How To Get Smells And Stains Out Of Tupperware

Whether you use Tupperware or its numerous brethren, these sturdy, lightweight containers are ideal for storing food in the fridge and for takeaway lunches; but they can also be a headache to store and clean.
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Inspired by conversations on the Food52 Hotline, we're sharing tips and tricks that make navigating all of our kitchens easier and more fun.

Today: It's time to put a lid on our Tupperware woes.

Easy to store, economical, and available in a bevy of sizes and shapes, reusable plastic storage containers are an indispensable part of every modern pantry. The newly popular glass storage containers are also a great (and more eco-friendly) option, but they aren't as widespread -- and they're a bit pricier.

Whether you use Tupperware or its numerous brethren, these sturdy, lightweight containers are ideal for storing food in the fridge and for takeaway lunches; but they can also be a headache to store and clean. So as the back-to-school season carries on, we've investigated the best ways to keep your plastic containers clean, odor-free, and ready for everything from PB&Js to grain salads to wintry soups.

Here are your best options for cleaning and storing your Tupperware:

  • Do a preliminary rinse (and wash if possible!) the moment they're empty. The first step to eliminating food smells from plastic containers is to wash them at the earliest possible moment. A thorough wash with hot water and dish soap is best, but a water rinse before a later wash is helpful, too.

  • Store them with a pinch of salt. Although Thai curries and other pungent foods make for an exciting desk lunch, they often leave lasting smells in your storage containers, even after washing. Adding a large pinch of salt to these containers will rid them of the scent so that your turkey sandwich doesn't taste like green chiles and coconut milk. Make sure to wipe out the bottom and inside of the containers before using them though, or you'll encounter a mouthful of salt!

  • Expose them to direct sunlight. Yes, sunlight improves almost everything. Placing containers outside on a sunny day will air them out and take advantage of the sun's natural ability to fight odors.

  • Rinse them with vinegar. After washing your containers with hot water and dish soap, fill them with white vinegar and let them sit for at least three minutes to remove icky, lasting smells. Then, pour out the vinegar and wash again with soap and water.

  • Store them overnight (or longer) with newspaper. Don't ask us how or why it works, but persistent smells in plastic food containers are often eliminated by newspaper. Place the crumpled newspaper inside, snap on the top, and store overnight or longer. Remember to wash with soap and water after, since newspaper's not always known for being hyper-clean.

  • Wash them on the dishwasher's top rack. If placed on the bottom rack of the dishwasher, plastic containers may come into contact with the washer's super-hot areas, causing them to melt and warp. Place them on the top rack to avoid shape-shifting during the wash.

  • Remove stains (and odors) with baking soda. Baking soda's cleansing properties are nothing new, and work as a great stain and odor remover for Tupperware, as well. Simply make a thick-ish paste of warm water and baking soda and rub it into the inside the container. Let it sit for at least one day, then rinse it out thoroughly. Continue until no stains remain and the container smells fresh.

  • Stay organized! Don't keep every bottle or takeout container you accumulate, and keep all of your lids and containers together. While it's tempting to re-use each and every wonton soup container or jam jar (kudos for thinking eco!), this will create extra clutter among your food storage collection.
  • Nothing's more annoying than neatly placing something in a container to find you don't have a top that fits. Store all of the lids in a large bin or pot, and stack the containers nearby with one lid on the top of the stack to prevent dust.

    Photos by James Ransom.

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