Do you bring your lunch to work every day? If so, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is you’re doing the right thing for your health and budget. The bad news is your lunch bag might be getting, well, kind of gross.

Fear not! It’s super easy to clean it all out and get rid of any mold and weird odors. Set aside some time, give these ideas a whirl, and your lunch bag or box will look brand new in no time!

What Are the Different Ways to Clean Your Lunch Bag?

You don’t have to dedicate your whole afternoon to cleaning your lunch bag or box. Depending on the material, you will be able to do one of the following:

  • Hand wash
  • Use the washing machine
  • Use the dishwasher

Your food is going to be so much safer to eat, and all it takes is just a little bit of effort on your end!

How to Hand Wash an Insulated Lunch Bag

It’s pretty easy to wipe down an insulated lunch bag with soap, warm water, and a few basic ingredients. Roll up your sleeves and let’s get cleaning and deodorizing!

What You’ll Need:

  • Antibacterial wipes
  • Dish soap
  • Warm water
  • Sponge
  • Toothbrush
  • Baking soda (optional)
  • Dry washcloth

Here’s how to clean an insulated lunch bag:

  1. Step One: Fill up your sink with lukewarm water.
  2. Step Two: Add a teaspoon of dish soap to the water and mix it around.
  3. Step Three: Dip a sponge into the water and start scrubbing the inside and outside of the lunch bag.
  4. Step Four: Mix a quarter teaspoon of baking soda with water and put it inside of the lunch bag. Let it soak for 20 minutes and then rinse with warm water.
  5. Step Five: Use a toothbrush to scrub hard-to-reach areas like zippers, pockets, and seams.
  6. Step Six: Rinse the lunch bag down with warm water. Make sure to get both the inside and the outside.
  7. Step Seven: Pat the lunch bag dry using a clean washcloth or towel.
  8. Step Eight: Clean the entire bag from the inside and outside with antibacterial wipes.
  9. Step Nine: Place the lunch bag upside down on a drying rack and let it air dry. If possible, turn the insulation inside out so that can dry as well.
  1. Step 1

    Fill Sink with Warm Water

    Head to the kitchen and fill up your sink with lukewarm water. If you need more space, you can also use the bathtub.

  2. Step 2

    Add a Teaspoon of Dish Soap

    Make sure the sink is plugged and then add in about a teaspoon of dish soap. Mix it around in the water so you’ve got a nice soapy basin.

  3. Step 3

    Wipe it Down

    Dip the sponge in the soapy sink and use it to clean both the outside and the inside of the lunch bag, making sure to get the corners.

  4. Step 4

    Cover with Baking Soda (Optional)

    Do you have a stubborn stain on your lunch bag? Mix a quarter teaspoon of baking soda with water and put it on the stain. Let it sit for about 20 minutes and then wipe it away. If the stain persists, try again and let the baking soda paste sit for longer.

  5. Step 5

    Use the Toothbrush

    Put some soap on the toothbrush and scrub the zippered areas, pockets, seams, and any other hard-to-reach area.

  6. Step 6

    Rinse

    Use the spray hose on your sink to rinse off all the soap from inside and outside of the lunch bag. If you don’t have a spray hose, you can also carefully pour clean water over the bag.

  7. Step 7

    Pat Dry with Cloth

    Gently use your washcloth to pat the lunch bag dry. Make sure you get both the inside and outside.

  8. Step 8

    Clean with Antibacterial Wipes

    You’re almost done! Get rid of any remaining germs by wiping down the entire lunch bag with antibacterial wipes.

  9. Step 9

    Air Dry

    Place your lunch bag upside down on the drying rack and let it air dry. You can also hang it up with pins on a clothesline. If possible, turn the insulation inside out so that can dry as well.

There you have it! When all is said and done, this process should take you about 15 to 20 minutes. Your lunch bag will be fresh, clean, and ready to hold your next meal.


Do you have a smelly lunch bag? How about mold in your lunch bag? See the easy fixes below!

 

How to Clean a Metal Lunch Box

Metal lunch boxes don’t hold odors like insulated bags, but they can still get kind of grimy over time. You can easily clean yours by rinsing it out with soap, warm water, and drying with a clean towel.

Here are a few other tips:

  • Use a Q-tip to clean hard to reach areas and corners.
  • Don’t submerge your lunch box in a soapy sink. Dip the sponge in and gently wipe everything down instead.
  • After washing, sanitize your lunch box with antibacterial wipes.
  • Be sure everything’s completely dry before storing any food inside.

As was the case when cleaning the insulated bag, this process won’t take you more than 20 minutes. Get to scrubbing!

Can You Wash a Lunch Box in the Washing Machine?

Lunch bags made from neoprene, canvas, and other fabrics can be washed in the washing machine. Just make sure you use a gentle cycle, cold water, and a mild detergent.

Metal lunch boxes, like the ones used in the 1950s, should not go in the washing machine. You could damage not only the lunch box, but also your washing machine.

Keep in mind – machine washing only works on some insulated lunch bags, but not all. If yours has a heavy zipper or mesh pockets, it’s better to just wash it by hand instead.

No matter what, never put your lunch bag in the dryer. Hang it up on clothespins and let it air dry instead.

*Disclaimer: Quality Logo Products® is not responsible for any damage caused by washing your lunch bag or box. If you’re at all unsure, it’s better to wash it by hand. Check the care tag or contact the manufacturer directly with any questions.

Pro Tip

Wash your lunch bag with a load of towels in the washing machine. It’s the easiest way to ensure you’re cleaning it regularly.

Can You Wash a Lunch Bag in the Dishwasher?

You can put plastic lunch boxes and insulated lunch bags on the top rack of your dishwasher. Be sure to use a gentle rinse cycle with cold water and a mild detergent. Let air dry when the cycle is finished.

If your lunch bag or box is imprinted with a design, it’s better to avoid machine washing altogether. The ink could chip off during the cycle.

*Disclaimer: Quality Logo Products® is not responsible for any damage caused by washing your lunch bag or box. If you’re at all unsure, it’s better to wash it by hand. Check the care tag or contact the manufacturer directly with any questions.

How Often Should You Clean Your Lunch Box?

Life can get pretty busy, but you should still try and wash your lunch bag at least once a week. This prevents harmful bacteria from building up and reduces the potential for nasty smells.

Take a look at your schedule and figure out what works best for you!

If you can swing it, aim to clean your lunch bag or box on Fridays. That’s a whole week’s worth of lunches to clean out! Plus, it gives you a consistent day for cleaning, which makes it easier for you to work it into your routine.

You have options when it comes to cleaning your lunch bag or box! Some can go right in the washing machine or dishwasher, which makes your life easier. Use your best judgment and clean accordingly!

How to Keep Your Lunch Bag Clean

Now that you’ve done all the work in cleaning your lunch bag, you’ll want to make sure it stays that way. It’s as easy as doing the following:



Use sealed Tupperware

Invest in good leak-free Tupperware for your food. You’ll not only reduce spillage, but also save money since you don’t have to repeatedly buy plastic bags and aluminum foil.

Be careful with sauces and dressings

It’s best not to shove entire bottles of ketchup or ranch dressing into your lunch bag. Put the portion you need inside of a container instead.

Store your lunch bag in a clean fridge

A breakroom refrigerator can get gunky pretty fast. Set a paper towel down and then store your lunch bag on top of the towel. Don’t forget to also label your lunch!

Keep your lunch bag off the ground

The ground has been stepped on all day and is full of dirt. Please do yourself a favor and keep anything containing your lunch off the floor.

Rinse out your containers

Before you put your Tupperware back in your lunch bag, give it a quick rinse in the sink. You’ll have less crumbs and food particles in your bag as a result.

Empty lunch bags as soon as you get home

Head to the kitchen right after you walk through the door, and if you have kids, make sure they do the same. The last thing you want is to unexpectedly find a half-eaten apple at the bottom of their school lunch.

Put your lunch bag away

Keep your lunch bag or box in a designated space in your kitchen. Hang it on a hook, store it inside of a cabinet, or set it on top of the refrigerator.

Clean your lunch bag regularly

You should try and clean your lunch bag or box at least once a week. This is especially true if you’ve been eating fish or garlic pasta at lunch for the last few days!

Stats for Success

  • A study found that 73% of fabric lunch bags contain unhealthy bacteria.
  • 1 in 5 lunch boxes contain a bacterium known as staph, which can release toxins and sometimes cause skin infections.
  • 97% of people never wash their lunch box out.
  • Washing your lunch bag eliminates 99.9% of the bacteria found inside.

The Bottom Line

Food and harmful bacteria should never be found in the same place. You’re using a lunch bag or box every day, so it’s about time to grab a sponge and give it a good cleaning. It will make your lunch that much tastier!

References

Chandler, V. (2016, June 10). Your Child’s Lunchbox Could be a Lot Dirtier Than You Think. Retrieved from,
https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/uk/health/health-advice/a564127/lunchbox-hygiene-how-to-clean/

The Doctors. (2017, February 28). Is Your Child’s Lunchbox Filled with Bacteria? Retrieved from,
https://www.thedoctorstv.com/articles/3851-is-your-child-s-lunchbox-filled-with-bacteria

Ponnuru, R. (2013, February 7). Your Lunch Bag is a Bacteria Magnet. Retrieved from,
https://www.startribune.com/your-lunch-bag-is-a-bacteria-magnet/190126481/

The Organised Housewife. (2017, April 11). How to Clean Insulated Lunch Bags & Remove Odour. Retrieved from,
https://theorganisedhousewife.com.au/cleaning-2/clean-insulated-lunch-bags-remove-odour/

Maker, M. How to Clean a Backpack & Lunchbag! Retrieved from,
https://cleanmyspace.com/how-to-clean-your-backpack-and-lunchbag-back-to-school-cleaning-tips-part-1/

Klahre, A. (2019, May 1). 5 Easy Steps to Keep Your Lunch Box Clean Throughout the Week. Retrieved from,
https://www.thekitchn.com/5-easy-steps-to-keep-your-lunch-box-clean-throughout-the-week-247061

Maids by Trade. (2016, June 22). How to Clean a Lunch Box. Retrieved from,
https://maidsbytrade.com/clean-lunch-box/

Noonan, J. 11 Things You Didn’t Know You Can Clean in Your Washing Machine. Retrieved from,
https://www.bobvila.com/slideshow/11-things-you-didn-t-know-you-can-clean-in-your-washing-machine-49045#how-to-clean-shower-curtain

Black, K. How to Clean a Metal Lunchbox. Retrieved from,
https://homesteady.com/12607002/how-to-clean-a-metal-lunchbox

Mold Blogger. (2018, December 30). Mold and Lunchboxes: Everything You Need to Know. Retrieved from,
https://moldblogger.com/mold-and-lunchboxes-everything-you-need-to-know/

Noel, S. (2011, March 23). Let Your Dishwasher Do More Than Dishes. Retrieved from,
https://www.frugalvillage.com/2011/03/23/let-your-dishwasher-do-more-than-dishes/

Speed Queen. Clean Kids’ Lunch Bags and Backpacks Like a Pro. Retrieved from,
https://speedqueen.com/how-to-clean-kids-lunch-bags-and-backpacks-like-a-pro/

About the author

Alyssa Mertes

Alyssa is a promo expert with over three years of experience in the industry. Her passion for writing has led to a BA in English & Communications from Aurora University and work published for the Advertising Specialty Institute and The Bolingbrook Sun Times.