How To Get School Lunch Bags Really Clean (and Then Keep Them That Way)

published Jan 24, 2023
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Mother in the kitchen handing her daughter a colorful lunch bag before she goes off to school
Credit: Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/Getty Images

It seems like every correspondence I get from my kids’ schools begins with a declaration of disbelief about how much of the school year has already passed. But now we really are at the half-way point of the school year (whaaaat??) and I myself, along with parents everywhere, I’m sure, can hardly believe it. After all, just yesterday I was picking up car rider tags and trying to get into a lunch-making routine.

After two years of never making lunches (a virtual year of school and then universal free lunch for a year), it took me a while to get into the grocery-shopping, lunch-bag packing groove of things this year. This year, all five of our kids are taking lunches to school. Yeah, that’s a lot of sandwiches — and a lot of lunch gear!

The thing is, dealing with lunches isn’t over once the bags are packed (although it’s definitely appropriate to heave a sigh of relief once that part is done). There’s the after-school lunch bag situation, too. In our house, that involves the big kids tossing any trash and putting their ice packs back in the freezer and the little kids unpacking their PlanetBoxes for me to wash. (A Cubby favorite!) They also put their lunch bags away so they’re ready to go the next day. 

I don’t know about you, but those lunch bags gross me out. I can’t help thinking of how many times they’ve ended up on the floor, crammed into cubbies, slid across not-clean lunchroom tables, and, of course, eaten over. Judging by how dirty they are at the end of the year, those bags go through a lot while they’re at school with the kids. 

Which is why it’s the perfect time of year, to give those lunch bags a thorough cleaning. New year, fresh start energy can apply to this daily-use item just as much as anything else. So let’s give those grubby lunch bags a good once-over and get them all fresh for our kids’ second half of the school year. (I actually like to try to do this weekly.) 

A Step-by-Step Guide to Cleaning a Lunch Bag

Here’s what I like to do to get school lunch bags really clean and keep them that way :

  1. Knock out any loose crumbs in the lunch bag into the garbage can. 
  2. Get a damp rag and wipe out any crumbs. You may need to use a small brush or a cotton swab to dislodge crumbs from seams and corners.
  3. If you can wash them in the washing machine or hand wash them, do that, and dry them outside on a sunny day. The sun helps disinfect them. 
  4. If you can’t wash them in the washing machine, lightly spray with a vinegar and water solution or a faint mist of Dawn Power Wash. 
  5. Spot clean any stains with a more concentrated solution of dish soap and water and a small scrub brush. 
  6. Wipe away soap with a clean, damp rag. 
  7. Dry with a clean, dry rag. 

Optional: Mist inside and out with a disinfecting spray (I like Clorox Disinfecting Mist for this) and allow the bag to air dry. Re-wipe the inside with a slightly damp rag.

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