Does Cologne Expire? Yes, but not like you think…


We have all been there. You find yourself finally cleaning out the medicine cabinet or arranging your bathroom when you come across an old bottle of cologne. You wonder why you have forgotten about a scent that you enjoyed so much (and paid a nice sum for) as you wipe the dust from the glass, but right before you spritz yourself you think, “does cologne expire?”

While it can take three to five years for cologne to go bad, it does indeed happen. However, it does not expire in the way you might expect and may even enhance the scent of certain perfumes.

Continue reading as we explore how and why cologne goes bad and what you can do to prolong the shelf life of your favorite scent.

Bottles of cologne on bathroom shelf

Does Cologne Have an Expiration Date?

Have you ever noticed the food you buy in the grocery store often lasts longer than its sell-by-date? For example, even though the package typically has an end date of only a few weeks, the eggs inside will last much longer than that. Expiration dates serve a couple of purposes. Yes, they help buyers know how long they can expect the item to stay good, but they also allow stores to keep track of inventory.

Although most colognes do have expiration dates, they do not go bad on that very day, and will not go bad in the way that you might think. Just like eggs, your cologne will last longer than its sell-by-date. However, exactly how long it will last will depend on several things.

How Can You Tell If Your Cologne Has Expired?

Although you could throw away the bottle if it has reached its technical expiration date, you may be throwing away a lot of money if the cologne is still good. But without an exact date, how can you tell if your cologne has expired?

Test/Checks for ExpirationThings To Look For
Smell TestHas the scent changed? Is it stronger/weaker? Does it smell sour like vinegar?
Color TestHas much of the cologne evaporated? Is the liquid cloudy or darker than normal? Are there particles floating in the cologne?
Check the Period After Opening (POA) NumberTypically found on the back label. Number found inside a symbol of an open bottle. Most colognes are good for a period of 30 months (or two and a half years).
Check the Batch CodeThis number may vary depending on the product. Typically has three to twelve numbers. Special apps can be used to find more information about a certain batch and when it was sold.
Test a Patch of SkinApply a small amount on a small patch of skin. Dispose of cologne if rash or irritation occurs.

Color

Analyzing the color of the liquid is an effective way to distinguish if the cologne is still good. If the bottle is colored, try pouring a slight amount out into the cap or another clear container. If you cannot open the top, spray a generous amount into a clear container.

When air enters the bottle, it causes certain components to evaporate or oxidize, which causes the chemical compositions to change, forcing the smell to change.

Smell

Aside from color, which is often the first thing you will notice, the smell is the most obvious way to test the cologne for expiration. Spray the cologne on a scrap of paper to avoid spraying bad cologne onto your skin or clothing. If the smell has changed in any way from the scent you remember, the cologne has started to go bad. Strong sour or vinegar smells are a clear sign that the spray is no longer useable. Additionally, some colognes will take on a hint of metal when oxidation has occurred.

Check the PAO Number and Batch

If you are still unsure, you can find the Period After Opening (PAO) number. The PAO number represents the number of months that the cologne should stay fresh after being opened. This number is typically located inside of a symbol that looks like an open tin can.

If you are having a tough time remembering when you bought the cologne, and subsequently when you may have opened it, you can find and look up the batch code. The batch code may look different depending on what type of cologne you have, but it typically contains three to twelve numbers. Once located, use an app that allows you to look up the number and it will tell you when that batch was in-stock.

Test a Patch of Skin

Even if the smell and color look good, if you have any doubts, you should test a small amount on a small patch of skin. Test the liquid in an area where you would typically apply the cologne, such as your wrist. Watch the area after applying the cologne and discontinue use if a rash or other irritation occurs. Additionally, if the cologne smelled good in the bottle, but does not smell good once applied, it may be time to dispose of it.

How to Lengthen the Shelf Life of Cologne?

Buying the right scent and storage are both important if you hope to get the most life out of your perfume. Certain scents will break down more slowly than others. For example, scents that have heavy base notes, such as woody or balsamic notes, will last longer than ones with lighter base notes, such as citrus. Still, with the correct storage, even perfumes with lighter notes may last you a few years.

There are a few key rules to follow when storing cologne:

  • Do not store in direct sunlight
  • Avoid storing in a humid area
  • Keep the cologne in its original bottle
  • Replace the cap quickly after use
  • Never shake the bottle
  • Store in a cool, dry, and dark place
  • Avoid storing in an area that is too cold

By following these rules, you can rest assured that you will get the most out of your expensive cologne.

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John Cunningham

John is a writer, classic car and whiskey lover, men's shopping enthusiast and self appointed DIY expert. His greatest passion is repairing in the workshop, making old classics look and run like new again!

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