How long do preservative-free eye drops last?

If you’ve browsed for eye drops before, then you’re probably aware that the market is split into three main types. These are:

  • Preservative-free eye drops – those which contain no preservatives at all
  • Gentle preservative eye drops – those which may be more suitable for sensitive eyes, such as TheraTears® Dry or Tired Eye Drops
  • Preserved eye drops – those which contain preservatives that do not break down upon contact with the eye. 


There is much debate as to which type is the best to use, but it can vary from person to person. If you’re particularly sensitive to preservatives in eye drops, for example, or you have to take a lot of eye drops due to your dry eyes, then gentle preservatives or a preservative-free solution may be better.

One thing to consider when choosing between these different types of eye drops is their shelf life. Keep reading to learn more.

Do preservative-free eye drops expire?

Firstly, it’s important to note that all eye drops expire, whether they contain preservatives or not. Somewhere on your bottle of eye drops or its packaging, there should be a date marked ‘EXP’ or ‘USE BY’. This refers to when it’s time to dispose of that bottle and the eye drops inside, regardless of how much you’ve used. You should get rid of the eye drops at the expiry date even if you haven’t opened the bottle, as once this date has passed, there’s no guarantee that the eye drops will help like they are supposed to. In fact, they could even be harmful. 

Top tip! If the date is preceded by ‘EXP’, then you can use it until the end of the stated month. If the date is preceded by ‘USE BY’, then you mustn’t use it from the first day of the stated month onwards.[1]

Another vital thing to remember is that you should always follow the packaging instructions for storing your eye drops. Some eye drops need to be refrigerated or kept away from heat sources. If you fail to follow these instructions, it could result in microbial contamination of the drops and potentially an eye infection.

How long do preservative-free eye drops last after opening?

So, you’re fine to keep preservative-free drops until the expiry date if they’re still sealed, but what about those that have already been opened? Well, this is where preservative-free drops generally last for a shorter time than eye drops with preservatives. Some preservative-free eye drops come in single-use droppers for this reason, whereas others come in multi-use bottles.

Here are some general guidelines to follow when it comes to disposing of eye drops:

  • Single-use drops – dispose of immediately after first use
  • Preservative-free eye drops – dispose of three to seven days after opening, depending on the instructions on the bottle[2]
  • Eye drops with preservatives or a antimicrobial filter – dispose of 28 days after opening.[1,3]


Our range of TheraTears® eye drops have been specially formulated to be used for up to 90 days after opening.[4] Always read the leaflet before using and never use after the expiry date. If you struggle to remember how long it’s been since you opened the bottle, consider marking the date on a paper or digital calendar.

Of course, if you’ve been given alternative advice from a doctor or pharmacist, you should follow their recommendations, as they will have tailored the information to your specific situation. You should also seek medical advice if you think you’ve accidentally used expired eye drops, or if your eye drops are in date but smell, taste or look different to how they usually do.[1]

It can be easy to dismiss the importance of adhering to expiry dates, especially if your eye drops have only just expired. But remember, using eye drops after their expiry dates puts you at greater risk of harmful bacteria getting into your eye through the drops and possibly causing an infection. If in doubt, it’s better to be safe than sorry.




[2] Oldham, G B, and V Andrews. “Control of microbial contamination in unpreserved eyedrops.” The British journal of ophthalmology vol. 80,7 (1996): 588-91. doi:10.1136/bjo.80.7.588 Available at: 


[4] Data on file, last accessed 2nd April 2024 



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Dr Simon Cooper

Dr Simon Cooper

Working with the TheraTears marketing team, as well as with a number of other Prestige Brands, Dr Simon Cooper brings extensive knowledge and experience in a number of key areas. With a PhD in biochemistry from the University of Cambridge, and before that a BA in biological sciences from the University of Oxford, he brings immense technical expertise.

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