The Best Way to Get Stains Out of Plastic Containers

updated May 1, 2019
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(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 patio while I wait for the stain to fade. (Not to mention birds.)

(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.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

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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