Does Polaroid Film Expire? 3 Surprising Benefits of Expired Film

By Mark Plummer •  Updated: 10/24/22 •  6 min read
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Before smartphones and digital cameras made photography and photographs so accessible, Polaroids gave people the opportunity to develop their photos instantly. Today we are spoilt for choice for photography options, but the polaroid still holds its charm and unique value.  

If you have a polaroid camera, you will know the film can degrade with age but do Polaroid films expire?

As a rule, you should use your polaroid film within twelve months of the film’s production date to ensure the best photograph quality. The active layers of the film undergo chemical changes as the film ages, reducing its effectiveness. 

Does Polaroid Film Expire
Does Polaroid Film Expire?

In this article, we will take a more detailed look at polaroid film so you can get the best out of your films.  

Why Do Polaroid Films Expire?

Polaroid films expire due to chemical changes that occur as the film ages. These changes can be exacerbated by exposure to heat and moisture. This process results in unpredictable effects as the photo develops.

To understand this process, we need some knowledge of exactly how a polaroid film can develop a photo instantly.

Why Does Polaroid Film Expire
Why Does Polaroid Film Expire?

Is it magic?

No, it is impressive science! This polarization process was first developed by Edwin Land, the father of the polaroid camera.

The Role of Silver Halides

Understanding how a polaroid film develops a photo will allow you to understand why the film degrades with age.  

Silver Halides are the key to allowing us to develop a photo. Your polaroid film contains layers of silver halides. Silver halides are light-sensitive ionic crystals that are modified when light exposure. It is through this light exposure that we can develop film.  

Silver halides age, they become less sensitive and begin to degrade; this is why you should use your film within the first twelve months for best results.

Using old or expired film is a common reason why your Polaroid picture is not developing.

With a colored film, you have multiple layers of silver halides interspersed with dyes and color masks. A colored polaroid picture uses light-sensitive layers sensitive to only specific light wavelengths

Underneath each light-sensitive layer is a colored dye that will form the photo’s colors.  

These layers will degrade at different timescales. 

This produces varied color shifts and tints in your photos if you are shooting with old film.   

Common Effects Seen in Expired Polaroid Film

No two expired films will produce the same effect.

The degradation process will differ depending on the film’s storage and your shooting environment.

Common Effects Seen in Expired Polaroid Film
Common Effects Seen in Expired Polaroid Film

These effects are unpredictable and will vary, so you never know what you’ll get, which can be part of the appeal for using expired film.

Here are common effects you could encounter if you shoot with expired film.

  • The film itself becomes unstable due to age
  • Uneven color saturation
  • A hazy image
  • A strange tint to your photos
  • Poor clarity
  • The uneven development of the photo
  • Film pods may rupture or harden, which can damage your camera

One thing to be particularly aware of is that using a film that expired several years ago could increase the risk your film will damage the camera itself if the pods have ruptured or dried out.  

What Is the Date Listed on My Polaroid Film?

There is a date listed on all boxes of polaroid film. You might think that this date is the expiry date of the film; however, it is the date that the film was produced.

Pre-2008, polaroid did print an expiry date on films. However, after 2008 there was only the date of the film’s production published on the box.

Looking at this date will tell you what date the film was produced. Your film will be most effectively used within 12 months of the production date.

Ways In Which Storage Affects Polaroid Films

Due to the chemical makeup of Polaroid films, they are sensitive to light, heat, and moisture.

If you store your films correctly, they will last for the most time. If you keep them somewhere exposed to lots of light, heat, or moisture, they will be damaged and degrade quicker.

Ways In Which Storage Affects Polaroid Films
Ways In Which Storage Affects Polaroid Films

According to the Polaroid website, you should keep your film sealed in the box it is provided in.

They also suggest storing them in the fridge at a constant temperature between 4 to 18 degrees Celsius and keeping them so they are flat.

Be careful not to freeze your film as this will damage them, and take your film out of the fridge at least an hour before you intend to use it for the best results.

Can Polaroid Film Last Longer than a Year?

The 12-month date is effectively a best-before date, but this does not mean that your film will be useless after that date. Polaroid film could last longer than a year, especially as it has been stored properly.

Temperature, humidity, and moisture will affect how a polaroid film ages. If you put effort into storing your polaroid films carefully, they could last longer than the recommended 12 months.  

Artistic Effects of Expired Film

Many people seek out expired films due to their exciting and varied results. The color shifts and tints can be visually appealing and create a unique photo.  

Taking advantage of expired polaroid film for artistic use can make for a cool art project. Go crazy and let your camera do the work. Just be careful if you are using film that has expired for a long time. 

How Long Does a Film Last After It Has Been Opened?

Once the polaroid film has been opened, it is removed from the sealed container protecting it.  

Once you have loaded your film into your camera, the polaroid website states you should aim to finish it within two months as it is now exposed to changeable air temperature and moisture.  

Storing Your Polaroid Pictures Safely

As your film degrades, the same can be true of the photos themselves, which will fade and warp with exposure to light and heat. If you want your polaroid pictures to last, you must store them correctly and protect them from heat and light.

Storing Your Polaroid Pictures Safely
Storing Your Polaroid Pictures Safely

If they are exposed to light, after a while, they will fade.

They need to be stored somewhere dry and dark to keep them fresh.

Another good tip is to store the photos in an upright position. Properly caring for your photos will allow you to enjoy them in the future.


In conclusion, polaroid film does expire as the chemical agents degrade over time. Polaroid film is considered best used within twelve months of its expiration date for best results.

Storing your film in optimal conditions and protecting them from heat and moisture will keep your film fresh and extend its life.  

Mark Plummer

Mark Plummer is a co-founder and blogger on Instant Cameras. Together with his wife, Susana, and daughter Scarlett he loves capturing special family moments with his Instax Mini 11. He is passionate about sharing knowledge and tips on Instax and Polaroid cameras through the Instant Camera Blog.

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