My kids’ lunch boxes come home from school looking pretty nasty some days — like when the peanut butter seems to have exploded inside, or when we open it on Monday morning to find a banana was left inside over the weekend. Gross. So we’ve been looking for some efficient tips on how to clean lunch boxes with all natural cleaners to that we don’t leave behind harsh chemicals that will get on our kids’ food. Here are our tips for every type of box, from metal to neoprene.

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Related: The coolest lunch boxes and bags for kids.


how to clean lunch boxes: Clean metal boxes like this one with non-toxic wipes.

Metal lunch boxes are probably the easiest to clean, because you can just wipe them down with soapy water or wipes. I prefer to use non-toxic wipes like Babyganics All-Purpose Surface Wipes. These make cleaning up so easy that my kids can do it themselves. Brilliant idea, right?

That said, if food is stuck in the crevices near the hinge or on the molded edges, cleaning gets a little harder. Soak a Q-tip in soapy water and use it to scrub those hard-to-reach spots, then let it air dry so that the metal won’t get rusty.

You can find this cool jelly bean lunch box at our back to school guide.




We’re big fans of PlanetBox stainless steel bentos, not only because they save us big money on plastic bags that just get thrown away, but also because they’re so easy to clean. Unlike the old-school metal lunch boxes we had as kids, these steel bentos can go straight in the dishwasher. So helpful on busy school nights. Just remove the decorative magnets first, if you use those. You don’t want to have a meltdown in the morning over ruined Minecraft magnets.

After the dishwasher has run and the kids go to bed, I pull them out and pack them with dinner leftovers and a few treats for the the next day, and lunch is ready to go in the morning. Can it get any easier? Oh, yes it can, because these boxes never build up odor.

You can find this cool Planet Box steel lunch box at Cool Mom Picks.

Related: The coolest lunch box accessories, water bottles, and other goodies to make school lunch more fun.


how to clean lunch boxes: spot clean So Young's insulated lunch box with soap and water

Insulated lunch boxes are great for keeping your kids’ food at a safe temperature while sitting in a locker all morning, but that same insulation seems to grab hold of the stinky smells and stains that are left behind too. We wipe ours down with dish detergent and water after every day because, well, my kids are messy eaters, but I also do an occasional deeper clean.

Start by checking the manufacturer’s warning to see if it’s okay to toss the whole lunch box into the washing machine, but keep in mind that you’ll have to wait for it to dry out. If you need it for lunch the next day, that might not be practical. At least not until the weekend.

If you don’t want to wait, or it’s not machine washable, try dumping one of Honest Company’s Oxy Boost pods into a bowl with baking soda and water to make a powerful, non-toxic scrub that will get those stains and smells out. Just dampen a washcloth and Q-tips or a toothbrush (that you keep just for cleaning, of course) with the concoction and scrub down the insulated part. Wipe it dry with a clean dish towel and leave it out to air dry completely. It’ll be ready to go by morning.

You can find So Young’s cool scooter insulated lunch box at our Back to School guide.



union jack lunchbag at Dabbawalla

For regular maintenance on your neoprene lunch boxes, you can toss it into the washer with laundry detergent on the delicate cycle. Of course, check the label first and do it over the weekend because it takes 1-2 days to fully dry.

If you get a moldy spot from a leftover piece of fruit or sandwich smashed to the bottom of the lunch box, you’ll need to do a bit more scrubbing to kill the mold. You can do that with bleach, but I’m not crazy about using it to clean my kids’ food containers. Instead, I dilute a quarter teaspoon of white vinegar or oil of cloves  in 1 liter of water and put into a spray bottle. Just spray the moldy area thoroughly and leave it for 24 hours to kill off all of the bad stuff. Be warned: The stain may remain, but who cares if it’s clean.

Another trick that doesn’t involve bleach, but rather makes ingenious use of lemons: Cover the moldy spot with a paste made of salt, lemon juice, and water. Once the paste dries, use a damp cloth to wipe it away and the mold will go away, too. If some doesn’t come off the first time, repeat the process as necessary.

You can find this awesome Dabbawalla Union Jack lunch tote at Cool Mom Picks.