The One Thing You Should Be Doing with Your Ziploc Bags

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Christine Han)

Ziploc bags are a modern miracle. It’s hard to imagine life without them (or the fact that when they were first introduced to the market, people didn’t know how to use them). But do you ever feel, you know, a tiny bit guilty about how many you go through? Do you ever stare at the empty box and think, Didn’t I just buy these on Sunday?

Well, there is one way to try to use a little less, and reuse a little more — it’s something your grandma might’ve done. We’re talking about washing your Ziploc bags.

Is it really worth it to wash your Ziploc bags?

If you’re wondering if it’s even worth it to wash your Ziploc bags, the answer is that it’s complicated. You’re probably not going to save time or money by washing your bags and, according to Mother Jones, it takes four times as much water to clean a plastic bag as it does to make a new one. And, of course, when it comes to certain foods, like raw meat and greasy, creamy sauces, it’s really not worth it to try to reuse the bag, in case of any bacteria or oily residue caught in a crevice.

But there are real benefits to reusing, says Darby Hoover, senior resource specialist for the Natural Resources Defense Council: “The production of plastic bags uses energy, water, and in most cases a non-renewable resource (fossil fuel-derived); reusing bags, even when you use water to wash them out, saves resources overall.” An even better bet may be to invest in glass containers or silicone bags that you can use in place of plastic bags.

In the meantime, here’s our best advice for washing those Ziploc bags, grandma-style.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

The Right Way to Wash Ziploc Bags

1. Start with the right bags.

Reusing your zip-top bags starts with choosing the right bags — and by “right” we mean the thicker, freezer-version bags. They’re built to withstand more, so they’re more flexible and durable as you empty, wash, and reuse them time after time.

2. Turn them inside out.

If you’re washing out a bag that had something dry inside like cereal or a snack food, you can get away with a quick rinse. For bigger jobs, invert the bags so that you have better access to the dirtiest parts.

3. Use cool or warm (not hot!) water.

Use dish soap and a clean sponge to make sure they’re really clean, then rinse with cool or warm water. Plastic isn’t meant to sustain high heats — sometimes it’s because heat puts it at risk for BPA leaching from the containers into the foods you’re heating, and other times, it melts and loses its integrity. Keeping the water you clean with at a medium temperature prevents the plastic from stretching to its limits in the heat.

4. Let them air dry.

The last thing you want is for your bags to get moldy, mildewy, or smelly. The most effective solution is to air dry them. Try hanging them from a drying rack, a clothesline, or letting them stand upright over your wooden spoons until they’re free of any lingering moisture.

P.S.: You can also use your dishwasher.

If you have a dishwasher, you can throw your Ziploc bags in there along with your dirty bowls and glasses. Arrange them on the top rack of your dishwasher and try to anchor them so that they don’t get pushed around as the air and jets hit them. And you can also dry the bags on the air dry setting of your dishwasher.

Keep in mind, though, that this method is a little like running your dry-clean-only clothing through your washing machine: They might not last as long or as well as they might have if you treated them delicately by hand-washing and air-drying.

Do you wash and reuse your Ziploc bags?