Do Vitamins Expire?

Medically Reviewed by Felicia Newell, M.S., RDN

September 12, 2023

Individual vitamins don’t expire. But the “use by” date on vitamin bottles is there for a reason—the vitamin’s potency can reduce over time.

In this article, we explain the “use by” dates for vitamins, how to store vitamins to extend their shelf life, and how to properly dispose of them when they’ve hit that expiration date.

How Long Do Vitamins Last?

The shelf-life of vitamins varies largely depending on the specific type and quality of the product, with most vitamins having a shelf life of around two years when stored properly (more on this later). Here are some factors that go into a vitamin’s shelf life:

The Type of Vitamin

Vitamins in tablet, capsule, or softgel forms tend to be the most stable. Whereas chewables, gummies, powders, tinctures, and other liquids tend to be less stable. 

Tablets, capsules, and softgels pack in or enclose the ingredients, while powder and liquid vitamins are more exposed. This means more potential opportunities for oxidation and introduction of microbial growth by the user or their environment over time. Clean hands and secure packaging can go a long way to mitigate these things. 

Chewable vitamins and vitamin gummies absorb more moisture than vitamins in tablet form so they tend to degrade faster.

The Ingredients in the Vitamin

The ingredients inside the vitamin can also determine whether it has a longer or shorter shelf life. For example, oils (think: fish oil, flaxseed oil, hemp oil) will naturally oxidize over time.

Another example is probiotics—a supplement where the strain can greatly impact the shelf life. Different strains of probiotics have different sensitivity levels, which can prevent or allow them to be freeze-dried. This is what differentiates refrigerated probiotics from shelf-stable probiotics. It’s also important to remember there are probiotics that are composed of live bacteria and some that aren’t.

The Packaging

Tamper-evident packaging and a cap with a threaded design are critical features for achieving a truly tight seal. This is paramount for keeping the vitamin or supplement ingredients safe and fresh.

It’s important to check if your vitamin has a desiccant—a substance that absorbs moisture. Keeping that in the container will help preserve your vitamin or supplement.

Nevertheless, it's essential to note that vitamins can diminish in potency over time, even when stored exactly how the manufacturer suggests. Always check the “best before” or “use by” date on the bottle to ensure effectiveness.

How Do I Know When a Vitamin Expires?

To identify the expiration of a vitamin, you should look for the “best before” or “use by” date on the jar or bottle. This is usually stamped or printed near the bottom or side.

After this date, the vitamins may lose their potency and not provide the health benefits stated on their packaging. To maintain their effectiveness for as long as possible, store in a cool, dry place away from sunlight.

Is It Safe to Take Expired Vitamins & Supplements?

While expired vitamins and other supplements aren’t necessarily harmful, they can lose their potency over time. In the context of vitamins and dietary supplements, potency refers to the degree of strength of the active ingredients they contain. This term is often used to indicate the level of health benefits one can expect from a given supplement. 

A highly potent vitamin supplement will deliver a significant quantity of active ingredients, and a supplement with low potency may not provide the desired health benefits—especially if its active components have degraded over time due to improper storage.

This drop in effectiveness can make them less beneficial when taken for specific nutritional needs or health benefits. In other words, it’s best to take supplements before the expiration date to get the most health benefits.

What Are the Side Effects of Taking an Expired Vitamin or Supplement?

Taking expired vitamins and supplements is generally not recommended for a few reasons:

  • Vitamins may lose their potency and effectiveness over time, leading to a lower intake of essential nutrients.
  • The stability of certain compounds in vitamins can become negatively affected—potentially resulting in unwanted side effects (think: stomach discomfort or nausea). In extreme cases, taking expired supplements that contain fats (like fish oil or flaxseed oil) may result in rancidity, posing a risk of food poisoning.

If the vitamin in question has an abnormal smell or has undergone a noticeable color change, it’s best not to consume it. Promptly—and properly—dispose of it and purchase a fresh supply.

What’s the Best Way to Store Vitamins?

Vitamins should be kept in their original containers and stored in a cool, dry place.

You may be tempted to store your vitamins in your bathroom or kitchen for routine purposes, but these are actually two of the worst storage locations. The bathroom and kitchen typically have more heat and humidity than other rooms. In fact, the humidity in your kitchen or bathroom can get higher than 98 percent (1).

If you can, opt for a linen closet or bedroom drawer.

Here are a few other tips when it comes to storing vitamins:

  • Avoid exposing them to light. Some vitamins—like vitamin A and vitamin D—will lose their potency after prolonged exposure.
  • Ensure the lids are tightly closed to prevent exposure to air.
  • Check the label to see if the vitamin requires refrigeration. Vitamins like fish oil, probiotics, and vitamin E may require this.

How Should I Dispose of Expired Vitamins?

Expired vitamins should be disposed of in a responsible manner to prevent environmental contamination. It's not advisable to flush them down the toilet or sink as they can contaminate water sources.

Instead, the FDA recommends the following process (2):

  1. Mix the vitamins with a substance like used coffee grounds or cat litter.
  2. Place this mixture into a sealed plastic bag or container.
  3. Dispose of the bag in your regular household trash.

Alternatively, you can check online to see if your city offers a drop-off service for hazardous/medical waste.

Lauren Manaker
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Lauren Manaker

Lauren Manaker is an award-winning registered dietitian (RDN), certified lactation educator (CLE), author, and speaker with over 20 years of experience. She earned her BS in Food Science and Human Nutrition from the University of Florida (go Gators!) and an MS in Clinical Nutrition from Rush University in Chicago.

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    Medical Disclaimer

    This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Dr. Chad Walding nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement, or lifestyle program.

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