Becky asked: How do I clean an insulated lunch box? It’s an insulated lunch box for a child. He has gotten peanut butter and goo everywhere. Can I just throw it in the washer, or do I have to hand wash it?
We send our kids to school each day with their lunch neatly packed and each item wrapped. Without a doubt, over time the contents leak, spill and leave an unpleasant surprise inside when the lunchbox (or lunch bag, as the case may be) returns home. Over time, these spills and leaks (and just having food in it all day) can leave a smell in the lunchbox. Here’s how to keep your little one’s lunchbox clean.
Can They Be Machine Washed?
Many have tossed these smelly lunch boxes right into the washing machine with no problems. However, it greatly varies with each type of lunch box. While some can tolerate the agitation of the washing machine, others may literally fall apart at the seams from all of the rough action in the washing machine. Check the care label/instructions if there are some. Typically, higher quality lunch boxes can tolerate the washing machine just fine and come out clean and in good condition. If you are unsure, try washing it by hand first. Or, if the lunch box can be easily replaced, try tossing in the machine and see how it comes out. You may be pleasantly surprised and find a very easy solution. It is best to use cold water, as warm or hot water could weaken the stitching or any plastic parts.
Hand Washing Lunch Boxes
For those lunch boxes that just need a quick cleaning, or are not made to tolerate the washing machine, a good hand washing will do the trick.
You Will Need:
- Dish detergent
- Soft cloths or sponges
Steps to Clean the Lunch Box:
- Begin by filling the sink with warm water.
- Add a small amount of dish detergent and agitate to mix.
- Moisten a soft cloth with the sudsy water, and wring it out so it is just moist.
- Wipe the interior and exterior of the lunch box with the sponge or cloth.
- If the lunch box can be submerged in water, it will be easiest to place the entire lunch box in the water and scrub it all over with a sponge or soft cloth.
- Rinse by wiping with a cloth moistened with clean water.
- Dry with a towel.
- Allow it to air dry completely before use. This step is especially important if the lunch box was submerged in the water as the insulated filling is likely wet as well.
Removing Odors from Lunch Boxes
Any container that holds food for extended periods of time will develop an odor. Lunch boxes are no exception. Here are some steps to remove that “lunch box smell.”
You Will Need:
- Baking soda
- Soft cloths or sponges
- Spray bottle
Steps to Remove Odors from Lunch Boxes:
- Fill a spray bottle with a weak bleach and water solution.
- Spray the interior of the lunch box with the bleach solution.
- Wipe it dry with a soft cloth.
- Allow it to air dry completely.
- An additional method is to make a paste out of baking soda and water.
- Apply the paste to the interior surfaces of the lunch box with a soft cloth.
- Allow the paste to dry completely.
- Wipe away with a soft cloth or brush out the dried paste with a towel.
- Dry baking soda can also be sprinkled in the lunch box and left to set overnight. The baking soda will absorb the odors and can be shaken out in the morning.
- Any remaining baking soda can be rinsed out with clean water, but is not harmful if a little bit remains.
Removing Stains from Lunch Boxes
Here are some common stains found in lunch boxes and how to remove them. If the stain is on the outside of the lunch box, test the cleaner on a small hidden area first to look for any adverse effect. Be sure to wash the area thoroughly after the stain is removed to clean off any residue from the stain remover.
- General food stains: denture tablets, OxiClean, or sunlight
- Food coloring: isopropyl alcohol or OxiClean
- Pen or marker: isopropyl alcohol
- Rust: lemon juice or white vinegar
- Mold: diluted chlorine bleach or isopropyl alcohol
Additional Tips and Advice
- Metal lunch boxes are making a comeback and don’t create the odor problems that insulated lunch boxes do. If cleanliness and odors are a constant problem, consider a metal or plastic box.
- Anti-bacterial wipes can be used for quick, daily cleanings to minimize odors.