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I Might Have to Trash Some Essential Oil Bottles

Essential Oils Have a Shelf Life Surprise

I do NOT like wasting money.

And almost as much, I dislike throwing things away that I spent money on.

Remember that time I tried to save a $20 beanbag that a child had an accident on and ended up breaking our vacuum? That little gem was for readers of my monthly newsletter, but if you’re on that list, I bet you remember the story.

It is the worst feeling in the world, especially as someone who takes pains to recycle every little Post-It note, to know that I let something go bad in the fridge or broke something that was perfectly good or ruined it in some way.

At least this time, I learned my lesson – for once – NOT the hard way. I found some information about essential oil shelf life recently that is going to make a big difference for me and save me from trashing some expensive oils. As I wrote last year, I don’t think people should use essential oils without doing some learning. I feel that’s downright dangerous, and the more I do learn, the more I’ll stand behind that position.

Since then, I finally figured out proper dilution of essential oils (I was not using enough in some instances, too much in others) and honed in even more on what oils are really safe for kids and even babies (and what to use on babies too young for real essential oils). And lately, I’m scraping the surface of something even deeper.

Learning the constituent parts of essential oils is not something I ever really wanted to do. I don’t even know how to put an app on my phone because I’d rather wallow happily in learned ignorance, handing the phone to my husband if I need anything.

But I Don’t Wanna be a Naturopath!

When I hear something like “constituent components of essential oils,” my brain sort of goes off and I stop listening, because I’m thinking, “I only want to know how to use what essential oils for what purposes within my family, not to blend my own or design protocols for other people!”

But it turns out a little more science geek knowledge could be pretty helpful, both in application and purchasing.

For example, one oil I just bought a rather large bottle of only has a shelf life of 1-3 years.

So…that was a rash purchasing decision that I wish I could undo and downsize! Instead, my only choices will be to (a) figure out a very regular way to use it up, which my new diffuser should help with, or (b) give it to my mom, who does use it regularly, and buy a smaller bottle. I’m just glad I learned about shelf life in time for this one! For some of the very first essential oils I received (as blogger samples) back in 2012, it may be too late.

Understanding what’s in the essential oils, their components, is a little like knowing that you don’t use a spaghetti server to dip out soup, nor a ladle for tossing a vegetable sauté. The way the oils are put together determines their proper use and care – kind of like you wouldn’t put your high quality, wooden-handled knife into the dishwasher or scrub your cast iron pan with soap and steel wool.

I’ve been popping in and out of the Using Essential Oils Safely Facebook group lately (if you have even one bottle of EOs in your house, I recommend you join the group in case you ever want to search for information!), and an infographic caught my eye. It showed a “family” of essential oils, what those oils could be used for, and mentioned something about the shelf life.

Shelf life? I thought. What?? I was thinking essential oils were kind of bulletproof, that they didn’t really expire…uh oh…one more thing I didn’t know that I didn’t know…

I ended up reading this excellent post about chemical families, therapeutic properties, and safety considerations over at Learning About EOs. And I learned. If you want to know more than just shelf life, you should definitely hop on over, but for today, I figured I could share with you what I discovered about how long essential oils last and if they “expire.” I also learned why EOs should have a shelf life and what happens to them over time in Retha’s explanation on the Plant Therapy blog, another great read.

The quick summary is that the composition of the oil may change over time, so that if certain active components aren’t as active (or even exist in your oil anymore), your oil won’t be able to have the effect you’re looking for. It’s not like the oils is rancid, like a cooking oil might become, but that it’s just not effective.

Now that I understand the effect of air on essential oils, it makes sense why the diluted oils that I’ll leave in a bowl on my counter don’t have much aroma after a day or two. Once exposed to air, they’re going to basically degrade and become useless. (Note to self – duh! Can’t keep diluted blends around like that for the duration of an illness!)

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Do you know how to properly dilute essential oils?
essential oil dilution chart

Katie here, popping in to tell you how important it is to be sure you’re diluting those essential oils properly.

Sure, you know not to use EOs straight (neat). But do you know the 1-2-3 math so it’s not too strong or weak?

Print this chart to keep with your oils so you never have to do math in the middle of the night when your LO is congested:

You can read more about why it’s so important to dilute essential oils here, and I know the little chart will be helpful!

EDIT: The good news! “Oxidation doesn’t eliminate the therapeutic factor, but the skin-protective factor,” shared by Lea Harris on my Facebook page. So even if your EOs get “old” you can totally still use them in a diffuser, but you just wouldn’t apply them topically. So no trashing, just maybe marking older oils so I don’t use them on the skin.

Shelf Life of Essential Oils

Shelf Life of Essential Oils might be less than you expect

I made a chart of all the info to print out and tape to the inside of my linen closet door where I keep my essential oils, and even though I really made it just for me, I figured I would share it with you too. I still probably won’t actually learn the names of those chemical families (I never took college Chemistry for a reason), but it’s fascinating to get another window into how it all works.

Here’s a graphic of the shelf life chart:

Shelf Life of Essential Oils
Shelf Life of Essential Oils part

If you want to print it too, I’ve found that it’s easier to just email it to people, since the majority of folks are browsing on a mobile device nowadays and can’t always print right then and there. Once it’s in your email, you can always archive and search for it too.

Send Me The Printable Chart!

To make sure your essential oils retain their potency as long as possible, store them with the lid tightly closed, and they should all come in dark glass bottles anyway. Light and air will oxidize them (degrade) faster.

So…don’t be the one who used dishsoap on the cast iron, right?

Know enough about your essential oils to use them right, and within the proper time constraints. This would apply to products you buy that rely on essential oils for active purposes, not just scents, too!!

EDIT: You can extend the shelf life of more volatile oils by refrigerating them. More on that and how to know if your oil has oxidized in this excellent post from Leah Harris of UsingEOsSafely.com.

I’d love to hear from you – what new layers about your essential oils are you learning recently?

Essential Oils and the Brain

Watch this quick video for info on the vagus nerve, how essential oils can be a “backdoor” entry to health, and the importance to your whole family of getting into a parasympathetic state more often:

Can’t see the video? Watch Essential Oils and the Brain here on YouTube.

Grab Jodi’s bonus chapter here.

And the oil she held up in the video is one of her own special blends, appropriately called Parasympathetic. You can get your own hands on some here.

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Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links from which I will earn a commission. See my full disclosure statement here.

14 thoughts on “I Might Have to Trash Some Essential Oil Bottles”

  1. Beverly Boytim

    From what I understand only lower grade essential oils have an expiration date. True high quality essential oils don’t expire…

  2. I feel I also find a lot of conflicting info as well. For example, I read here (and some other places )that tea tree and lavender shouldn’t be used on children under 5,yet other places I read they are some of the only safe ones for that age. Also, it says no rosemary or eucalyptus in kids under 10 but those ingredients are in Baby Vicks. And no menthol for kids either, but again in Vicks (regular kind) it says you can use over age 2. I’ve used both those products in my kids before even knowing this info and they were very safe and effective but now I’m nervous to use an essential oil such as mentioned above on or around them.

  3. I’m still overwhelmed by how to use essential oils, I read reviews online from people using them undiluted or only diluted slightly, especially on the bottom of feet or behind ears or on temples, and yet I think every bottle I have says to dilute to 3-5%. There is so much conflicting info out there I don’t know who or what to believe. I certainly would have never thought that it might be harmful to diffuse certain oils around children or pregnant women.

  4. I have been using pure essential oils for 20 years. Did you know that there were essential oils found in the pyramids? After all that time they were still good. This is the first time I have heard about a shelf life. It would make sense that if an essential oil were mixed with a fatty carrier oil, the fat could go rancid. I would expect that pure essential oils of good quality, that are sealed, stored out of sunlight, in a cool place would last much longer than any diluted essential oil.

  5. Wow, thanks for sharing Katie. I’m new to essential oils and was curious about shelf life but didn’t get to the point of asking yet. Another case of, bigger isn’t always better!

  6. Why are some oils listed multiple times in different families with a different shelf life? Is this an error, or is there a reason for this?

    1. Really good question, Amy! It’s not an error – it’s because those oils actually do contain multiple components, sort of like a muffin can have both eggs and dairy, so if you’re allergic to one, don’t eat the muffin. 🙂 In an oil with two families of varying shelf lives, it means that the component with the shorter shelf life will become ineffective first, then the next one. So your rosemary might lose its ability to kill airborne germs (Monoterpene family) after 2 years but still be able to help with respiratory issues for another year or two (ketones). It’s a lot to wrap your brain around!! 🙂 Katie

  7. I have some oils that are probably 15 years old, but I have replaced those with fresh ones when I want to use them for medicinal purposes. I often make my own soaps and so I use my old oils for scenting these soaps. The funny thing is though that I have used my very old oils in these soaps and have had people tell me how my soap has cleared up rashes they have not been able to get rid of and other things, so I know that these oils are still retaining some of their medicinal qualities even though supposedly they are not ‘good’. So please, don’t just toss your oils because they are a few years old! You can still use them to make many things such as homemade air fresheners, soaps, add to homemade powders and in many other ways!

  8. Check out the Using Essential Oils Safely website. Lea recommends storing your oils in the fridge so they’ll last longer. Scroll to the end of the post. http://www.usingeossafely.com/shelf-life-of-essential-oils-and-how-to-make-them-last-longer/
    Also, if they have expired, you can still use them in your cleaning. Lea’s recipe for All Purpose Killer Paste and Oven Scrub is amazing while being easy and cheap to make! http://www.learningabouteos.com/index.php/2014/02/06/all-purpose-killer-paste-oven-scrub-photo-tutorial/

  9. OMGoodness – never even entered my mind there might be an expiration date…dang it all anyway! Guess it’s time to get those tiny little bitty bottles and start sharing…sigh

    1. Hi Elaine,
      I’ve added to the post since this morning, and the good news that I didn’t completely understand while writing is that oxidation doesn’t eliminate the therapeutic factor, only the skin-protective factor – so “old” oils can still be used for cleaning and even diffusing, just not topically. Yay! 🙂 Katie

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