The Best Way to Get Stains Out of Plastic Containers

The Best Way to Get Stains Out of Plastic Containers

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

More and more, I try to bring my lunch to work. Not only is it economical, but it also cuts down on food waste — because, for some reason, my husband and kids are not super interested in eating the same thing for dinner five nights in a row.

I've also tried to convert to glass containers. And while I have a few, I find them to be fairly heavy, which matters when I've already got a shoulder bag crammed with other totally important stuff to carry. So I hold on to my old plastic ones and use them just fine. But, unlike glass, they can stain after a while with foods like tomato sauce or curry, and once they're discolored I get a little grossed out by them. The solution is not to throw them away (as I feel like doing), but to clean them.

So I set out to figure out the best way to get those pesky stains out of my tried-and-true plastic containers.

A lot of people recommend a bleach mixture to remove the stains, but honestly — and despite the fact that it's used to sanitize food surfaces in restaurants just about everywhere — I just don't love the idea of using bleach on a porous material, and one that I'm going to eat out of, no less. I also saw a few recommendations for lemon juice and sun and that just seems … unlikely. I can see those containers flying right off my fire escape while I wait for the stain to fade. (Not to mention pigeons.)

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

So the best solution I've found is two-fold: First, fill your container with a mixture of 50 percent water and 50 percent white distilled vinegar. Let the container soak for 30 minutes or even overnight, until the stain fades.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

If that doesn't work, dump out the vinegar and try a gentle scrub: Sprinkle it with baking soda, let it sit a few minutes, and then use a cloth to work the baking soda into the stain. The gentle abrasion should lift the stain without harming the plastic.

If that doesn't work? Then it might be time to consider tossing the container, as it could be a sign that the plastic is starting to degrade.

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