tomato stain on plastic container

How to Get Tomato Stains Out of Plastic

Considering tomatoes are such a popular ingredient, you’ve likely encountered the pesky stains they leave on your plastic storage containers.

So, whether you’re cleaning up after leftover Bolognese, shepherd’s pie, or any other tomato-based sauce, it’s worth knowing how to remove these stains.

In this article, we’ll cover how to get tomato stains out of plastic. While the steps below are written with storage containers in mind, the same process will work for cooking utensils, chopping boards, and so on.


How to Get Tomato Stains Out of Plastic

There are several options for getting rid of tomato stains depending on how bad they are.

Let’s go through them in order of severity, so make sure you try each method before moving on to the next one.

Light stains

cleaning plastic food containers

To get rid of light tomato stains, simply soak the plastic in hot water with some washing up liquid.

With a bit of elbow grease, you should be able to lift light tomato stains without too much effort.

The quality of your washing up liquid makes a difference here: products with stain-removing ingredients will obviously be much better.


Obvious stains

remove plastic stains with white vinegar

If you can still see the tomato stains, try soaking the plastic in vinegar. To do this, fill the plastic container with hot water and white vinegar at a ratio of 1:1.

You don’t necessarily need to fill the whole container, just make sure the stain is covered.

Then, leave it for 24 hours or so and wash thoroughly in hot soapy water. The vinegar should help lift the stain, but you might still have to do a bit of scrubbing.

You can use lemon juice instead, although it’s easier to use vinegar. If you have something like a chopping board or plastic spatula, you can rub it with half a lemon to help shift the stain before you wash it.

Both of these options are especially useful for removing oily tomato stains, such as those caused by cooking sauces.

Both vinegar and lemon juice are mild acids that can help cut through oil-based stains.


Stubborn stains

remove stains from plastic with hydrogen peroxide

Vinegar should be enough to get rid of most tomato stains. But if you need to go nuclear (and don’t want to throw your plastic item away), the last option is to try hydrogen peroxide.

Hydrogen peroxide is a far stronger product and should only be used if you’ve tried all the more standard options.

Start by getting a large bowl, such as a washing up bowl. Put your plastic item inside and fill with a 50/50 mix of hot water and hydrogen peroxide. Leave it to soak for up to 24 hours depending on how bad the stain is.

Once you’re happy it’s come off, wash the item. You might want to do a few rounds of washing just to make sure you’ve removed all the hydrogen peroxide, as you’ll want to avoid using the item until it’s completely clean.

It might even be best to wash it, leave it to soak, and then wash it again to be as safe as possible.


Cleaning oily tomato stains

oily stains on plastic food container

Using a mild acid like vinegar should be enough to get rid of an oily tomato stain.

However, you can try the following method if it’s sticking around and oil is more the problem rather than the tomato stain itself.

  1. Sprinkle either salt or granulated sugar into the container. This helps soak up any excess oil, making it far easier to remove.
  2. Next, squirt around two teaspoons of washing up liquid into the container. Swish it around so it coats as much of the stain as possible.
  3. Throw in some ice cubes, which will help to pick up the excess oil.
  4. Fill the container with cold water and leave it to soak for 10 minutes or so.
  5. Tip away the mixture and wash as normal.


How to Prevent Tomato Stains on Plastic Containers

The best way to prevent tomato stains on plastic containers is to coat them with oil first.

Oil, like lycopene and plastic, is hydrophobic. Adding a layer of oil means that the lycopene joins to it rather than plastic and, generally speaking, oil is far easier to remove than a pigment-based stain.


FAQs on Tomato Stains

Why does tomato stain plastic?

The problem part of tomatoes when it comes to stains is the pigment, called lycopene. It’s hydrophobic, meaning it repels water, and so is the plastic container.

Essentially, the molecules come together to avoid coming into contact with water. The best way to remove these stains, therefore, is to break the hydrophobic bond with something like washing up liquid.

macaroni pasta in plastic food container

Are tomato stains permanent?

If a tomato stain is left to dry, it’s more likely that it’ll become permanent. As such, the best thing you can do is immediately put the plastic in water to prevent the stain from drying. Doing this should make it much easier to remove when it comes time to wash up.


Final Thoughts

Hopefully, you now know how to get tomato stains out of plastic.

Washing up liquid or vinegar are probably the most effective options, so try these before moving on to anything more drastic.

That said, prevention is better than reaction. So, make sure you always coat your containers in oil first and immediately put them to soak once you’re finished with them. These steps should keep your plastic containers looking fresh for much longer.