What happens to bottled water after 2 years?

Bottled water has become incredibly popular over the last few decades, with many people choosing it over tap water for drinking. There are a variety of reasons people prefer bottled water, including perceived purity, safety, convenience and taste. However, there has been some debate over the effects of storing bottled water for extended periods of time. So what exactly happens when you keep bottled water for 2 years or more after the printed expiration date?

Does bottled water expire?

Bottled water does not exactly “expire” in the way that milk or other food products do. This is because water itself does not spoil or become unsafe to drink. Having said that, there are some changes that can occur to bottled water over time:

– Loss of taste: The chemicals and minerals added to bottled water to achieve a specific taste profile can degrade over time. This can make the water taste “off” or flat.

– Plastic leaching: There is some evidence that suggests chemicals from plastic bottles can leach into the water over time, especially if stored in warm or sunny conditions.

– Bacterial growth: Bottled water is not sterile. Given enough time, bacterial growth may occur inside the bottle. Normally this is not an issue within the 2 year shelf life.

So while expired bottled water won’t make you sick, the taste, smell and appearance can degrade over time. Many experts recommend consuming bottled water within the 2 year “best by” date printed on the label.

Taste changes

One of the most noticeable changes when bottled water gets old is a change in taste. The specific taste changes depend on the type and brand of water:

– Purified or distilled water may start to taste flat, metallic or salty. This is due to chemical changes over time as compounds like chlorine degrade.

– Spring or mineral water gets most of its flavor from natural minerals. These can precipitate out of solution over time, leaving the water with less taste.

– Flavored waters can lose their added flavors like fruit or herbs relatively quickly. The aroma chemicals that provide the flavors are volatile and break down.

– Carbonated waters lose their fizz rather quickly. The dissolved CO2 bubbles escape from the water slowly through the plastic bottle.

So while expired bottled waters won’t be toxic, they very well may be less palatable than when originally purchased. If you notice a plastic-like, salty, flat or generally “off” taste, the bottled water is likely past its prime.

Changes in smell

Along with a degradation in taste, bottled water can also start to smell strange as it ages. Changes in smell tend to parallel the taste issues:

– Purified waters may smell plasticky or like chemicals. This can be caused by the breakdown of chlorine and plastic leaching.

– Spring/mineral water may start to smell salty, metallic or generally unpleasant. This occurs as the natural mineral content changes.

– Flavored waters may smell artificial, bitter or like chemicals as the flavoring components break down.

– Carbonated water may smell flat or like plastic due to the loss of carbonation and potential leaching.

Usually if bottled water smells odd or unpleasant, it is a sign it is too old to enjoy. Odors like plastic, chemical or rotten are red flags. Some odor change is inevitable, but if it is very pronounced the water has likely expired.

Clarity changes

Along with changes in taste and odor, the clarity or appearance of bottled water can change as it ages:

– Cloudiness – Particles can eventually precipitate out of solution, making the water look cloudy or opaque.

– Discoloration – Some bottled waters may turn slightly yellow or brown over time. This can indicate leaching from plastic or chemical changes.

– Particulates – Flakes, specks or bits floating in old bottled water may be precipitated minerals or mold growth.

– Bottle shape – Bottles can swell or collapse as chemical changes affect the plastic.

– Label tearing – Expired water often has tattered, peeling or illegible labels.

While clarity changes don’t necessarily make the water unsafe, they are a tip-off it may be past its prime. Use your eyes to look for changes before taking a sip.

Is it safe to drink bottled water 2 years after the expiration date?

In most cases, it is likely safe to drink bottled water even 2 years after the printed expiration date:

– The water itself does not expire or spoil. As long as the seal is intact, bacteria cannot get in.

– Plastic leaching is a minimal concern. There is no evidence 2 year old water causes health issues.

– The bottle and water itself should still be structurally sound and stable at 2 years.

However, there are some caveats:

– The taste, odor and appearance are likely to be degraded. It may be unpleasant.

– For those with sensitive immune systems, extra safety precautions may be warranted.

– Certain types of bottled water with more minerals or carbonation may degrade faster.

Overall there is no definitive “point” at which bottled water becomes unsafe – it’s more a steady decline. Use your judgment taking into account taste and smell. But in general, 2 years past expiration is still likely ok safety-wise if stored properly.

Does bottled water go bad if left in a hot car?

Exposing bottled water to heat speeds up the degradation process considerably. Leaving bottled water in a hot car or outside in summer can impact:

– Plastic leaching – Heat accelerates chemical transfer from bottle to water.

– Carbonation loss – Bottles expand and bubbles rapidly escape from carbonated water in the heat.

– Mineral/chemical changes – Precipitation and changes to the water itself occur faster.

– Bacterial growth – Warmth encourages more rapid microbial growth if present.

– Bottle deterioration – Heat can warp and deform the plastic of the bottle itself.

While bottled water left in heat does not necessarily become unsafe, the taste, smell and quality can deteriorate in as little as a few weeks. This makes it less palatable than water stored in cool, dark conditions. Avoid leaving bottled water in the car on hot days.

Signs your bottled water has expired

Here are some of the most common signs that your bottled water may be past its prime:

– Major changes in taste – Strange flavors like bitter, sour or metallic.

– Noticeable changes in smell – Unpleasant odors including plastic, chemical or musty smells.

– Cloudiness or particles in the water – Hazy appearance or floating pieces.

– Discoloration – Water turning yellow, brown or another color.

– Bottle issues – Swelling, collapsing, deforming or leaks.

– Label damage – Peeling, tearing or illegible printed date.

– Sitting past 2 years – Exceeding the general recommended shelf life.

– Exposed to heat – Left in a hot car or outside for extended time.

While not definitive, these are some red flags that indicate your bottled water may be past its prime and of lower quality. Always inspect and smell before drinking if in doubt.

Does freezing bottled water extend how long it lasts?

Freezing bottled water can help extend its shelf life past the printed expiration date:

– Slows down chemical reactions – Cooler temperatures slow plastic leaching and other degradation.

– Prevents bacterial growth – Freezing temperature stops microbial growth in its tracks.

– Retains carbonation – Frozen carbonated water keeps bubbles intact better than at room temperature.

– Minimizes precipitation – Freezing can prevent minerals from coming out of solution.

– No plastic warping – Hard plastic bottles maintain their shape better when frozen.

When properly frozen and stored, bottled water can potentially last 6-12 months past its expiration date before major changes occur. Letting the water thaw and refrigerating after opening is ideal. Freezing is a good way to store extra bottled water long-term.

How to store bottled water properly

To maximize bottled water’s shelf life and quality once opened, follow these storage tips:

– Refrigeration – Keep refrigerated after opening to slow degradation.

– Avoid heat – Do not leave bottles exposed to direct sunlight or in hot cars.

– Store upright – Leaving caps on and bottles upright helps prevent leaking.

– Use clean containers – Avoid transferring into dirty containers with bacteria.

– Limit air exposure – Leaving space in bottles can encourage bacterial growth.

– Rotate stock – Use oldest bottles first to ensure freshness.

– Check for damage – Inspect regularly for leaks, clarity issues or deformation.

– Follow expiration dates – Consume within the recommended 2 years for best quality.

Proper refrigerated storage and limiting heat exposure keeps bottled water fresher for longer after opening. Discard immediately if you notice any signs of damage or contamination.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you drink bottled water left in a hot car?

It’s not recommended. The heat can cause the water to deteriorate faster and take on a plastic taste/smell. The warm temperature can also encourage more bacterial growth in the bottle.

What happens if you drink expired bottled water?

Most likely nothing serious. While the taste and smell may be off-putting, there is no evidence consuming moderately expired bottled water is dangerous. As long as the seal was intact, the risk is low.

How long can you store bottled water before it goes bad?

About 2 years from the bottling/expiration date if kept at moderate temperatures. After this, degradation in taste, smell and appearance become more likely. Freezing can potentially extend shelf life.

Can bottled water make you sick after the expiration date?

It’s unlikely if the seal was never broken. Bacterial contamination is the primary concern with old water. As long as the cap seal was intact, 2-year-old bottled water is generally safe.

What happens if you drink water from a plastic bottle left in the sun?

The heat can speed up plastic leaching into the water. This isn’t necessarily dangerous, but can cause a chemical taste. The hot temperature also encourages more rapid bacterial growth given enough time.


While bottled water itself does not have an absolute expiration date, taste, smell and quality can degrade past 2 years from bottling. Heat and light exposure accelerate these unfavorable changes. Freezing and proper storage can help maximize shelf life. If kept sealed in moderate conditions, bottled water is likely safe for some time after the printed date. However, it may just not taste great. Use common sense inspecting for odor, appearance and taste changes before consuming very old bottled water.

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