Just about every woman has an old box of tampons lurking in the back of her bathroom cabinet somewhere. Although this can be a lifesaver if you get your period unexpectedly, you may want to pause before you open that box — if a tampon is expired it can spell bad news for your health.
Experts say tampons generally expire after five years. Sometimes, they'll have visible signs that they've gone bad. According to Healthline, you should never use any tampon that has visible discoloration, patchiness, or odor. But here's the scary thing: Expired tampons might not look any different than non-expired ones in some cases. Even scarier: Mold and harmful bacteria can sneak into your tampons after they've expired. Sometimes, they even hide behind the applicators. Eek!
It's crucial to look for the expiration date either on the box or in the manual inside. (Psst: In case you're wondering, experts say pads also usually expire after about five years so follow this same protocol for sanitary napkins.) If you can't find an expiration date anywhere for a particular brand of tampons or pads, it's best to go with the ol' "when in doubt, throw it out" trick. Better than risking bad bacteria and mold in your private parts, if you ask us.
According to Women's Health, mold and bacteria in expired feminine products can cause serious irritation and itching "down there," as well as increased discharge. In the worst-case scenario, you might even get an infection. But here's the good news: You most likely won't need antibiotics, as long as you remove the expired tampon or pad shortly after you notice troublesome symptoms. However, if your symptoms worsen or arise after the fact you should book an appointment with your gyno as soon as you can.
To make your tampons and pads last as long as possible, store them in a cool, dry, and clean space far away from dust or other debris. It's also a good idea to get in the habit of checking new boxes for expiration dates. If they don't list one, you should write the month and year that you bought them on the boxes, especially if you tend to buy feminine products in bulk.
Better safe than sorry — especially when it comes to your health!