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How often you should clean lunch boxes — and the right way to do it!

Lunch boxes are sparkling clean at the start of the school year, but after a few days ... look out!

According to research from e-cloth, 73 percent of fabric lunch boxes tested contained mold and 20 percent had bacteria (staph and enterococci) that could contaminate food and cause food poisoning. Yikes! The solution? Thoroughly clean lunch boxes after every use. TODAY Home spoke with cleaning coach Leslie Reichert to find out some helpful tips for doing the job right.

Lunch boxes and food-storage containers

  1. Start by getting rid of all smashed grapes, smeared peanut butter and other obvious crumbs and smears your child left behind — as well as whatever “treasures” he or she picked up that day.
  2. To remove most bacteria and mold, wash fabric lunch boxes and reusable food containers after every use with soap and water. A microfiber towel, rather than a regular wash cloth, will help fight bacteria.
  3. Most hard plastic, metal lunch boxes and reusable containers are safe for the dishwasher, but check the manufacturer's cleaning instructions to be sure.
  4. If the lunch box still doesn't smell fresh after a good wash, sprinkle it with baking soda and let it sit overnight. In the morning, rinse and dry. Then it should be fresh-smelling and ready to use!


...use baby wipes on lunch boxes. Like plain cloth, these just move dirt around and do nothing to remove bacteria.

...use chemical cleaning sprays on lunchboxes. These leave behind a chemical residue and odor that could get into your child’s lunch.


...wash your hands before preparing your child’s lunch and remind him or her to wash hands before eating at school. (It can't hurt to pack a few sanitizing hand wipes for good measure.)

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From backpacks to lunch boxes, the ultimate back-to-school checklist

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From backpacks to lunch boxes, the ultimate back-to-school checklist

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Reusable beverage containers

1. Thermoses

A simple soap-and-water wash is the way to go here, using a microfiber towel and a bottle brush. Since moisture is a breeding ground for bacteria, leave the lid off so it can dry thoroughly. Thermoses should never go in the dishwasher or be submerged in hot water. Be sure to follow care instructions for these items.

Thermos Stainless Steel Bottle, $19, Amazon


Bottle Brush and Straw Kit, $17, Amazon


2. Screw-top containers

Separate the top from the container and run both pieces through the dishwasher every day (top rack only, of course). Make sure the drying cycle is on because the container needs to be completely dry. If not, it will become a breeding ground for germs. Another option is to wash the container after every use in warm water and dish detergent. Use a microfiber cloth or e-cloth and a brush on the inside to remove any slimy build-up that may have formed. Rinse well and dry thoroughly before using.

Mira Lunch Food Jar, $15, Amazon


3. Containers with spouts or pop-up straws

Wash in soap and water, using a small bottle brush to clean those hard-to-reach nooks and crevices in the drinking spouts. Rinse well and be sure to dry completely—either by air-drying overnight or hand-drying with a clean cloth.

Thermos Funtainer Bottle, $15, Amazon


To remove odors:

If a container does not smell fresh after washing with soap and water, fill with hot water and add a tablespoon of baking soda. Allow it to sit overnight. In the morning, rinse and dry. Then it should be daisy-fresh and odor-free!

To sanitize:

If the beverage container has been shared with a sick classmate or others in the class — willingly or not — you may want to sanitize it using one of the following methods:

Bleach and water:

  1. Wash with soap and water.
  2. Fill the container with a mild bleach/water solution (one teaspoon of bleach to one gallon of water — if you can smell bleach, you’ve used too much).
  3. Allow the bleach solution to stand for five minutes.
  4. Rinse until all bleach odor is gone. Air dry.

White distilled vinegar or hydrogen peroxide:

  1. Wash with soap and water.
  2. Fill container with either vinegar or hydrogen peroxide. Use only one or the other. Don’t mix the two or you’ll cancel their cleaning properties.
  3. Allow it to stand for about 10 minutes, then rinse and air dry.

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