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7 Tips for Keeping Your Lunch Box or Food Container Clean

A black lunch box with astronauts on it, the inside of clean lunch box, and a snack container.
Packit/Fit & Fresh/S’well

Packing your lunch for work or school every day definitely saves you some money, but it also requires a bit of maintenance. The following tips will help you keep your lunch box and food containers clean, so you don’t end up with an overly messy situation at the end of the week.

No matter what kind of container you use for your lunch, it can quickly get pretty gross. If a food item or liquid leaks, things can get smelly and moldy pretty fast, which is anything but appetizing. However, if you clean your lunch box (and anything you put in it) regularly, you can save yourself a lot of extra hassle later.

These tips will help you avoid any mysterious messes or horrible stenches, and ensure your lunch box or container is always clean and ready to go.

Use Leak-Proof Containers

stasher bags holding vegetables/different colored containers on a shelf
Stasher/W&P Porter

No one wants to spend time packing a delicious lunch, only to open their lunch box to find that everything has somehow come out of the container and is basically inedible. Not only does that mean you don’t have lunch for the day, but it’s also a pain to clean up.

Avoid the situation altogether by investing in some sturdy, durable containers that allow for a mess-free commute. Here are some of our recommendations:

Rubbermaid Brilliance Storage Food Containers: At around $30 for seven containers (lids included), these are a bargain. They’re available in different sizes to hold everything from chicken and rice to nuts or granola. Made of clear, BPA-free triton plastic, these are heavy-duty and strong. The plastic lids snap on tightly and will keep your food secure with no leaking. These are just a few of the reasons they have over 40,000 positive reviews.

Rubbermaid Brilliance Storage Containers

Leak-proof lids for stress-free storage.

S’nack by S’well Stainless Steel Food Container: Whether you’re packing snacks, fruit slices, or something you need to keep warm, this is a great one-off purchase. Once the lid is tightened, nothing is getting out of this one. The double-walled insulation keeps food cold for 10 hours or hot for four. It’s particularly great for toddlers because they can drop it and you won’t have to worry about the lid popping off.

S'nack by S'well Stainless Steel Food Container

The screw-on lid won't fall off, even if you drop it.

Stasher Reusable Silicone Bags: Often take sandwiches for lunch? Stop buying those single-use plastic zip bags and get some of these instead. A plastic bag is easily punctured, but Stashers are made of durable silicone that won’t let anything escape. They’re also dishwasher safe, come in a wide range of sizes, and will keep your food fresh. It’s also the more environmentally friendly option.

Stasher Reusable Silicone Bags

Won't puncture and can be reused.

W&P Porter Seal-Tight Glass Lunch Bowl: Packing soups can be especially tricky, because all that liquid can easily escape through even a tiny crevice. This glass bowl is the best way to take soup anywhere because the lid won’t let anything escape. The double-walled glass construction (surrounded by silicone to protect it) will keep warm meals warm.

W&P Porter Seal Tight Glass Lunch Bowl

Perfect for soups and salads.

Clean the Interior Regularly

A sink full of soapy water, lunch containers, and thermoses.
Oola Patel/Shutterstock.com

Even if your lunch box seems pretty clean, it still needs to be washed out on a fairly regular basis. Food always leaves a stench behind, and sometimes, leaks happen and we don’t even notice. Keep your lunch containers bacteria-free by washing the interior every few days (or more, if necessary).

Fortunately, cleaning them is super easy. Just use warm water, some dish detergent, and scrub away any stains with a sponge. If you’ve got some burnt-on food residue to deal with, let the container soak in warm, soapy water for a few hours.

To get rid of any residual odors, sprinkle a little baking soda inside, let sit for a few minutes, and then wash it away.

Buy Containers That Are Easy to Clean

lunch in a food container/neoprene lunch bag with dinosaurs

It’s a good idea to avoid buying a lunch box or container that’s really difficult to clean, especially if it’s for your kids. That will only make your life harder. While those bento boxes that are all over social media might be aesthetically pleasing, they can also be really annoying to clean. All those tiny crevices can also become a breeding ground for mold.

Opt for containers that are dishwasher-safe and don’t have lots of tiny spaces you need to scrub around. Here are a few we recommend:

Ello Stainless-Steel Container: We love this container because, unlike other options, both the container and lid are dishwasher-safe. Stainless steel is also durable and will resist corrosion over time. As a bonus, the leak-proof lid snaps on to keep everything in place.

Ello Stainless Steel Container

Completely dishwasher-safe.

Aiphamy Neoprene Lunch Box: This soft-sided lunch box is especially perfect for little kids. Made of soft, protective neoprene, it’s easy to clean—you can just wipe it down, but it’s also machine washable for those messier moments. It also comes in a ton of fun colors and patterns for kids and adults.

Aiphamy Neoprene Lunch Box

You can even throw it in the washing machine!

Empty It Out ASAP

It might sound obvious, but emptying lunch boxes and containers as soon as possible is an excellent habit to get into. It’s also really easy to forget. To make this part of your routine, try to rinse out your food containers and/or lunch box as soon as you’re done eating. Trash any leftover food or crumbs.

When you get home, remove all containers and thermoses, throw out any food you didn’t trash after lunch, and then stick everything in the sink or dishwasher. Leave lunch boxes or bags open so odors won’t get trapped inside.

Keep Some Wipes In Your Lunch Container

mom handing her son a wipe

If you ever open your lunch box or container only to find a spill, you’ll obviously want to clean it right away. However, if you’re out and about or at the office, you might not be able to rinse it out with soap and water.

That’s why keeping some emergency sanitizing wipes inside your lunch box is a good idea. With a quick swipe, you can at least disinfect everything until you can give it a deeper clean later. We like Babyganics wipes because they’re alcohol-free, so you don’t have to worry about filling your lunch box with chemicals.

Use Ice Packs or a Freezable Lunch Bag

Some putting the PackIt Freezable Lunch Box with the spaceman print in a fridge.

Have you ever packed a lunch you were really excited about, stuffed some ice packs in the bag, and went to work, only to open it later and find weird slime all over everything? It might not happen often, but soft ice packs can puncture and ruin your meal.

Luckily, you can avoid this with either of the following items:

Fit & Fresh Reusable Ice Packs: These are ideal because they’re hard and won’t puncture easily (if at all). Additionally, their slim, small design makes them perfect for smaller lunch boxes. They also stay cool for hours.

PackIt Freezable Lunch Box: An even better option is to skip the ice packs altogether and get a lunch box that stays cool on its own. We love this option from PackIt because it has built-in cooling, so you can just stick the whole thing in the freezer. The nontoxic gel is permanently built into each bag and will keep your lunch cold for hours.

Packit Freezable Classic Lunch Bag

Freeze the entire bag---no ice packs required.

Upgrade to an Antimicrobial Lunch Box

green lunch box on someone's arm/lunch bag filled with food
Arctic Zone

Picking up an antimicrobial lunch box also isn’t a bad idea. This option from The Arctic Zone features a leak-proof lining with Microban, which protects against bacterial odors and stains. It also makes it much easier to clean.

The insulation features a radiant heat barrier, which reflects, rather than absorbs, heat. This means it’s more likely to keep your food safe for longer. The exterior is made of a durable, water-resistant material that’s also easy to clean. There are even special pockets for the ice packs, so they won’t be near your food if one of them starts to leak.

Arctic Zone Titan X Fridge Cold Dual Lunch Pack

An antimicrobial lining discourages the growth of bacteria.

Keeping your lunch box and food storage containers as clean as possible just takes a little extra effort. It’s worth it in the long run, though, because they’ll last for much longer.

Jessica Booth Jessica Booth
Jessica Booth is a freelance writer for LifeSavvy. She has been working in the editorial world as a freelance writer for over two years and previously worked as an editor for over eight years.  Jessica writes about travel, beauty, wellness, health, food, home decor, and parenting, and has reviewed and tested out products for all of those verticals over the course of her career. Read Full Bio »
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