Expired Tylenol

What To Do With Expired Tylenol

Depending upon who you talk to, expired Tylenol should either be tossed out as soon as the expiration date has been reached, or may be kept for use by your grandchildren when they reach adulthood. As it turns out, the real answer is somewhere in between, although throwing out the medication soon after the expiration date has occurred seems to make a lot more sense.

We're sometimes suspicious when an appliance conks out the day after its warranty expires, and things like that do happen at times. We're certain the manufacturer has built obsolescence into the product, so we'll be needing to buy a new appliance in just a few years. There may be some truth to that, but most manufacturers like to take pride in their products. My Toyota pickup, which has 298,000 miles on the odometer, would be a case in point.

Not Good Today, Bad Tomorrow - As far as medications and over the counter drugs are concerned, the expiration date is not the date the product ceases to work or becomes sour. Expired Tylenol will do just as good a job as a new bottle if the expiration date is still fairly recent.

Admittedly, the expiration date may be somewhat of a marketing ploy. If you don't regularly take Tylenol, or aspirin for that matter, a nearly full container could sit in your medicine cabinet for years. It's a sort of out-of-sight out-of-mind kind of thing. Most of us aren't in the habit of periodically going through our pills and medications, including vitamin pills, and throwing out those which have expired. That kind of an exercise is a very good idea, but chances are 90% of what has presumably passed its prime is as good as ever, and rarely harmful even if some of the potency has been lost.

One of the few exceptions to the rule are nitroglycerin tablets, the ones used by heart patients. They tend to deteriorate rapidly once the bottle is opened, and deteriorate slowly in any event, usually being of little value a year or two after having expired.

The Maytag Syndrome - One very good reason behind a drug company's choice of an expiration date, is their products are often undergoing continual changes and improvements. Each time an improvement is made, the product has to undergo testing, including testing to validate the legitimacy of the expiration date. To help pay for this ongoing testing, the company needs to push sales of its product, so is unlikely to put a stamp on the box or bottle that says it is good for 20 years, which might indeed be the case. Instead, most settle for a 2-year expiration date.

Multiple Choice - Getting back to the original topic, as to whether a bottle of expired Tylenol should be used or not. There are really three answers, and you can take your pick.

 The first answer is, “it's better to be safe than sorry” or put another way, “if in doubt, throw it out”.

 The second answer is, the likelihood of Tylenol losing its potency in the year or two following its expiration is minimal, and the likelihood of its being harmful is smaller yet.


The third answer, and probably the best, is if the product is more than one year past its expiration date, throw it out. If within a year, it should be safe to take. Then throw it out.

A Piece Of Advice - Here's a thought. Mark a day on your calendar, the same date each year, to go through your medications and vitamin pills and throw out all the expired products, unless they cost an arm and a leg, in which case talk to your doctor. If you haven't used something in a year, why are you keeping it?  “Just in case” isn't really a good answer in most cases.