrant aromatherapy items at home using recycled essential oils in homemade candles, soaps and potpourri projects using expired essential oils as part of craft projects.

Are There Any Risks Associated with the Use of Expired Essential Oils?

Utilizing expired essential oils can pose several risks, particularly regarding skin irritation and allergic reactions. As oils oxidize over time, their constituent compounds become more likely to produce adverse reactions when applied directly onto skin surfaces.

Skin Sensitivity

Oxidized essential oils may cause greater skin sensitivities or allergic reactions when applied topically, making a patch test essential before using older oils topically.

Reduced Effectiveness

Over time, essential oils become less therapeutically useful as their efficacy deteriorates. Expiry may rob them of their therapeutic effects, rendering them ineffective for aromatherapy or medicinal applications.

Signs of Essential Oil Spoilage

Understanding the signs that an essential oil has gone bad is key for protecting against potential health hazards. Here are some signs an essential oil has gone sour:

  • Noteworthy Changes in Aroma: An unusual or rancid-smelling odor often indicates oxidation.
  • Changed Color: Discoloration can be a telltale sign of degradation and should be seen as an early warning signal.
  • Changes in Consistency: Noticeably thicker or viscous oil indicates spoilage.
  • Substance Contamination or Spoilage: Any presence of sediment or particles at the bottom of a bottle indicates contamination or spoilage.

How to Extend the Shelf Life of Essential Oils

Adopting best practices for storage and usage will extend the shelf life of essential oils:

  • Consistent Storage: Store your oils in an environment which offers stable temperatures to minimize temperature variations.
  • Utilize Bottles within One Year: For optimal freshness, open bottles should be consumed within a year of opening to ensure maximum freshness.
  • Label Your Oils Clearly: Keep track of their age. A simple way to do this is to include the date of purchase on each label.
  • Proper Handling: To prevent contamination, avoid touching either the dropper or bottle directly, as this will minimize contamination risk.
  • Purchase Tip: It is wise to purchase essential oils in smaller amounts that you can consume quickly in order to minimize long-term storage risks.


Essential oils, while immensely beneficial, are perishable and will deteriorate over time if stored improperly. Understanding factors that contribute to their expiration such as oxidation and exposure to light and heat is essential in maintaining their quality and extending shelf life of essential oils for further use. Always remain wary of signs of spoilage or use them in non-therapeutic applications for added safety and efficacy.