This article was co-authored by Susan Stocker and by wikiHow staff writer, Hunter Rising. Susan Stocker runs and owns Susan’s Green Cleaning, the #1 Green Cleaning Company in Seattle. She is well known in the region for outstanding customer service protocols — winning the 2017 Better Business Torch Award for Ethics & Integrity —and her energetic support of green cleaning practices.
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No matter how carefully you pack a lunch, spills and leaks inside your lunch box are bound to happen every now and then. When it’s time to clean an insulated lunch box or bag, you can easily wash it by hand or put it in your washing machine to get rid of the mess. In between deep cleanings, a little spot-cleaning will help keep your lunch box in good condition. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about washing your lunch box so it’s clean and germ-free.
Things You Should Know
- To hand-wash your lunch box, scrub it with warm soapy water using a toothbrush. Wipe the lunch box with a 10% bleach solution to sanitize it.
- To machine-wash a lunch box, put it in a cold water cycle with mild laundry detergent. Let the lunch box air-dry instead of using a dryer.
- Clean stubborn stains and odors with diluted white vinegar or a paste made from baking soda and water.
Method 1Method 1 of 3:Hand-Washing
- 1Wipe the lunch box with soapy water using a sponge. Put a few drops of liquid dish soap in a small bowl of warm water, and mix it up until it forms suds. Wet a sponge or clean cloth with soapy water, and wipe the inside and outside of your lunch box. Gently scrub any areas that have food spills or stains to work them up from the fabric.XResearch source
- If your lunch box doesn’t have any decorative embellishments, it’s okay to submerge the entire thing in soapy water for a deeper clean.
- 2Scrub the seams or zippers with a toothbrush. Dip the bristles of an old toothbrush in your soapy water and focus on the corners and tight areas inside your lunch box. If there are crumbs or food particles stuck in the zippers, be sure to scour them with the brush too.XResearch source
- If you’re able to, try turning your lunch box inside out so you can clean it out better.
- 3Rinse your lunch box with clean water. You can either hold your lunch box directly under the faucet or wipe it with a damp cloth to rinse it. Keep rinsing your lunch bag until you don’t see any more suds.XResearch source
- 4Sanitize your lunch box with a diluted bleach solution. Fill a spray bottle with 1 part bleach and 9 parts water to make a sanitizer solution. Since the bleach is diluted, you can use it on any material or color without damage. Spritz the solution on your lunch box and rub it onto the surface with a clean towel to kill any bacteria or mold.XResearch source
- 5Leave the lunch box in a well-ventilated spot to air-dry. Keep your lunch box open so the inside can air out too. Set the lunch box on your counter upside-down to let the water drip out. Leave your lunch box overnight so it can dry out completely.XResearch source
Method 2Method 2 of 3:Machine-Washing
- 1Check the label on the lunch box to see if it’s safe in your washing machine.Look at the care tag inside of your lunch box and read it thoroughly. You can usually put high-quality lunch boxes in a washing machine, but always follow the tag instructions so you don’t damage them.XResearch source
- If your lunch box has any decorative designs or embellishments, play it safe and wash it by hand instead.
- Most insulated lunch boxes can go in your washer, but you may risk damaging the material if the care tag doesn’t say it’s machine safe.
- 2Wash your lunch box with mild detergent on a cold gentle cycle. Add the detergent to the machine. Open up your lunch box and toss it into the washer’s main compartment. Run the washing machine through the full cycle to get rid of the stains and bacteria stuck in your lunch box.XResearch source
- Wash a load of towels at the same time so you don’t waste water only cleaning your lunch box.
- 3Hang your lunch box up to let it air-dry completely. Avoid putting your lunch box or bag in the dryer since it could damage the insulating material or tear seams. Keep your lunch box open and put it upside-down in a cool, dry place overnight. Wait until your lunch box is fully dried before you use it again.XResearch source
- Shake or wipe off any excess water on your lunch box with a towel before hanging it up to help it dry a little faster.
Method 3Method 3 of 3:Spot-Cleaning
- 1Clean the lunch box with a disinfecting wipe every day. Use separate wipes for the inside and outside of your lunch box so you don’t spread any bacteria. Empty and wipe your lunch box as soon as you bring it home to prevent it from developing stains or residual odors.XResearch source
- Make sure you wipe the handle on your lunch box too since germs can build up on it.
- You could also wet a cloth with isopropyl alcohol to disinfect and help fight against mold or stains from pens, markers, and food coloring.XTrustworthy SourceCleveland ClinicEducational website from one of the world's leading hospitalsGo to source
- 2Treat stains and odors with diluted white vinegar. Even though it's smelly, vinegar actually removes odors. Mix equal parts of distilled white vinegar and warm water in a spray bottle to make a cleaning solution. Spray the vinegar solution on the stains inside and outside of your lunch box and let it sit for about a minute. Then, use a clean cloth to wipe the solution off.XResearch source
- The vinegar smell will go away within a few minutes. Just leave your lunch box open on the counter to let it air out.
- For lingering odors, wet a paper towel with vinegar and leave it in your lunch box overnight. Wipe the lunch box with a damp cloth in the morning to rinse out any leftover vinegar.
- 3Sprinkle baking soda in your lunch box to neutralize odors. Baking soda is great at fighting odors. Coat the bottom of your lunch box or bag with a thin layer of baking soda and close it. Deodorize with the baking soda overnight to absorb the odors trapped in your lunch box. Then, just dump the baking soda into the trash in the morning.XResearch source
- You can also use baking soda to fight stains. Mix equal amounts of baking soda and water to make a thick paste and spread it over the stain. Let it sit for 10–15 minutes before wiping it clean.XResearch source
- Denture tablets work great for breaking apart general food stains. Dissolve the tablets in a spray bottle with water then spritz the stain or fill the bottom of your lunch box with water and drop a tablet in.XResearch source
- Clean your lunch box at least once a week to help prevent the buildup of bacteria.XResearch source