How to Properly Clean and Sterilize Containers for Re-use

In the past, we posted on how to reuse the containers you get from us in fun and crafty ways. Now, we want to talk about how to clean them so you can reuse them safely. These tips will apply to any container you buy, whether it is a unique or vintage container you found while thrifting, or a food jar you want to reuse.

The Difference between Cleaning, Disinfecting, and Sterilizing

There are differences between these three words, and it is important that you know what they are.

Cleaning is getting the container free of visual debris such as food, lotions, soaps, etc. It is basically the removal of foreign material from areas and objects. Cleaning reduces organic matter and can be done by removing any labels and scrubbing the container with soap and water. You can clean your containers in the dishwasher but it does not sterilize them. Cleaning must be done before you can sterilize!

Disinfecting (or sanitizing) is the process of destroying and removing most organisms that are present on surfaces, reducing them to a safe level.

Sterilization is any process that eliminates or kills all forms of life, including viruses, fungi, bacteria, and spore forms.

We use our natural coconut oil utility soap, Katherine, to clean our dishes and containers. It’s gentler on your hands compared to detergent-based cleaners, yet tough enough to scrub off the grime from dishes.

Preparing Your Container – Removing that Darn Label

There are a few different ways to do this, but they all end with the same result.

Our first tip comes from the @sustainablecollective on Instagram. They suggest pouring hot water into the container to warm it up from the inside. Then apply a 1:1 portion of baking soda mixed with oil (any oil in your pantry will do). Slather that onto the label and leave it for 5-6 minutes and the label and pesky adhesive should rub off when washed. (

Our second tip begins with filling the container with warm water and putting the lid back on. Then soak the container in a pot filled with warm/hot water and let it sit for about 5 minutes and peel the label off. Filling the container with water first keeps your container submerged in the water.

If you’re dealing with a stubborn adhesive that just won’t rub off, use this tip from “DIY Natural” that suggests using a mixture of baking soda, coconut oil, and sweet orange or lemon essential oils. Slather that on the label, then let it sit for 5 minutes or so and rub the adhesive off. 

Want to avoid labels all together?

Hair Care Natural

Swap traditional shampoo and conditioner for natural solid bars. You’ll be reducing plastic waste that ends up in landfills, won’t have to worry about sticky labels, and you’ll love your natural hair!

Soap Salve Handwashing Kit

Washing your hands dry with all of those dishes?

Pair your favorite soap with our skin-loving Miti Herbal Salve (and a free soap dish) to soothe those “I washed-them-dry” hands.

How to Clean and Sterilize Containers

Time needed: 30 minutes.

Reusing glass, metal, and plastic containers are fast becoming the new normal, not only for the environment but to save money as well.  Let’s make sure you’re taking the appropriate steps, so your containers are safely ready for reuse.
Note: Plastic containers cannot handle the same heat that glass and metal can and cannot be boiled. Some metal containers can rust from prolonged exposure to water. If your container is not rust-proof, sterilize them as if they were plastic.

  1. Prepare Your Container

    Once the labels are completely off, dismantle your containers, take the lids off, etc. Place them into a pot of warm soapy water and let them soak for 5-10 minutes. A natural bar soap like our dishwashing bar, Katherine, is a great option here.

  2. Clean Your Container

    Use brushes to scrub them in the soapy water.Then, rinse them clean.

  3. To sterilize glass and metal containers and lids:

    Fill the clean containers with hot water and submerge into a large pot of hot water and bring to a boil. Boil for about 15 minutes. Remove from water with clean and sterilized tongs. Allow to air dry completely before use.

  4. To sterilize plastic containers and lids:

    Soak in hydrogen peroxide (3%) for about 10-15 minutes, give them a quick rinse and leave them out to dry in a clean environment. Or, spray with isopropyl alcohol (70%) and leave to air dry in a clean environment.

Sterilizing Using Household Bleach

Most containers can also be sanitized with bleach. Here’s the basic instruction use a bleach solution, and, here’s the link to the CDCs information on cleaning and sanitizing with bleach.

  1. Always wear gloves when working with bleach.
  2. Check the label to see if the bleach you have is intended for disinfection.
  3. Never mix bleach with ammonia or any other cleanser.
  4. Make a bleach Solution:
    1. 5 tablespoons (1/3 cup) bleach per gallon of water OR
    1. 4 teaspoons of Bleach per quart of water
  5. Soak clean containers in this solution to sterilize.

Container Cleaning Tips

You can use your dishwasher to clean your containers. Be sure to run your containers without heavily food soiled dishes. Put plastic on the top rack and all of your glass and metal on the bottom rack. Lids can go in the silverware holder. This only cleans your containers, it does not sanitize them.

Having a variety of mini brushes is very helpful when cleaning containers. You can check the water bottle section of you store, or look for baby bottle or reusable straw brushes.

If there is still an odor from what was in your container before, sprinkle some baking soda into the clean, dry, container and put the lid on. Leave it for about 24 hours, then rinse and dry it, the odor should be gone. You can also set containers (and wood utensils and cutting boards) out in the sun and it will help get rid of odors.

If you use plastic containers to store food and you don’t want it to stain, simply spray the container with cooking spray before putting the food inside.

Some containers can’t be reused (like toothpaste tubes).

Oral Care Kit Unflavored

You can eliminate toothpaste tubes from your trashbin with Tooth Suds. It’s a zero-waste and natural soap for brushing your teeth.

Let’s Talk About Water and Bacteria

When it comes to talking about being sanitary and getting rid of bad things like bacteria, we have to talk about water. Water is not always your friend when it comes to your house.

Bacteria have the same needs as humans: food, water, and shelter:

  • Bacteria needs nutrients for energy; different bacteria have different diets; energy is the necessary fuel to work inside the cell. Some bacteria simply need sunlight using unique metabolic methods. Other bacteria need Carbon, Nitrogen, Sulphur and Phosphorus along with vitamins and minerals.
  • Bacteria needs a source of water, approximately 70% of a bacterial cell is composed of water. Single celled bacteria cannot ingest their own water as humans do; they rely on finding enough water in their environment to get to their cell membranes. Bacteria can live for extended amounts of time without water; however, they cannot grow or reproduce without it.
  • Bacteria need certain environmental conditions to grow and survive. Some prefer the best pH, temperature range, concentration of gases such as oxygen and carbon dioxide, amount of light or amount of pressure present. Some require oxygen and some require an oxygen-free environment, or a high level of carbon dioxide.
  • Bacteria can adapt to varying conditions, each species has its own range of ideal conditions where it can survive and flourish. So we must be aware of the conditions we are providing in our homes.

When we think about bacteria needing water to grow and reproduce, let’s think about our own homes, including kitchens and bathrooms.

  • Do not store your soap, shampoo, conditioner, or tooth suds bars in a container. The bars need to completely dry between uses. If they sit in any water, bacteria can breed.
  • Keep your toothbrush dry between uses. You can dry it yourself or get a commercial, enclosed toothbrush holder that dries it for you after you use it.
  • Since we are all washing our hands much more these days, if you use a liquid soap with a pump on it, be sure to clean and sanitize the pump itself, it is always touched with dirty hands to get the soap out.
  • Do not put wet fingers into the body butter containers. As soon as water is introduced, bacteria can grow. Make sure your hands are completely dry before using body butter.
  • The water that is included in commercial liquid soaps and lotions must have a preservative to keep it from breeding bacteria. Preservatives are not natural and can be toxic, but they must be included so the oil and water can mix together to form the lotion or soap.

Be Safe, Be Sanitary, and Be Healthy.

We want you to be as informed as possible, we are not here to bring fear into your life, only knowledge. Be aware of where your bar soaps are and if they are able to dry completely between uses. If you use liquid soap pumps, clean them off regularly. And, make sure your hands are clean and dry before using natural body butters or salves. By using the cleaning instructions above, you can safely re-use the containers you get from us as well as any unique or cool ones you find out in the world.

Shopping Cart