The American Cleaning Institute (ACI)

Plastic Food Containers and Dishes


plastic leftover containerIf your plastic dish or container can’t hold its shape in hot water or the microwave, then you may need to recycle it. This is true of most containers that are meant for on-time use only, like takeout containers and those that you purchase food products in, such as yogurt containers.

Plastic Food Containers

If the container is a keeper, make sure it is clean for the next use.


  • Remove any leftover food and rinse in hot water
  • Wipe extra grease with a sponge or paper towel
  • Wash in the sink with dish soap and warm water, or put it in your dishwasher’s top rack
  • You may want to add a plastic booster (put it where you would add a rinse aid
  • Dry your container using a kitchen towel or on the low-heat cycle in the dishwasher

Remove Stains

  • You may need to take extra steps to remove remaining stains
  • Put your plastic food container on the kitchen counter and leave in the direct sun for a few hours
  • Soak containers using a mild bleach solution of 2 teaspoons of bleach per gallon of water, and be sure to drain and dry thoroughly before use
  • For containers that stink, try a baking soda and water scrub (1 teaspoon of baking soda with one cup of water), or you can also try undiluted vinegar
  • Be sure to wash the container after any of these stain removal steps
  • If the stain won’t budge, throw the container away!

Avoid Future Stains

You can prevent stains before they happen by spraying the inside of the container with an unflavored cooking spray. If you are not using the container for cooking, you can line the container with foil or plastic wrap.

Try Different Kinds of Containers

While plastic food containers are most common, try mixing it up with sturdier glass containers. Glass is sturdier, and less likely to stain or degrade over time. Consider decorating glass jars with fun holiday designs to send your guests home with delicious leftovers with a festive twist.

Plastic Dishes

To make clean up easy, check that your plastic dishes and cups are dishwasher safe. Then follow these tips for properly cleaning your plastic ware in the dishwasher:

  • Place the dirtiest side of the item facing the source of the water spray.
  • Don't let large items cover small items, like cups or upside-down flatware.
  • Avoid stacking items together - if they are too tight, water can't get to them.
  • Place plastic ware on the top rack so the force of the water won't flip them upside down.
  • After you run the dishwasher, empty any water pooled on curved surfaces.
  • Let the plastic ware drain, or put a fan on it, and it will dry.