Dear Home Ec 101,
My spouse, it’s not me, no never me, has a bad habit of leaving his dirty plastic containers in the back of his car. I have to tell you, they are FUNKY. How do I remove the bad odor?
Smelly in Smyrna
I feel your pain.
First let’s talk prevention. What I have done is convinced my husband that the first rinse out is HIS problem. I was pretty sensitive to smells during all three of my pregnancies; after losing my lunch a couple of times I flat out refused to be the one to crack the seal. Once he was hit with the funk a few times he began rinsing out the containers at work. With few exceptions -road crews being one I can think of- most people have access to running water on the job. Ask your spouse to rinse out the container before packing it to take home.
Once a plastic container has a bad smell, the cure is simple and Tupperware fans swear by it. First, wash it thoroughly in the hottest soapy water you can stand this will help get rid of any oils that may be part of the problem. Dry the container well, then crumple some newspaper, place it inside and close the lid tightly. Let the sealed container sit for a day or two, then discard the newspaper and give it a sniff. If the odor is gone, wonderful just wash it before reusing it. Otherwise, wash it with a diluted bleach solution and repeat the newspaper trick.
If you have it on hand, activated charcoal may work better than plain old newspaper. I never have it on hand, so I don’t really see it as an option.