How to Remove the Stink from Plastic Storage Containers

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?
Signed,
Smelly in Smyrna

stinky food containers

Heather says:

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.

Tired of boring lunches? Here’s two books full of ideas:
1. Beating the Lunch Box Blues: Fresh Ideas for Lunches on the Go!
2. The Little Book of Lunch: 100 Recipes & Ideas to Reclaim the Lunch Hour

Guide to Household Odors

Click the picture for lots more tips!

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.

Good luck!

Send your domestic questions to helpme@home-ec101.com.



10 Comments

  1. James E on December 24, 2017 at 4:46 am

    Nothing actually works, not for the particularly bad smelling totes. In the end it is just going to smell like horrible quality plastic or vinegar. It almost certainly is the low quality plastic that is used today that causes the problem, as they gradually off-gas what ever odd chemical(s) that are allowed to stay in this plastic/these totes during manufacturing. Oddly enough, this has also become a property of new, small, food storage plastic containers available at grocery stores now, which is a relatively new and disturbing development. It is a sad state of consumer affairs that corporations producing these items have no concern about health or ruining items with terrible smells, and also that there seems to be currently no alternative to this in the plastic storage market.

    Ultimately, crude oil will run out some day, and the world as such only has so much plastic it can make, and I think that companies aware of this are using a less pure product in order to save money (as oil and production prices generally get higher and higher). This is foolish as these plastic totes can in theory last indefinitely and it would be much better to produce x amount of them of good quality than y amount of them that are smelly and terrible and of no use to anyone.

    I for one am waiting for a new company/brand to market a non-smelly brand of plastic tote so that I can take care of the many storage issues I have that are piling up. But currently as most things in the world are made in like 1-10 factories in China, I do not have a lot of hope for that. They might not be able to even smell the problem over there in the horrible smog/air pollution conditions that exist there.

  2. Brenda on March 2, 2016 at 5:42 pm

    How about a plastic-coated seafood box? Didn’t realize what it had had in it till I got home. Super nice boxes, but not if they smell like dead seafood!!

    • Heather Solos on May 30, 2016 at 6:40 am

      You’re probably best off recycling those. The plastic lining is not impermeable and the cardboard will act like an odor sponge. Mmmm tasty!

  3. Carol on November 27, 2015 at 6:19 am

    I have the classic pie carrier and marinating container that always smell like plastic. When I store homemade cookies in them I swear I can taste that plasticy smell. I will try thus method and let you know!

  4. tracylynne on August 27, 2010 at 10:26 am

    I was going to ask about this one. I just bought some great tupperware at a garage sale and can't get the funk out-will let you know if this works thanks

  5. Patia on November 2, 2009 at 5:56 am

    Interesting. I use bleach or vinegar.

  6. Steven Berry on October 29, 2009 at 12:37 am

    I see no reason why you can't take a cap full of household bleach and some really hot water. stir it in then fill the tupper or plastic container fully with the "bleach water" and let it sit for a few hours. it'll kill all the bacteria and germs that cause the orders. and generally break down any oils or food that are stained inside of the plastics itself.

    once it's done. throw it in the dishwasher or wash it by hand to remove any bleach . if that doesnt work. I see no reason why you wouldnt just cut it into a million peices and throw it in the trash. since these things don't degrade. might as well make em really tiny so they won't cause any earthly destruction

  7. knitaddict on October 28, 2009 at 6:57 pm

    I've never heard of the newspaper trick…..baking soda and charcoal, yes…but newspaper? Who knew!!! I'm going to try that…in our house, I'm the one who's guilty of playing the nasty tupperware game. It seems that my inner scientist keeps trying to come out and grow penicillin in the back of the fridge.

  8. CJ McD on October 28, 2009 at 2:20 pm

    That's what I do too.

  9. RachelW on October 28, 2009 at 12:56 pm

    Oh, that is great – I have a container I am going to try that on right away. Thanks!

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