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Cleaning a Smelly Lunch Box

Berkeley Parents Network > Advice > Household Management > Cleaning a Smelly Lunch Box


Dec 2003

Anyone know how to get the ''stink'' out of lunchboxes? No matter how much I wash it, scrub it, soak it--that ''stink'' still remains which I even remember as a child. Does anyone have any special secrets to share? Thanks in advance! Trying to be the Queen of Clean


I keep a spray bottle of diluted bleach for spraying the inside of the lunch box every once in a while. I wipe it dry immediately, and leave it open all night to air out. It really seems to work well without taking the lunch box out of commission for laundering. no more stink
August 2003

Those soft plasticy Blues Clues lunch bags and other similar insulated bags look so cute at the store, but it didn't take long for my daughter's to get gross last year. I tried wiping with baking soda, turning it inside out and airing it in the sun, but it always had a smell that would have turned me off if my lunch sat in it. I've been looking for a fully immersable lunch box or bag since then, but don't see anything except the retro metal boxes. How do the rest of you all keep these bags clean? Back to brown paper sacks?


We had the same problem last year. I purchased a lunch bag from the Gap. The insulation is thick and durable. Whenever the bag needs a throguh cleaning I pop into the washer on a gentle cycle and dry on the line. The bag is still in very good condition and does not smell. anon
I throw the bags (used by a 4, 9 and 13yr old) into the washer with a load of towels, we don't use ours daily, so washing every other week is our norm. Occassionaly, if I have been neglectful and there is some mildew, I will wipe it out with bleach, rinse really well then throw into the washer. Bobbi
I hadn't seen the previous discussion of this as of last week, when I decided I'd had it with the look and smell of my son's soft lunch box... so I just threw it in the washing machine. It came out great - I wondered after why I hadn't tried it before. I just checked the older responses on the website, and only one person of many mentioned this - so I thought I'd add another confirmation that the washing machine seems fine... happy with the lunch bag
I have seen old-fashioned style hard plastic lunch boxes with a thremos for sale recently... not just the metal ones. That is what I am planning on getting when our current bag bites the dust. I saw a Looney Tunes on at Marine World this summer, but have also seen them recently at more local stores... I can't remember where it was, maybe Bed & Bath, or Target... they are out there, somewhere. Rose
Dec 2002

My son has a nice soft lunch box made by California Innovations. We bought it at Costco. While there is a plastic lining that is removable, and we wash that lining as well as wiping out the box each day with non-toxic wipes, we still find that the box smells just awful. There is insolating foam inside this container,so I don't think I can stick it in the washing machine.... Perhaps the problem with this particular model is that there is room on top for a bottle and that part can be hard to clean, because it doesn't stay open easily to air out. Any advice on how to successfully clean these things? Or advice on the best lunch box to buy? Thanks! Grateful for your advice!


We also had problems, especially with milk smells, in soft lunch boxes, so we switched to metal lunchboxes. We wanted to avoid the televisi0n character lunch boxes, so we found some interesting ones in odd places, such as the Animal Farm Pet Food store, Restoration Hardware, and the Greetings gift store on Solano. Our girls enjoyed them, although by third grade we ran into two problems - the boxes were getting dinged up due to rougher treatment, (and were therefore harder to close), and then the third grade girl conformism patrol started giving my daughter a hard time about having ''weird'' lunch boxes. Fortunately, my daughter didn't cave to peer pressure, and we continued with the hard ones until they fell apart. Serendipitously, we recently found a couple of soft ones at Target that had removable linings. They don't seem as stinky (and we also no longer put milk in their lunch). We occasionally soak the linings in warm water with a bit of bleach. - Natasha B.
This is a pet peeve of mine! I hate soft-sided lunch boxes! Have you noticed how few hard-sided lunch boxes are out there? My theory is that this is some sort of conspiracy (well, maybe that's too strong of a word, but...) by lunch box manufacturers to sell more lunch boxes because you have to throw them out more often since they get smelly quickly. I usually clean my daughter's lunch box with 409 every night, which does seem to help (it is antibacterial), but it smells badly very quickly. I think that we will have to buy a new one over the holiday break, but I have found that they are harder to find this time of year (vs. the plethora of boxes at the start of the school year). In any case, I think that you just have to get a new one more frequently. MK
Try Febreze. It worked for us. Febreze is available at Safeway, Longs, etc. Bobbie
I sprinkle baking soda into my son's lunchbox on the weekend, especially trying to get it into the crevices. It seems to help. jen
After reading the last posts I thought I would chime in about the lunchboxes we use. I also hate the soft ones because they don't stay fresh. I went to Michael's Arts and Crafts in Emeryville and bought a little clear hard plastic box. They obviously sell it for art supplies but the little ad on the side pictures it full of food. It is oval shaped and has a hinged lid and a handle in the lid. Looks just like a traditional lunch box but in a clear plastic version. I just put them in the top rack of the dishwasher. They are great and the other kids think they are cute. mcmahan
Regarding soft-sided lunch boxes -- my son has one I got from Target -- Polar or Arctic or some such brand name. I just put it in the washer and it seems to have held up fine. My younger son has a Bob the Builder soft lunchbox, and we'll see what happens when I subject it to the same treatment! Wendy
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