An ad for tampons pops up on your social media feed. You glance at the calendar, realize you’re feeling more tired than usual, and wonder: “Wait — when was my last period?”
Without fail, these moments always seem to happen when the drugstore is closed. So you dig through your bathroom drawer and find it: a pregnancy test you bought last year. The only problem? You’re not sure if it’s expired — or if pregnancy tests even have an expiration date.
The short answer: Yes, pregnancy tests do expire. Here’s why.
Why do pregnancy tests expire?
First, a quick lesson on how home pregnancy tests work. Home pregnancy tests detect levels of the hormone hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin) in your urine. Your body begins producing hCG once a fertilized egg implants in your uterine wall.
Pregnancy tests work by using antibodies attached to colored labels to bind hCG, which results in a color change at the test line. This traditionally occurs with the appearance of marker lines, or in the case of the Clearblue® Digital Pregnancy Test, the line is read by an optical sensor, which then displays the result as the words “Pregnant” or “Not Pregnant” on an LCD screen.1,2
The antibodies and other components used in home pregnancy tests to detect hCG don’t last forever — hence the expiration date. Once a test has hit its expiration date (typically one to three years after it was manufactured), the antibodies aren’t as good at detecting hCG. And that can cause problems, particularly in the form of false negatives.
When do pregnancy tests expire?
The expiration date for a pregnancy test depends on the manufacturer. Pregnancy tests are required to have an expiration date somewhere on the package. You can find the expiration date for all Clearblue® pregnancy tests clearly marked in two places:
- The bottom of the box
- The foil wrapper of each test stick
This means it’s totally fine if you take tests out of the box — but you should never unwrap a test until you’re ready to use it. Clearblue® pregnancy tests should be stored in their foil wrappers until they’re ready to be used immediately.
The expiration date is based on when the test was manufactured. It’s important to check the expiration date when you buy your test; the expiration date may be sooner than you expect. Make sure to check the expiration date every time you test as well. A two-pack of tests you purchased more than a year ago could have unexpectedly expired.
Do digital pregnancy tests expire?
Yes. Since digital pregnancy tests work the same way that all home pregnancy tests work — by detecting levels of the hormone hCG in your urine — the antibodies and other components in the test can lose efficacy. Clearblue® Digital Pregnancy Tests contain an expiration date on both the bottom of the box and on the foil wrapper for each test stick.
Do expired pregnancy tests work?
No — expired pregnancy tests cannot be counted on to produce a reliable result. The expired test may not be able to detect hCG levels that a non-expired pregnancy test could, which could lead to a false negative result. A false negative can delay decision making, lifestyle changes and prenatal care.
Can expired pregnancy tests result in a false positive?
Pregnancy tests work by detecting the hCG hormone, which is usually only present if you’re pregnant. False positives are extremely rare. If you use an expired pregnancy test and it’s positive, chances are you’re pregnant. But because the test is expired, it’s not considered accurate, and you need to test again with a non-expired test.
Whenever you see a positive result, whether the test is expired or not, it’s important that you see your healthcare professional.
Key takeaway: Don’t use an expired pregnancy test.
The next time you’re cleaning out your bathroom drawers, check the expiration dates on any home pregnancy tests you have on hand. Make sure to store your tests appropriately and take the tests as per usage instructions. This includes keeping tabs on expiration dates. Disposing of expired tests will give you some peace of mind and ensure accuracy the next time you need to test.
- Gnoth C, Johnson S. Strips of hope: accuracy of home pregnancy tests and new developments. Geburtshilfe und Frauenheilkunde, 2014;74(7):661-669. doi: 10.1055/s-0034-1368589. Accessed September 29, 2023. https://www.thieme-connect.de/products/ejournals/abstract/10.1055/s-0034-1368589
- Scolaro K, Lloyd KB, Helms KL. Devices for home evaluation of women’s health concerns. Am J Health Syst Pharm. 2008;65(4):299-314. doi: 10.2146/ajhp060565. Accessed September 29, 2023. https://academic.oup.com/ajhp/article-abstract/65/4/299/5128081?redirectedFrom=fulltext
How to use a pregnancy test
When and how you can test depends on the test you use, but in this article you will find everything you need to know before starting a test.
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