How To Clean Stained Plastic Containers

How To Clean Stained Plastic Containers

Learn from my mistakes, don’t do what I did.  And if you do, see my 7 solutions on how to clean stained plastic containers.

I got my wife some expensive food storage containers for Christmas a couple years ago.  They were made of hardened plastic that supposedly were safe to microwave.  Even so, my wife does not like to warm food in plastic containers, if food is going to be re-warmed it has to be warmed on the stove top.

One night I was home alone and I decided to break her rule and warmed up some spaghetti we made the night earlier in one of those nice plastic containers.   Microwave safe right?  As soon as I tried washing the container I knew I was in trouble.   The plastic was stained with tomato.  I had no idea on how to clean stained plastic at the time.

I learned two important life lessons that night.

  1. Just because a plastic container says it is microwave safe does not exclude itself from being stained. All that microwave safe means is that the plastic used in the plastic container met stringent USDA safety standards for food usage.
  2. 7 different solutions on how to clean stained plastic

In light of what I learned, well start off with the simplest non chemical solutions.  Enjoy!

1.  Hand Wash Thoroughly

Before we start jumping through dishwasher hoops, the simplest solution is to give the plastic container a hand scrub.  Time to get the elbow grease out!   Most of the time simple stains on your containers can be removed with a little soap and hot water.

If it’s still not working, put on a pair of dish-washing gloves and re-wash the plastic container in pure hot water.  Also try adding some SALT to the dish-washing liquid you are using.

Quick note of obvious caution, if your gloves are not rated for such hot water or if it hurts, then by all mean stop!  Use common sense.

Hand washing will do the trick 90% of the time.  Most of the stains that happen right away can be washed away the same night.  The problem is if you let the stain linger or if you inherited a plastic storage container set that is already stained with years of neglect.

If you are all out of elbow grease then it’s time to step it up a notch with the dishwasher.

2.  Try The Dishwasher

If the plastic container is dishwasher safe, place it on the top rack of your dishwasher.  If you are unsure if you’re plastic container is dishwasher safe, look at the bottom of the container.  Most plastic food containers will tell you if they are dishwasher safe.

You could try your luck and run it through a standard wash cycle.

At this point it’s very probable the stain will still be there.  Fortunately for us there are additives we can add to our dishwashers that are specifically built to remove stains from plastic!!

One of them is Cascade Plastic Booster, which is specially engineers to safely remove red stains and odors from plastic container (among other kitchen utensils).

3.  Sun Bleaching – Non Toxic

This is a trick my wife employs to keep our towels, shirts and other white clothes, white.   We can adapt this same idea for plastic containers.

Find a nice sunny spot on your porch, back deck or yard and set your stained plastic container directly in the sun for a 4-6 hours.  The suns natural radiation will bleach the stain right out of the plastic.

If this does not work, you could try to fill the container with water and add in some lemon juice.  Let it sit in the sun for a couple days.

4.  Baking Soda Paste

The next thing to try is baking soda.   This works particularly well if the stain is oil based.

Take some baking soda, add water and create a paste.  Then apply it to all over the stained areas and let it sit for about 30 minutes.   Wash it off, dry and hopefully the stain is gone.

5.  White Vinegar

One of my wife’s favorite cleaning solutions for just about everything, including stained plastic.  This natural liquid is a miracle cleaning agent (as I found out early in our marriage).  It also kills bacteria.

Take 1 part vinegar and two parts water, mix it up and let it stand in the plastic container for a couple hours.  This should remove the stain.

6.  Bleaching – Chemically

This step involves more chemicals than we are comfortable with, but it does work.  Before proceeding always make sure you are in a well-ventilated area and using the proper gloves/eye glasses.

The trick is to get the mixture right.

You will want one part bleach and ten parts water.  Mix it up and place it in the plastic container for about an hour.  After that, do a normal clean and dry.   The stain should be gone by now, but if it’s not…

7.  The Best Solution on How to Clean Stained Plastic Containers

The best solution is the simplest, don’t even mess with plastic food containers.  If you are in the market to buy food storage containers for the holidays or even a birthday, opt for glass instead of plastic.  Glass does not stain as easy as plastic and glass containers also come with a bunch of other benefits:

Oven Safe.  Not only are most glass containers microwave, dishwasher and freezer safe, most of these can also be used straight in the oven.  This makes storing leftovers as easy as adding the lid and putting it in the refrigerator.  **Not all glass food storage containers are built to be used in the oven, consult your manufacture’s manual first.

Retains heat and cold better.  While not as good as insulated containers, glass will still retain heat or cold better than a plastic container.  So if you heat up your food in a glass container in the microwave, it will stay hotter than it would in a standard plastic container.

Lasts Longer.  Most of my plastic containers have issues with the lids after a while.  Either the lid or the container starts to warp or get warn out from the constant microwaving or freezing.  I have never had this issue with glass containers.

Best Selling Food Containers

Like most odd jobs surround the house there are a lot of old wives tales on how to clean stained plastic containers, but in truth only a couple real solutions will work.  After scouring the internet for every possible way to safely clean my wife’s treasured plastic food storage container I finally figured it out!  For me, it was the baking soda paste.

That next Christmas she got a better food storage container set, this time made out of glass.