When you’re putting together a first aid kit, it’s important to make sure that the items you have for use will still be usable when you need them. With things like burn ointments, disinfectants, and rubbing alcohol, it’s easy to see when you will need to replace them—if you ever need to at all. With bandages, things get a little different.
Technically, bandages don’t have an expiration date, but there are still some things to remember when keeping them around long-term, such as the stickiness of the adhesive.
For maximizing shelf life, an airtight metal tin like this one from Amazon is highly recommended. Once you buy a new pack of bandaids, just transfer them over for long-term storage.
Because bandages aren’t meant to be eaten, the industry doesn’t have to put an expiration date on them. But that doesn’t mean you’re always going to be in the clear. Here’s what you need to know about bandaid freshness and how you can make your kit safer than ever.
Do Bandages Go Bad?
If you take a look at any bandage box, you’ll notice that you can’t find an expiration date on them. This is because companies are legally not responsible for adding expiration dates to bandages. When well-kept, bandages can last for years without ever needing to be replaced.
However, that still doesn’t mean bandages can’t expire. If they are so old that the glue that keeps them stuck to the skin no longer functions, they’re expired. Eventually, all unused bandages will need to be replaced. The hard part is figuring out when you need to do it.
Why Bandage Expiration Matters
When you eat expired food, you run the risk of catching foodborne illnesses or having food that tastes bad. The danger of eating expired food is fairly clear, but with typical first aid kit items, it’s a little hazier.
There are three different reasons why you need to keep an eye on your bandages’ expiration dates:
- Stickiness. If the bandage is a self-adhesive type, waiting too long to use the bandages will result in bandages that don’t stick to the skin. Adhesive loses its ability to cling after a couple of years, you know!
- Absorption. If you’re bleeding, there’s a chance that expired bandages will lose the ability to absorb blood as well. This can make it difficult to keep yourself from clotting.
- Sterilization. The biggest concern, though, is the fact that bandages lose their guarantee of sterility after a certain point in time. This can lead to viral, bacterial, and even fungal infections after use.
Simply put, keeping your bandages fresh is both a functional and a safety issue. Ignoring the need to replace the bandages in your first aid kit is not healthy and, at times, downright risky.
Understanding Bandage Type and Expirations
The biggest factor that determines a bandage’s expiration date is the type of bandage. Some bandages don’t really expire, while others do. This quick run-through should explain what you should expect from different bandage types:
- Gauze Bandages- These are the bandages that surgeons use to wrap up patients and are typically held in place with either tape or clips. For the most part, these bandages can hold up for decades as long as they are kept in their packaging.
- Self-Adhesive Bandages- Because there’s glue on self-adhesive bandages, they actually have a shorter lifespan than pure gauze.
How Long Can You Safely Keep Bandages?
The jury is still out on this, and there are some factors that can help keep bandages safe from early rotting. For the most part, it is up to you to determine whether or not it’s time to replace your bandages and update your first aid kit.
That being said, many official groups have procedures in place when it comes to bandage replacement. Most military groups will replace bandages every three to four years. Some will wait for as long as five years before they replace them.
Though somewhat rare, there are some bandage companies that do post expiration dates on their packages. When in doubt, buying those types of bandages and following those guidelines is the safest option.
How To Keep Bandages Fresh For Longer
Though it’s best to replace your bandages on a set schedule, there are storage tips that can potentially extend the lifespan of your bandages. These tips below can help:
- Store them in their packaging. The best way to keep your bandages sterile is to leave them in the packaging they came in. Whether it’s a gauze or self-adhesive bandage, the packaging that the bandages came in is treated to maximize their sterilization life.
- Avoid storing your kit in moist, high-humidity areas. Exposure to dampness is the easiest way to shorten the usable lifespan of a bandage. Dampness encourages bacterial growth and can even cause mold to grow on gauze. This is why storing bandages in the bathroom isn’t a bright idea.
- Have a separate box to store your first aid items. The majority of people already have a specialized first aid box, but some still don’t. Having a first aid kit that’s actually in a box doesn’t just make it easier to find bandages; it also can help keep moisture and other problems away from your gear.
- Maintain your first aid kit’s interior. Keeping your first aid kit clean helps reduce the number of bacteria that your bandages are exposed to. So, every year, just dust it off and wipe it down with some Lysol. To make sure no excess moisture gets in, make a point to drop a desiccant packet in your aid kit to absorb any extra humidity in the air.
- Have a small card that details the purchase date of all your supplies. With all the craziness of everyday life, trying to remember when you last bought bandages for your first aid kit definitely won’t be easy. So, you might as well write down notes about dates involving your kit purchase. This can help you determine whether or not you need to replace or update your gear.
Keeping your first aid kit clean, dry, and well-managed is the best way to make sure you get the most life out of your bandages. Generally speaking, any kind of common-sense work you can do to keep your first aid kit looking pristine is a good idea.
How To Tell If Your Bandages Are Expired
Along with knowing when your last bandage purchase was, there are a couple of other signs you can watch out for when trying to figure out if your first aid gear is past its prime. These include:
- You notice you have yellowed bandage packaging. Does the packaging that your bandages arrive in look aged, perhaps a bit yellow? That’s a sign that it’s been sitting in that position for a very long time. Once the package starts to yellow, it’s time to toss them out.
- The bandages have a strange texture to their glue. This is a sign that can point to both contamination and aging. Toss it out.
- Your bandages have signs of mold on them. At this point, you can’t get a clearer sign that you shouldn’t apply that to an open wound.
- You don’t honestly remember when you last bought bandages. If you can’t remember when you last bought the bandages you have, the best course of action is to toss them out and get new ones. After all, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Of course, if your bandage box has an expiration date that’s already happened, you really don’t need to look for other signs. Those guidelines were put there to keep you safe, so it’s best to follow them to the letter.
For more, check out 11 Effective Substitutes for Soap in the Shower (Or Bath).
Hey, I’m Jim, and I’m the author of this website. I have been teaching people a wide variety of survivalism topics for over five years and have a lifetime of experience fishing, camping, general survivalism, and anything in nature. In fact, while growing up, I spent more time on the water than on land! I am also a best-selling author and have a degree in History, Anthropology, and Music. I hope you find value in the articles on this website. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or input!