How to Clean Plastic Containers


For those of you who brown bag it everyday, you probably are quite familiar with the plastic container.

For those of you who have ever used one or worse, microwaved some delicious spaghetti sauce in one of these – you also know what a pain they are to keep clean.

The problem is, you actually need to do two things  when cleaning plastic – get the stains off – and get the stink out.

The way most of us deal with cleaning our plastic containers – is to simply pop them into the dishwasher.  While I am guilty of almost exclusively using this method, I am never satisfied with how the containers come out.   I’ve noticed often times that the dishwasher doesn’t get all the stains out – and worse yet – sometimes there’s a funky odor left behind as well as deposits.  I think the odor might have to do with the extremely hot water that is used in our dishwashers mixed with the dishwasher detergent – but I’m not sure on that, so I digress…Further, if they overheat in the dishwasher, they can become deformed and won’t close properly.  Super big pain when that happens.

So, we’ve got to determine the right way to do this in order to prolong the life of our containers and keep them functional.

How to properly clean plastic containers

To tackle the stains that the dishwasher missed, you can usually get them out with a good scrubbing using very warm water and simple dish detergent – use a cleaning toothbrush and apply a liberal helping of elbow grease..

For tougher stains, like tomato sauce and curry – make a paste with baking soda and scrub some more – you can also deal with the container odors using baking soda.  Just sprinkle some in, pop the lid on and wait a day.  Dump out and rinse, and voila, the baking soda will absorb all the odors for you.

Another natural method is to use the almighty power of sun to not only clean your container, but deodorize it too – now I did try this, and it actually worked well for me, so, if you don’t have baking soda handy, I’m willing to bet you have sunshine available to you.  The sun also works well to remove odors from wood cutting boards and wood utensils.  Just a fun tip I thought I’d throw in.

I’ve also read that vinegar works,as do lemons and even oxygen bleach too, just don’t use them altogether.  Pick your product and clean the container with it.

Other Handy Container Usage and Cleaning Tips

Avoid microwaving food inside the plastic container,  instead, use a plate or paper towel to microwave your food and save yourself the hassle of setting stains even deeper into the plastic.

To avoid staining the container when placing red or yellow food inside, simply spray the container with cooking spray prior to placing food inside.  The oil coats the plastic and prevents color transfer.

Place containers on the top rack of the dishwasher only, if you choose to use the dishwasher.  Some dishwasher have heating elements in the bottom which can actually melt plastic containers entirely.  So to avoid this unnecessary drama, only use the top rack.

Alternative Ideas

There does come a time when all the cleaning in the world can’t save your plastic container and that’s the problem with using plastic to store your food – it has a very short life cycle – that’s why these containers you find in supermarket only cost a few bucks – they end up looking and smelling horrible after a month of use.  Instead of throwing them out, we like to use our plastic containers for screws, buttons and battery storage, which at least keeps them from going into the garbage.  We’ve been transitioning plastic containers out of our house though.

Instead, we’re moving to glass containers and mason jars.  While glass containers are somewhat of an investment and you’d need to be careful with a mason jar to avoid breakage, they are much easier to clean and you really only need to pop them into the dishwasher to keep them shiny clean for years and years and years and years and years.  They don’t absorb colors or odors, are extremely durable and can be heated and cooled with no repercussion (if they are created that way i.e. Pyrex).

So here’s to hoping you’ll have some new ideas for container care!