Expiration and effectiveness
Condoms do expire and using one that's past its expiry date can greatly reduce its effectiveness.
Expired condoms are often drier and weaker, so they're more likely to break during intercourse. This puts you and your partner at risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or unwanted pregnancy.
Male condoms that haven't expired are about 98 percent effective if you use them perfectly every time you have sex. No one is perfect, though, so male condoms that haven't expired are actually about 85 percent effective.
These figures will drop drastically if the condom's expired.
The average shelf life of a condom is three to five years, depending on the manufacturer and how it's stored. Read on to learn more about why they expire, how to determine whether a condom is safe to use, how to store them properly, and more.
Why do condoms expire?
Condoms expire just like many other medical products. Certain factors, however, influence why and how quickly they expire.
Wear and tear from years spent in a pocket, purse, wallet, or glove box can work at a condom's strength. That's why it's important to keep condoms stored in a safe place - preferably not your bathroom - away from heat, humidity, and any sharp objects.
The type of material you prefer makes a difference in how quickly they expire, too. Natural materials like lambskin break down faster than synthetic materials like latex and polyurethane.
Chemical additives like spermicide can shorten a condom's life span by several years. Spermicide takes up to two years off the usage span for latex and polyurethane condoms.
It's unclear whether lube or added flavorings affect expiration, so use caution. If you see any signs of wear and tear or notice an unusual odor, toss the condom and get a new one.
Does the type of condom matter?
Even if a condom is stored perfectly, its rate of expiration is still influenced by the material it's made from and whether it's been manufactured with any additives that shorten its life span.
Latex and polyurethane
Natural latex and polyurethane condoms have the longest shelf lives. They can last up to five years, and they're more resilient than some other condoms in the face of wear and tear.
These condoms have a slightly shorter shelf life - just three years - when packaged with spermicide. Although spermicide is a great tool against unwanted pregnancy, it causes latex and polyurethane to degrader faster.
Polyisoprene condoms are just behind latex condoms. Condoms made with this type of artificial rubber can last up to three years with proper storage. Additives like spermicide can also shorten this condom's lifespan.
Natural and non-latex
Non-latex, natural condoms - such as lambskin or sheepskin - have the shortest shelf life. They only last one year from the date they're manufactured. It's unclear whether spermicide or other additives have an effect on expiration. It's also important to note that these condoms don't protect against STIs.
Does storage affect expiration?
Storing condoms in a warm, moist place may affect their performance.
Although many people think they're being sensible if they carry a condom in their wallet or purse at all times, this isn't great from a storage point of view.
A condom that gets too warm can dry out, making it difficult to use and possibly inefficient. Instead of your wallet, use a condom case.
How can you tell whether a condom has expired?
You shouldn't use it if:
- the wrapper is torn, discolored, or leaking lubricant
- it has tiny holes or tears
- it's dry, stiff, or sticky
- it has a foul odor
A condom's expiration date can usually be found on both the box and the individual foil wrapper. It usually reads something like 2022-10. In this example, the condom should protect against STIs or pregnancy through October 2022.
Most packaging includes a second date of when it was manufactured. Although you can use this date to help establish a condom's shelf life, you should always default to the expiration date.
It's a good idea to inspect condoms when you first purchase them and reinspect them occasionally if they're stored for more than six months.
Is using an expired condom safe?
If an expired condom has been stored properly in a cool, dry place, it may still be relatively safe to use. But if you have the option to choose between an expired and unexpired condom, you should always go with the unexpired condom.
If you use an expired condom with miniscule tears or holes, it won't be an effective barrier between bodily fluids. This means that you and your partner are at an even higher risk of STIs or unwanted pregnancy.
Is using an expired condom safer than not using a condom at all?
Using an expired or damaged condom is still better than not using a condom at all, because it will offer some protection against STIs or unwanted pregnancy.
Sex without a condom offers no protection against STIs. And unless you or your partner use another form of birth control, you're not protected against unwanted pregnancy, either.
Still, it's better to discard condoms past their expiry date and replenish your stock with new condoms. Using a new condom gives you and your partner the greatest possible protection against STIs or unwanted pregnancy.
How can you ensure your condoms remain effective?
The ideal storage conditions for condoms are in a cool, dry place at home, away from sharp objects, chemicals, and direct sunlight.
You shouldn't keep a condom in your pocket, wallet, or purse for more than a few hours. Constant shuffling and other friction can result in wear and tear and make condoms less effective.
Extreme heat - around 104°F (40°C) - can make latex weak or sticky. As a rule of thumb, avoid storing condoms in places where the temperature can vary. This includes near a window, furnace, and in your car.
Exposure to ultraviolet light can ruin condoms in only a few hours.
Check the expiration date on your condoms regularly and replace them before they reach that date.
You should also check the wrapper for holes before use. To do this, squeeze the wrapper and see if you feel any little air bubbles. If you do, toss it!
At home, keep your condoms in a cool, dry place, like a bedside table drawer or on a shelf in your closet. You can put one in your jacket pocket or purse when you go out, but keep it separate from your keys and other sharp objects.
The bottom line
While an expired condom is better than no condom at all, only a condom that's been stored correctly, hasn't reached its expiration date, and is used perfectly typically offers 98 percent protection against STIs or unwanted pregnancy.
You may also find it beneficial to keep emergency contraception (EC) on hand. Although EC shouldn't be used as your primary birth control, it can help prevent pregnancy if you had to use an expired condom or if your condom breaks during use.
Using a secondary form of birth control can also reduce your risk of unwanted pregnancy.