Banish Lunch Box Smells With An Odor-Fighting Ingredient You Already Have

Over the course of a day, there are plenty of odors you have to keep at bay, whether at home, at school, or in the workplace. One item that can travel back and forth between all of these places is a lunch box. Even if you only fill it with fresh, clean food, it can easily develop a lingering, foul odor. Fortunately, you can eliminate this with an ingredient you likely already have: plain white vinegar.

Of course, the food you take for lunch has its own strong aromas, and while these are mouthwatering in the moment, they can quickly become stale and unpleasant. Meat, fish, and seasonings like garlic and onions can wreak havoc if closed up in an air-tight case for the better part of a day. While you would ideally throw each container (and even the lunch box itself) in some soapy water upon arriving home, that doesn't always happen — who hasn't neglected a dirty lunchbox for a day or two? If you have children, it's practically inevitable that at some point, they'll leave a lunch box in a backpack or classroom overnight (or even for a whole weekend). No matter why or how your portable food storage developed a bad odor, a little white vinegar can be a versatile cleaning tool, and it'll go a long way in your lunch box.

How to clean your lunch box with white vinegar

For your basic, everyday smelly lunch box, white vinegar can likely absorb the odor. Empty the box, then pour some white vinegar on a paper towel so that it's wet but not soaking. Place it in the lunch box, close the box up, and leave the paper towel inside for several hours — overnight is even better. The next day, give the whole lunch box a deep clean with soap and water and let it air dry.

Lunch boxes with food that's several days old or more need a more direct treatment. For these long-term odors, try a water-vinegar solution. Add equal volumes of water and white vinegar to a jar or bowl and mix thoroughly. Pour the liquid into the empty lunch box, but don't add too much or the liquid may seep out of the sides — start with ½ cup of each. Make sure your lunch box is on a sturdy surface like a kitchen counter or table and that no one will move it. Leave it overnight, and wash it carefully with soap and water the next day. Finally, let it air dry.

How to prevent foul scents before they arrive

The best way to keep your lunch box smelling clean and fresh is to never leave old food or dirty containers inside any longer than necessary. Make a habit of removing your lunch box from your purse or backpack as soon as you come home. Empty it right away, dispose of leftover food, and place all containers in the sink. Even better, let them soak in some soap and hot water. If you have kids, teach them to do the same.

Ideally, you should wash your lunch box every day. If that's not possible, inspect it daily — if you spot any spilled food or smears, it's time for a scrub. Soft lunch bags can usually be turned inside out and cleaned with a soapy sponge and water. Though there are some things you should never put in the dishwasher, some hard lunch boxes can be placed on the top rack (just make sure you check the label before doing so). Otherwise, use a soapy sponge and water to clean it the way you would a large bowl. Always air dry both hard and soft lunch boxes.