How to Clean Plastic Food Containers

Plastic food storage containers are portable and don’t break easily. Unfortunately, they also have a habit of getting stained fairly easily, especially when they’re used to store brightly dyed substances, such as Kool-Aid, or acidic substances, such as tomato sauce.

Whether your plastic container is fancy Tupperware or a throwaway Glad container, you should be able to clean it and get it looking like at least almost new if you follow this advice.

Wash the Container

Before you can remove the stain from your plastic container, you have to get the food off of it. The most important ingredient in the perfunctory cleaning regimen for your plastic container is hot water. Not water so hot that you’ll burn yourself, but a good crisp summer day hot at least.

Whether you’re planning on hand-washing your container or throwing it in the dishwasher, rinse it with this hot water before you continue with cleaning it. Also, if the container is heavily coated with grease, wipe it out with a sponge or paper towel.

You can then wash it in the sink with warm water and a dish soap for hand washing or put it in the top rack of the dishwasher and run the normal cycle. If you want, you can add a plastic booster in the dishwasher’s detergent dispenser before setting it to run. Just put it in the section labeled for a rinse aid. This can help to get the stain-removing process started.

Dry your container using a kitchen towel or the low-heat cycle on the dishwasher. See how to wash dishes for more detail.

Is it reusable?

If your plastic container is too flimsy to survive without melting in hot water, it’s probably not meant to be reused, nor is it microwave or dishwasher safe. Sorry, but you’re going to have to throw it out. This is true of most takeout containers and those that you purchase food products in, such as cottage cheese tubs.

The same goes for containers that have craters due to previous melting. It’s not healthy to eat from these containers, since the chemicals from the plastic could seep into your food. And use your good judgment if your container is covered in a substantial amount of mold.

Note: There are other containers that are not microwave safe, such as plastic collectible plates. These are usually marked as such. If you wish to keep them, a gentle hand washing is your best bet.

Removing Stains

Once your container is as clean as it will get with a normal washing, you may have to take some extra steps to remove the stains. There are several things that you can try. Start with whichever is easiest for you and go from there.

Leave the container out in the sun

Just like the sun can bleach your hair, it may be able to bleach the stains out of your plastic container. Just leave the container out on the deck, porch or doorstep for several hours (at least two or three, though it may take longer) and the stain will fade or disappear completely. Remember to wash it again after you bring it inside, and don’t put it outside if it’s going to rain. If there’s nowhere for you to put the container outside, sitting it next to a window under direct sun is a good option.

Use bleach

If the bleaching powers of the sun aren’t working, try the bleaching power of Clorox, or any other brand of bleach for that matter. Bleach is great for lightening the appearance of stains.

To use this method, make a diluted bleach solution with one part bleach and one to two parts water. Fill your plastic container with the solution and let it soak for about half an hour. After it’s done soaking in the solution, give the container a good scrubbing with hot water and dish soap. Use a sponge or kitchen brush if you need to. Then dry your container with a dish towel.

Be cautious when using bleach. Make sure you’re in a well-ventilated area, and wear rubber gloves to avoid harming your skin.

Oxidize it

The benefits of oxygen for cleaning stains cannot be denied. You can harness this power by filling your container with hot water and dropping in two denture cleansing tablets, for example, Polident. Let the container sit for about ten minutes and then wash as normal. Alternately, you can buy a bottle of Oxiclean or other oxygenated cleaner from your local home improvement store and follow the directions on the label.


If your container is stained and it also stinks, or maybe it just stinks, try cleaning it with baking soda. Just mix about a teaspoon of baking soda with a cup of water and scrub the container with the resulting solution using a kitchen brush or sponge. Alternately, you can try undiluted vinegar, which cleans just about everything.

Still can’t get the stain off?

You should probably throw the container away or use it to store nonfood items. That’s one more benefit of plastic. It is relatively cheap to replace.

How to avoid stains in the future

To keep your plastic containers looking their best, try to prevent stains before they happen. If you’re going to cook or store a food or liquid that you think may stain the container, spray the container down with a cooking spray before you put the substance inside it. Just a light coating should be enough; try to get all four sides and the bottom of the inside. Spraying the outside is not necessary. Be careful not to use a flavored cooking spray or it could alter the taste of your food.

To prevent tomato sauces from staining your good tupperware, simply refrain from microwaving them in the containers – it’s that process that stains them.

If you don’t plan on putting the container in the microwave, you can line the container with aluminum foil. That way the food will lift right out with the foil when you’re ready to prepare it, and there will be no residue left behind. Don’t forget to recycle the foil after use.


  1. Sophie says:

    Make a thick paste of Borax, water softener powder and liquid dish detergent. Add salt if container is greasy. Rinse thoroughly. Gives you that squeaky clean sound after rinsing.

    Also fabulous for coffee stains in mugs. And stove-tops. And stainless steel pots.

    I keep a container of the paste under the sink and have a small covered dish of it on the kitchen counter for daily use. I’m sure I got this from Hailey’s Hints and it works extremely well.

  2. Jobe says:

    One thing most people don’t know that I found so amazing is this: Anything with tomato sauce in it, always stains the plastic the worst, right? Wrong. Only if it is hot. When storing leftovers, make sure it is cool before putting it in the plastic container. Then, do not re-heat it – in the plastic container. Put the food into a dish to reheat. If it is greasy, wipe it out good with a paper towel before washing. You will never have those greasy or ‘orange’ stains on your plastic storage containers again! Amazing!!

  3. Connie says:

    A better way to prevent stains in your plasticware is to spray it with the cooking spray. It doen’t hurt or affect your food and makes the container easier to clean and stain free from tomato products, which will stain plastic easily. Plus, it stains your plastic just storing it because plastic is porous so it is not only the microwaving that causes the stain. The cooking sprays work real well and is better than trying to line it with foil so that it doesn’t leak and still be able to get the lid on.

  4. Sharon says:

    I have reviewed several pages on removing yellowing from white plastic. However, I would like to know a procedure for something in particular. I have a white salad spinner. The bowl is clear plastic (i.e.) colander inside a clear plastic bowl, and the top with the handle/pump to turn the spinner is white plastic. However, this is the part that has yellowed I would like to return to white. The yellowing has come from storage and I really would like to keep it on my kitchen counter, but not until it is white again. Please help for this specific item. Thank you.

  5. Kathy says:

    Sharon, for the salad spinner part that has yellowed, soak it in a bleach solution. Like it says, sun also works. I found out by accident that rock salt works very well on bringing plastic back to it’s original color; I used a big 8 cup measuring to throw salt one year and forgot to take the cup out of the bag. When I went to go find it, it was so white and new looking I was amazed. Now I have a salt water pool. If I have anything that is yellowing, I just clean it and toss it in the pool, but you can make a salt solution. Just fill the sink with hot water, put in 2 cups of salt and soak what ever you need.
    Another hint for food with tomatoes; I use Press ‘N’ Seal, so when I need to microwave my food, I just slip it out of the container – no greasy residue to deal with.
    P.S. My husband is a plastic engineer and he says that if your containers have any pitting, do not use them for food, so I suggest using them for other storage things around the house and garage. Thanks.

  6. Bob says:

    No good… No good… No good… No good… No good… No good… No good… No good… No good… No good… No good… No good… No good… No good…

  7. Kathy says:

    Ok Bob, don’t knock it till you try it!!!!

  8. Lex says:

    Plastic containers, such as the ones yogurt come in, are excellent for re-use. They’re made from #5 plastic, which doesn’t contain any BPAs, so they won’t contaminate your food with any BPAs (watch out for #7 plastic, though!)…

    Implement the 3 Rs (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) with these types of containers!! They may get a little soft in the microwave and they may not be as secure as containers designed for travel, but they still do the basic job of a container.

  9. Sandy says:

    I bought some hard red plastic storage containers recently that develop a crusty residue that refuses to come off in the dishwasher. I rinse them well before putting them in, and they are still showing a crusty residue when I take them out. Not only that, no amount of scrubbing seems to remove this residue. Any ideas? Thank you.

  10. Sam says:

    I think my problem might be along the same line as Sandy’s. After microwaving, my plastic containers have blemishes, scratches, or whatever you want to call them, all around the inside of the container. Mine are first rate containers (not cheap) & these marks appear after heating times of as little as 3 minutes. I’ve Googled everything and can’t find an answer to what they are & if they’re still safe to use.

  11. Chad D says:

    Kathy, I would like to hear from your husband if bleaching food containers is safe. I was told by pet product stores/websites that chemicals from bleach are retained by the plastic and will kill or sicken cats and other animals if used for water/food. Salt is a good way to clean them, but I usually don’t have rock salt handy…

  12. Miriam says:

    These comments are from a long time ago. Well anyways, yeah, bleach might take the stains out somewhat, pending if you already used the plastic to warm up tomato paste/sauce, which might not come out so well. But since plastic is porous, don’t you think you are digesting the bleach (contains corrosive chemical). I don’t know, but anything that can be harmful to your cells, etc., I would avoid at all cost. Just saying. :)

  13. Charles says:

    Store yogurt in plastics that have been stained with tomato sauce. The yogurt will take the stain right off.

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