The Storage Mistake That Causes Your Plastic Containers To Smell Weird

Filling plastic food storage containers
Filling plastic food storage containers - Rgstudio/Getty Images

Where would we be without plastic food storage containers? They dutifully divide up all kinds of meal prep and safely stash leftovers after dinner each night. You can use them to portion and freeze soups and sauces, and they're even handy for organizing small kitchen tools like parts for your stand mixer. They're almost foolproof to use, except for one mistake: Make sure you don't store them with the lids attached.

Almost all of the plastic containers we use in the kitchen are made with a type of plastic that can absorb odors from the food they're storing. Even if you scrub them until they're squeaky clean, some of those smells can still stick around. While it's admirable to try and store all your containers with their tops to keep your kitchen organized, it's better to store the tops and bottoms separately so they don't smell like last week's spaghetti.

Read more: 11 Tips For Keeping Your Grill Shiny And Clean

Even Clean Containers Can Smell Bad

Empty plastic containers with the lids on
Empty plastic containers with the lids on - Ali sobihin/Shutterstock

Plastic storage containers have a lot going for them. They're cheap, dishwasher safe, and light enough to carry in a backpack or work bag. They're also shatterproof, which makes them a great choice for taking food on the go. However, the one drawback they have compared to glass containers is that plastic can absorb odors that can't be scrubbed away.

Most plasticware is made with a type of plastic called polypropylene, which can easily hold solid and liquid food inside without leaking, but not so much for gas. If you've ever stored a cut onion or chopped garlic in a plastic container or a plastic storage bag, you know it doesn't take long for all of that odor to escape its plastic container and stink up the fridge.

The longer you leave food inside the plastic, the stronger the container will smell because it takes time for the plastic to absorb the odor. The same is true after you've washed it; it takes time for the absorbed odor to dissipate. If you pop the lid back on before all the smell is gone, you'll only trap it inside. So when it comes time to store your plastic containers, make sure they're completely dry before you put them away so that they don't grow any mold, and keep the lids and bottoms separated. Over time, any smells left behind will drift away as the plasticware sits in storage.

How To Remove Container Odors

Plastic containers of food in the refrigerator
Plastic containers of food in the refrigerator - 1shot Production/Getty Images

If your plastic containers tend to smell funky when you use them, chances are you're not storing them with the lids off, or they've been put away wet. Even the most careful cook can end up with some stinky plasticware, which is actually easy to fix.

If your containers are still stinky after washing them, try cleaning them again with baking soda and water paste. This paste is also handy for ridding the plastic of stains; spread it inside the container and on the lid and let it sit for an hour or so, then rinse. Alternatively, you could fill the container with hot water and a tablespoon of baking soda and let it sit for about an hour. Rinse it out, let it dry, and your container should be good to go.

If your plastic containers are already stored with the lids on, you can fix this mistake by packing some newspaper inside to absorb any odors left behind. This is helpful if you must keep the lids on the containers when storing them. Just crumple up a ball of newspaper and pop it inside the container, then put the lid on top. The carbon in the newspaper's ink will absorb all the odor overnight, and your containers will smell as fresh as a daisy when you're ready to use them again.

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