How to clean spaghetti sauce out of plastic containers

Written by katherine harder
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How to clean spaghetti sauce out of plastic containers
Tomatoes, carrots and sweet potatoes contain stain-causing carotenoids. (tomato and carrots image by Trevor Rogers from

Seal-able or lidded food storage containers extend the life of your meals and opened packaged food by days in the refrigerator or weeks in the freezer, but their somewhat porous plastic construction can stain. Your leftover spaghetti sauce is one of the worst offenders because the tomatoes in the sauce contain carotenoids, which create especially tough stains on plastic, according to the book "Clean It Fast, Clean It Right" by Jeff Bredenberg. If your normal dish-washing routine fails to clean the spaghetti sauce from your plastic containers, use other methods to return your plastic containers to their original condition.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Sink stopper
  • Liquid dish soap
  • Clean dishrag
  • Nylon-bristled scrub brush
  • Baking soda
  • Newspaper

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    Plug your sink with a stopper and fill it with hot water and plenty of liquid dish soap. In the book "Clean It Fast, Clean It Right," Bredenberg passes on a recommendation from Rubbermaid Consumer Service, a plastic storage container maker, to use Dawn liquid dish-washing detergent.

  2. 2

    Place your stained containers in the soapy water and allow them to soak for about 30 minutes, or longer for tough stains.

  3. 3

    Wipe away residue with a clean, wet dishrag. If the rag isn't taking off the stains, use a nylon-bristled scrub brush. Rinse your containers in clean water.

  1. 1

    Sprinkle baking soda generously over remaining stains. Scrub off the stains with a warm-water-soaked scrub brush. Rinse away the remaining stains.

  2. 2

    Allow an additive to do the hard work for you. If you use your dishwasher to clean your plastic containers (most containers are dishwasher safe, but check your specific container), you can use a dishwasher additive formulated for cleaning plastics to remove most tomato sauce stains.

  3. 3

    Use sunlight. If you don't have a lot of time to deal with your containers directly, set them out in direct sunlight for a full day. Usually, most stains will be gone by evening.

Tips and warnings

  • The best cure is always plenty of prevention. Before you add spaghetti sauce to your plastic containers, wipe the inside of the container with a light layer of non-stick cooking oil, or lightly spray the insides with cooking oil spray.
  • If you've removed the stain but the container still smells like spaghetti sauce, put a slice of lemon in the container, close the container, and place it in the refrigerator overnight. If you're out of lemons, fill your container with crumpled newspaper to achieve the same ends in the same period of time.
  • Remember your basic chemistry when you are using different solutions to clean out your containers. Inspect your cleaning product's labels for ammonia or acid before combining them with products that contain chlorine. Combining ammonia, acid, baking soda and automatic dish-washing detergents with chlorine cleaning products could cause dangerous fumes.

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