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Posted on Jan 22, 2008 | 50 comments

How to care for your bento gear

How to care for your bento gear

Cleaning under the rubber packing strip of a bento box lidBecause I like shortcuts and can get bento gear cheaply in San Francisco, I’m tough on my equipment and push the envelope when caring for it. I experiment with putting everything in the dishwasher for speed even when the care instructions say not to. As a result I’ve lost or damaged some equipment, but I’ve also figured out what can take a little more abuse than the manufacturer recommends.

Dishwashers are uncommon in Japan (I didn’t have one until my last year there), so a lot of bento boxes and accessories are made with hand washing in mind. If you have time and the inclination, hand washing all of your bento gear with regular dish soap will make it last the longest, but I wanted to put together bento care guidelines for people either looking for a shortcut or wanting to know what the Japanese care instructions say. At the end of this post I’ve included translations of common Japanese-language care instructions if you’re trying to decode what’s in your cupboard.

Do you have a clever bento care or cleaning tip? Share it with us in comments! (Click here for the full post…)

COOKING & CLEANING

Hand Washing

For best results, use warm water, a mild detergent, and a soft sponge to keep everything in top condition. Avoid scrub brushes or abrasive scouring powders as these can mar the finish of your bento gear. If food is dried on, let it soak briefly before washing so as to avoid hard scrubbing that could leave marks. At the least, you’ll probably wind up hand washing most of your bento box lids and accessories (described below).

Dishwasher

Plastics can warp and disfigure in the high heat of a dishwasher; one way around this is to turn off the heated drying cycle, put all plastics in the top rack, and avoid the high heat sterilizing setting if your dishwasher has one. Think of it as the gentle cycle for bento gear. Anything small that might fly around in the dishwasher and land on the heating element should go into a smaller lidded dishwasher basket, either one that comes with your dishwasher or one sold separately (often for washing children’s bottle or sippy cup pieces).

Microwave

Only microwave containers that are designated as being microwave-safe, and avoid putting the lids into the microwave. The high heat of the food can warp flimsy plastic lids, and some of the wing/flap-type lids have metal in the hinges that shouldn’t go in the microwave. Avoid microwaving greasy or staining foods (tomato-based or curry-based, for example) that are in direct contact with plastic containers as this can cause pitting and staining. Be aware of food safety concerns about microwaving food in plastic containers and determine your own comfort level.

ISSUES

Odors

Prevention: Use the tips in my post on packing smelly foods to reduce food smells in your lunch. If possible, wash the container soon after eating (or at least throw away unwanted food bits and give it a quick rinse/wipe with a paper towel).

Cure: After washing, put the open containers (lids off) in direct sunlight for an afternoon to air them out (storing the containers with their lids off also helps odors dissipate). For stubborn odors, some recommend applying a paste of lemon juice and baking soda. Cascade’s Plastic Booster can be added to the dishwater (either dishwasher or handwashing) to help the detergent work on plastic, whitening and deodorizing plastics.

Stains

Prevention: Pack tomato-based or other staining foods (like curry) in Pyrex or non-reactive metal containers, dark-colored plastic containers (like dark blue or red), food cups (disposable, reusable hard plastic, or silicone), or line the container with a barrier like lettuce, plastic wrap or an antibacterial lunch sheet to cover. Avoid microwaving containers packed with greasy or tomato-based foods as this will cause the plastic to discolor (or worse, pit). (See my tips on microwaving.) If you’re not going to microwave staining food in its container, you can also spray the container with vegetable oil spray or wipe with cooking oil before packing, creating a barrier against stains (this does increase the calorie count and affect flavor, though). If possible, wash or wipe out the container soon after eating.

Cure: To lighten stains on clear or white containers, place in direct sunlight or soak in hot water with a little lemon juice or bleach (wash thoroughly afterwards if you use bleach). Cascade’s Plastic Booster is a highly regarded product that can be added to the dishwater (either dishwasher or handwashing) to help detergent work on plastic, both whitening and deodorizing stained plastics. (EDIT: LJ user dollykat also finds that adding one or two foaming denture cleaning tablets to a stained box filled with water gets out stubborn tomato stains.)

* * * * *

CONTAINERS

Bento Boxes

Cleaning under the rubber packing strip of a bento box lidPacking strip: To maintain a watertight seal on flap- or wing-type bento boxes, periodically remove and wash the packing strip (the white rubber gasket that fits inside a groove in the lid) to keep it clean and pliable. You don’t need to wash it every time you wash the bento box, but regularly. Clean the crevice with a little brush, either a soft-bristled toothbrush or a special cleaning brush (I got a set of two at either Daiso or Ichiban Kan for about US$1; Amazon sells similar bottle brushes here). Be sure to allow both packing strip and lid to dry completely before reassembling. Bento box manufacturers in Japan sell packing strips separately if yours should ever crack, but it’s better to care for the one that came with your box than to go through the rigamarole of trying to replace one from a company that may not ship internationally. If your box or lid ever breaks and you’re going to throw it out, hold onto the packing strip as it might fit another box down the line, and they’re hard to replace outside Japan (I’ve never seen them for sale in the U.S.). Soft narrow brushes for washing bento box lids

Bottoms: I’ve found that most plastic bento box bottoms are just fine in the top rack of the dishwasher as long as the heated drying cycle is turned off.

Lids: After ruining some of my bento box lids by putting them in the dishwasher, I now hand wash bento box lids with a soft sponge (not a scrub brush or scouring pad). Lids made of soft, flexible plastic can stain and warp in the heat of the dishwasher (beware of the delicate inner lids of the Urara boxes!). Lids made of hard plastic (like the flap/wing type) are tougher, but the lid decoration tends to wear off faster in the dishwasher than hand washing. (The Feel at Ease bento box seems to be particularly vulnerable.) Side dish containers with decals can develop bubbles under the decal in the dishwasher. The workhorses of my bento boxes are the Lock & Lock brand boxes, though, whose lids are dishwasher safe. In general, avoid putting bento box lids into the microwave, as the high heat can cause warping and many hinges contain metal.

Laptop Lunchbox

Laptop LunchboxHooray! The Laptop Lunchbox’s inner containers and their lids are dishwasher-safe (top rack), and the containers can be microwaved without their lids. Hold off on packing vinegar-based salad dressings in the little sauce container as people have experienced problems with the lid cracking because of vinegar (any updates?). The lids will wear better in the dishwasher without the heated dry cycle. If washing by hand, you may want to run a soft-bristled toothbrush along the groove of the lid to make sure everything gets clean. The utensils that come with the Laptop Lunchbox are not dishwasher safe, though — some report cracking at the handle with repeated trips through the dishwasher. Best to hand wash these. Some people have also reported problems with a sticky residue when using the dishwasher to wash containers that were sealed with Glad Press ‘N Seal, but not when hand washed. I haven’t been able to replicate this, but FYI.

Thermal Food Jars

Small Thermal Food Jar

Insulated bento set

Hole in the bottom of thermal food jar

To prevent odors from developing in the metal containers, store with the lid off or cracked open. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for washing; my Nissan Thermos thermal food jar is watertight and the care instructions give a thumbs up for the dishwasher, but the cheaper thermal food jar in my thermal bento set has a tiny hole in the bottom that fills up with water in the dishwasher and leaks out afterwards. I now hand wash that one food jar.

Thermal Lunch Jars like the Mr. Bento

Nissan Stainless Thermal Lunch ToteThe care instructions for thermal lunch jars generally call for hand washing, but I’ve found that the bowls themselves do fine in the upper rack of the dishwasher (no heated dry cycle). Hand wash the lids for longest life, although I have been known to put them through the dishwasher on occasion with no ill effects (no heated dry cycle).

Collapsible Sandwich Cases

Collapsible sandwich holder (exploded)Although I hand wash the lids to protect the lid decorations (see above on bento box lids), the bases of the collapsible sandwich cases are fine going through the dishwasher.

Wooden or Lacquerware Bento Boxes

I don’t use wooden or lacquerware bento boxes; Just Bento has some notes on their care here.

* * * * *

ACCESSORIES

PicksDecorative picks for children's lunches

Wooden picks should be hand washed, but you can put plastic and bamboo food picks through the dishwasher (upper rack, no heated dry cycle) if you use a lidded dishwasher basket to keep the picks from flying around the dishwasher and landing on the heating element. Many plastic picks include a warning that the oils and terpenes in citrus peels (such as lemon) can damage the picks. Manufacturers of plastic picks generally recommend hand washing, and warn against the dishwasher, microwave, freezer and oven.

Sauce Bottles

Pre-filled sauce containers for speedy lunch packingPeople are often puzzled by how to wash the tiny sauce bottles with screw caps (like the soy sauce fish). Some people avoid the whole washing issue by dedicating each sauce container to holding only one kind of sauce, but I prefer to wash them out with the same method I use to fill them. Unscrew the top and dunk the little fish in hot, soapy water. Repeatedly squeeze the sauce bottle underwater, forcing soapy water in and out of the bottle. To rinse, repeat the process in clean hot water. This is most effective when you wash the sauce bottle soon after using it. For dried-on sauces, fill the sauce bottle with hot soapy water and let it soak for a while. Put the cap on and shake it up to agitate, then wash as normal until clean. To dry, I prop them upside down in the dish rack and let them air dry. (Variation: Flickr user Kate Ford uses an old Water Pik to blast her bento gear clean, getting water into all of the nooks and crannies.)

Reusable Hard Plastic Food Cups

Reusable plastic food cupsThese are more delicate than they look, and don’t do well in the freezer, microwave or dishwasher (let alone the oven). They won’t deform if washed in a lidded dishwasher basket in the top rack of the dishwasher (no heated drying cycle). But they often turn over during the wash cycle and fill with water, requiring a hand wash in the end. Save yourself a step and just wash them by hand with a soft sponge.

Reusable Silicone Baking Cups (used as food cups)

Silicone cupcake linersThese are pretty indestructible — throw them into the dishwasher, oven, freezer or microwave. You can even take them out of the freezer with an individual portion of food, and put it right into the microwave without issues. They don’t do well with direct heat, though, so avoid putting them right into a frying pan, toaster oven, or under the broiler. Refer to the manufacturer’s instructions if in doubt. If I’ve cooked something stubborn in these like eggs, I find that baked-on bits don’t fully come off in the dishwasher and I need to give them a little scrub to finish the job.

Condiment Cups (i.e. mayonnaise cups)

Condiment cups for bento lunches The surest way to get these clean is to hand wash them, especially if they have stickers on them (i.e. the Clickety Clack mayo cups). Condiment cups without stickers can be washed in a lidded dishwasher basket in the top rack of a dishwasher (no heated drying cycle), but they’ll often turn over in the dishwasher and not get fully clean, necessitating a hand wash anyway. Paper stickers come off in the dishwasher, and plastic stickers can develop bubbles underneath.

Disposable Plastic Food Dividers (“baran”, i.e. sushi grass)Small food dividers for bento lunches (

Yes, these are originally meant to be used once and thrown away. But you may be reluctant to toss them either for cost or environmental reasons. Because plastic food dividers are usually quite thin and delicate (especially sushi grass), these are best hand washed with a soft sponge and air dried. When I’ve put them through the dishwasher, they tend to stick up to the side of the dishwasher basket and not get fully clean.

Lunch Bags

Cars bento lunch bag for childWhen one of Bug’s unlined cloth ‘kinchaku’ lunch bags gets dirty, I just toss it into the laundry with everything else. For longer life, you can either hand wash these or turn them inside out and put in a mesh washing bag before tossing it into the washing machine. Kinchaku with decal patterns will thank you for drip drying, but I’m too lazy for this and toss them into the dryer as well. There’s been a bit of fading over time that probably could have been avoided with a regimen of hand washing and drip drying, but that’s too much work for me.

Insulated Lunch Bags

Insulated bento bag (large)It’s best to follow the manufacturer’s care instructions with these; generally they’re looking to be spot cleaned or wiped with a damp sponge. With the Laptop Lunchbox’s insulated carrying case, Flickr user traceyk73 writes here that she had luck hand washing it, then propping it open on a sweater rack in the dryer for 40 minutes on the air dry cycle.

Drink Containers with Reusable Straws

Narrow brushes for washing reusable strawsMany of my preschooler’s drink containers have built-in reusable straws that need to be washed between uses. Huge pain. Placing the straws horizontally in the dishwasher doesn’t let enough water inside to clean them sufficiently, and they drop right through the holes in my dishwasher’s utensil basket. I finally got a tiny round brush to use when hand washing Bug’s straws (US$1.50 at Daiso, Amazon sells similar bottle brushes here) to use when hand washing Bug’s straws. It’s a pain, but the straws definitely get clean and I can also use the tiny brushes to clean little holes in cup lids. (EDIT: Reader Polcamilla uses pipe cleaners from the craft store for this — good idea!)

* * * * *

JAPANESE CARE INSTRUCTIONS

Below are some common care instructions you may see on Japanese packaging for bento boxes or accessories. I knew there was a reason I held onto all of that packaging! (If you have trouble displaying these on your computer, try adjusting the “Character Encoding” setting in your browser’s View section to include Japanese.)

Don’t wash in dishwasher.

  • 食器洗い機、食器乾燥機は作用しないでください。
  • 自動食器洗浄機・食器乾燥機には使用しないでください。

Don’t put in the freezer.

  • 冷凍庫でのご作用はおやめください。
  • 冷凍庫では使用しないでください。

Don’t put in the microwave or freezer.

  • 電子レンジ及び冷凍庫では使用しないでください。

Don’t put in the microwave or toaster oven.

  • 電子レンジ・オーブン等でのご作用はおやめください。
  • 本体は電子レンジ、オーブン、グリル機能での使用はできません。

Don’t put in the microwave, oven or dishwasher.

  • 電子レンジ、オーブン、食器乾燥機、食器洗い乾燥機等で使用しないでください。

Don’t put in oven or place near direct heat (causes warping or melting).

  • 火のそばに置かないでください。 変形することがあります。
  • オーブントースターや直火では作用しないでください。
  • é«˜æ¸©ã«ãªã‚‹å ´æ‰€ã€ç‰¹ã«ç«ã®ãã°ã«ç½®ã‹ãªã„ã§ãã ã•ã„ã€‚ç†±ã«ã‚ˆã‚Šã€å¤‰å½¢ã™ã‚‹ã“ã¨ãŒã‚ã‚Šã¾ã™ã€‚
  • グリル、オーブン機能での使用は出来ません。
  • オーブン・グリルでの使用はできません。
  • ç›´æŽ¥ã€ç«ã«ã‹ã‘ãŸã‚Šã€ã‚ªãƒ¼ãƒ–ãƒ³ã‚°ãƒªãƒ«ç­‰ã§ã®åŠ ç†±ã¯ã§ãã¾ã›ã‚“ã€‚

Wash before first use.

  • ご使用前に洗剤等でよく洗ってください。

Don’t wash with a scrub brush or scouring powder as it’ll damage the surface.

  • タワシや磨き粉で磨くと、傷がつきます。
  • たわし、またはみがき粉でみがくとキズがつくことがあります。

Microwave cautions

  • 電子レンジ作用上の注意
  • 電子レンジ使用上の注意

Remove lid before putting in the microwave.

  • 電子レンジで使用の際はフタを外して使用してください。
  • é›»å­ãƒ¬ãƒ³ã‚¸ã§ä½¿ç”¨ã®éš›ã¯ãƒ•ã‚¿ã‚’å¿…ãšã¯ãšã—ã¦ãã ã•ã„ã€‚ãƒ•ã‚¿ã‚’ã—ãŸã¾ã¾åŠ ç†±ã™ã‚‹ã“ã¨ã¯ã§ãã¾ã›ã‚“ã€‚
  • 電子レンジでご使用の際は、上フタ及び内フタをはずしてください。(Remove both top and inner lids before microwaving.)

Avoid microwaving oily or greasy foods as they can overheat.

  • æ²¹è„‚åˆ†ã®å¤šã„é£Ÿå“ã‚’å…¥ã‚Œã¦é›»å­ãƒ¬ãƒ³ã‚¸ã‚„ã‚ªãƒ¼ãƒ–ãƒ³ã§ã”ä½¿ç”¨ã®å ´åˆã€è€ç†±æ¸©åº¦ä»¥ä¸Šã«ãªã‚Šã‚„ã™ã„ã®ã§é¿ã‘ã¦ãã ã•ã„ã€‚(also avoid the oven)
  • æ²¹åˆ†ã®å¤šã„é£Ÿå“ã®åŠ ç†±ã¯é¿ã‘ã¦ãã ã•ã„ã€‚
  • æ²¹åˆ†ã®å¤šã„é£Ÿå“ã®åŠ ç†±èª¿ç†ã¯ãŠã•ã‘ãã ã•ã„ã€‚
  • 電子レンジ対応ですが長時間の温めにより、油分の多い食材(唐揚げ)などは、本商品の耐熱温度以上になることがあります。長時間の温めはお止めください。(Don’t heat for long periods of time, especially with oily foods like fried chicken.)

Use the microwave only to warm foods in this, not to actually cook in it.

  • 電子レンジでご使用できるのは、温めるだけです。調理用に使うことはできません。

Refer to your microwave oven’s instruction manual for further cautions

  • その他の使用上の注意については電子レンジの説明書にしたがってください。

The oils and terpenes in citrus peels (such as lemon) can cause damage (to plastic food picks).

  • レモン等、柑きつ類に含まれるテルペン又は油脂によって変質することがあります。

FURTHER READING:

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  1. When I was bottle feeding my daughter the UK instructions were very clear that the dishwasher should not be used for sterilisation. My SiL, who is American, however was told that the dishwasher could be used. Although I’ve not verified this we were later told that US dishwashers run much hotter than UK ones. Certainly all the bento stuff (dishwasher safe or otherwise) I’ve put though my UK dishwasher has been fine – though I’ve avoided putting in anything with decorative bits that might be glued on. Its probably still not advisable to put anything precious in a dishwasher but UK readers may find they can afford to be a bit more gung-ho in terms of putting stuff in the dishwasher.

    Again, I’ve not verified this information, but am passing it on in case.

  2. I use a citrus peeler from Tupperwaer to remove the rubber gaskets with ease and to scrap out any food stuck in the crevices.

  3. Call me freaky but I have always liked the kanji for warning ;)

    The warning not to use plastic in a toaster oven seems over the top but then I have clothing which says “keep away from open flame – will catch fire”
    Gee, wouldn’t you know ;).
    Not having a dish washer I clean mine by hand. Actually I scold them as hot as the tap water will go, let it cool to allow hand useage and then wash them as usual.

  4. I have a question about washing. I recently bought these:

    Furikake Parmesan Cheese Bacon Bits Shakers for Bento

    Sauce Dressing Bottles for Bento

    and had major problems with them. I used the little bottle to take ranch dressing to work and when I came home and washed them the little sticker completely washed off. The shaker sticker started to peel up and has water underneath it now. So disappointing. I way over paid for these on ebay and now they aren’t even cute any more. Any ideas for future accessories with stickers?

  5. Sorry for the double post :(

  6. The straws for Bugs drinks can be washed using this dishwaser basket that has little side holders that hold the straws upright for better cleaning. I use these for general cleaning, but still use a small brush for good cleaning about once per month.

    http://store.babycenter.com/product/code/5675.do?scid=SSE:NXTG&srccode=cii_9324560&cpncode=10-64521318-2

    Oh, and about the dishwashers for sanitizing. US dishwashers do santitize and some older models have a button or switch to choose to wash and sterilize, or just wash. Our dishwasher which is about 6 years old now sterilizes automatically, but I can turn it off. I think you can check with your specific dishwasher online.

    And I had to laugh about some of the warnings. They do seem commonplace, however, sometimes, the warnings can really make you scratch your head. My friend had a bathing suit that on the washing instructions actually said “Do not fully immerse in water”.

  7. Great tips, I’ve always had problems with cleaning under the packing strip. And hygiene is so important when food is involved. Thanks so much for sharing :)

  8. @1 from Louise: Good feedback on the lower temperature of U.K. dishwashers vs. U.S. — thanks!

  9. @2 from Jennifer: That would definitely work. There’s also usually a little indent somewhere along the inner lip of a lid so that you can easily pluck the rubber gasket out with your fingers without puncturing it. It’s a little hard to make out in the first photo, but it’s right above the pink brush…

  10. @3 from Jessika: Yeah, some of the warnings are pretty obvious, but I must confess I would have been tempted to put the silicone baking cups in the toaster oven if it weren’t for the warning.

  11. I have little bottles (maybe 20ml) with screw tops – that I take my salad dressing in. I hand wash them, and have found that they sit upside down perfectly in an empty ice cube tray to dry.

  12. @4 from Autumn: Ah, I have those furikake dispensers and dressing bottles — both are cheapies from Daiso (US$1.50 per set of two). I’d say anytime you have an accessory with a sticker on it, make sure to hand wash it and don’t let it soak. Accessories made by Daiso, Ciao and Mam’s Assist are generally very cheap, low quality and don’t stand up to punishment.

    No sweat on the double post, BTW — I deleted the duplicate.

  13. @6 from Kim: Oh, that’s funny about the bathing suit warning! I mean, come on! Thanks for the dishwasher basket link. I may actually have that same one buried somewhere around here — I’ll have to check. The ability to actually get Bug’s straws clean in the dishwasher would be a huge plus!

  14. @8 from amvn: My pleasure, amvn! I’ve gotten much more paranoid about food hygiene since I’ve started feeding a child — I don’t want to be responsible for making him sick.

  15. @12 from KCatGU: Nice to know on your salad dressing bottles; would you happen to have a link so we can see which ones they are?

  16. @11, Biggie, that’s the poor part about a japanese kitchen, the absence of a real oven. I suffered severe baking withdrawal symtoms during my first 6 months. I never really got into the toaster oven thingy, although I am more open to it now.

  17. The straw cleaners are wonderful to know about! I had a tupperware juice box that I was using for a while, but eventually the straw got really gross. One day I got desperate and tried slipping a disposable straw on the nubbin where the re-usable straw was supposed to attach: it fit perfectly! Cleaning the original straw is definitely more environmentally friendly, but it’s nice to know that in a pinch I can just throw a new straw on the container and cut it to the appropriate length.

  18. @19, Sony, there are also other bottles for drinks on the market. They do not come with straws but you can add a sport cap. You can search for Nalgene bottles or Sigg. I prefer Nalgene. The cap nalgene comes with is attached to the bottle so there’s no risk of it getting lost. They are of hard plastic in a variety of colours and sizes. They are cleaned easy with a bottle brush and regular dish detergent. They say these bottles can aquire taste of contents over time but this is something I have not noticed. Sigg have children sized bottles. Both brands and similar can be found at sports- and adventure/trekking stores.

  19. @ 20, Jessika: Yeah, I’ve since switched to a collection of Sigg bottles. Little one for the purse, big ones for the briefcase. They’re awesome. I also have a shaker bottle from GNC that I abuse the living crap out of. It seals well enough that I can stand it up in the backpack or briefcase and not have to worry about leaking. That and a Sigg bottle of water and sugar free lemonade or kool aid packets are how I’ve learned to survive my doctor’s no caffiene, no calorie beverage injunction. I really like the Sigg bottles because they can take a lot of abuse.

    I did accidentally leave tea in my first Sigg bottle (and then it got put away for a month or so…) and that was a problem. In the end I was able to bleach the smell out of the bottle, but not the lid. In the end I bought a replacement cap and the problem was solved. Since then I’ve had no trouble, but I’ve also been careful not to leave flavored beverages in them for more than a day.

  20. @21, Sony. I too have a variety of different sized Sigg bottled and now a couple of Nalgenes. You can usually fix the Siggs back to normal as long as stuff hasn’t dried out in it. Now that you can get “socks” for them to keep warm beverages longer I have quit the thermal cups. I have different caps with one that glows in the dark ;).
    Perhaps I have been trekking for a bit too long but it is for finding it when you are camping etc., there are also new isolation rings available for the caps as well as new caps making one bottle last for years if not more. So Sigg and
    Nalgene! Benefit of Nalgene is that you can see how much fluid is remaining. Nalgene also makes these convenient little jars and small bottles for keeping things in.

  21. Great post! Thanks so much for the translations and info.
    A funny warning on two things: A plastic alphabet set: Beware of pieces that may be missing.
    On a box of frozen food: Read directions thoroughly before removing box from freezer.

  22. Thank you for another very useful and informative post! Our family uses both the Laptop Lunchbox system as well as Mr. Bento. I tend to hand-wash all the parts—but that’s probably because I find some sort of strange ‘zen’ in handwashing our lunch containers. For those hectic days, I appreciate these helpful hints…;-)

  23. I just wanted to echo the side straw holder in the Munchkin basket – on the rare occasion that my son uses one of his Playtex straw cups, I wash the straw parts using this basket. Threading the parts through both side shelves ensures the parts don’t come loose during washing (I know this sounds obvious but I lost one of the top parts once).

    Thanks for the helpful post, Biggie!

  24. @17 from Jessika: I so hear you about the lack of an oven in the Japanese kitchen! The apartment I moved into in Tokyo actually had an oven (after 3.5 years in Osaka without), so I started hosting the annual Thanksgiving dinner for my American expats who craved a roast turkey. It felt strange buying pie-making equipment from Japanese department stores and getting the turkey & cranberries from National Azabu, but man it was worth it!

  25. @18 from vampyra1: Great tip on the Zip Fizz test tubes, thanks! I’m all for repurposing everyday gear for bento use.

  26. @19 from Valued Sony Customer: A disposable straw works in some of Bug’s cups, but not others — depends on how tough the disposable is (some of them kind of get bent up). But it’s a good option when I haven’t hand washed straws lately. Thanks!

  27. @23 from Monica: Got it, I’ll just crawl right into our chest freezer to read instructions before taking things out! ;-)

  28. @24 from Amber: Washing up can be calming sometimes, can’t it? Have to be in the right mood for it, though — that’s why I try to put everything in the dishwasher unless it really messes things up.

  29. @25 from Chief Family Officer: Ooh, I’ve lost the little rubber ring from one of Bug’s drink containers in the dishwasher before — not a happy experience! I’ve got to get one of those Munchkin dishwasher baskets with the straw holders…

  30. A friend recently showed me a little brush she picked up at a local Japanese shop for washing the reusable straw from the plastic bottles. I was terribly envious, but then realised I already HAD the perfect cheap, easily replaceable straw-brush—a PIPE CLEANER!

    The pipe cleaner fit nicely through the entire straw and got all the gunk out (my son doesn’t always take good care of his thermos) and I could fold it in half and twist it a bit to make a slightly thicker brush for some of the wider spots.

    I figure a package from the craft store could easily last me a few years if I can just keep my kids from using the pipe cleaners for craft projects.

  31. Has anyone invented a dishwasher basket for chopsticks? Baby-gear d.w. baskets do not work for chopsticks. Any ideas until someone invents this? Thanks.

  32. @34 from Tory: I lay my chopsticks horizontally in the top rack of the dishwasher, across several of the tines and place something over it like a cup. Keeps them from flying around and still gets them clean.

  33. I just got some of the tiny sauce bottles and was wondering–do you wash them before using them for the first time, or do you just use them “as is?”

  34. @37 from Alison: I’m lazy, so I just give ‘em a quick rinse with water. If I were more thorough I’d wash them first, though!

  35. Hi Biggie, I thought you and other people might be interested, I found a new dishwasher widget at Dollar Tree the other day. It’s basically a big rubber band with hooks on it, and the idea is that you hook it to the dishwasher rack to hold down lightweight objects that otherwise might get flipped over. It wouldn’t work for teeny ones that go in the little basket, but for stuff like the disposable/reusable Gladware and such. I’ve used it once so far but I couldn’t tell if it helped. There are a few pictures on my flickr if anyone wants to see it in action. http://www.flickr.com/photos/9839083@N04/2412195880/in/set-72157600719919946/
    (Disclaimer: I have no association with the manufacturer or Dollar Tree.)

    The way I have my little basket placed, some of the prongs of the main dishwasher rack extend through the basket. I use these to keep things from flipping over inside the basket. I also put stuff into the basket that doesn’t need to be there, if that stuff will hold down other stuff. I’ve got old Pyrex custard cups that two of them will just fit and help keep other stuff in place.

    Under the basket is where my plastic Chinese-style chopsticks go! I slide them in from the front, between the rack and the bottom of the little basket. If there are too many for that space, then I do like you, Biggie, and put cups or something over them.

    I am not sure what my Japanese-style chopsticks are made of, but it doesn’t seem like something that should go in the dishwasher. Probably bamboo with some kind of plastic lacquer?

  36. @39 from Sunflower: That was really interesting to check out — thanks Sunflower. I don’t have so much of a problem with things flipping over, but there are a few things. Interesting concept that people could probably recreate at home.

  37. I bought 2 bento boxes recently. One is apparently dishwasher and microwave ok, but the other is supposedly only good to nuke.

    If a bento can go in the microwave, couldn’t it theoretically also withstand the heat of a dry cycle? Or is a heated dry cycle both excluded from standards of dishwasher safeness and completely different from sticking it in the microwave?

    Thanks. :)

  38. @41 from Matteson: Do you have a photo or a link to a photo of your microwave-safe boxes? If so, let me know — that’ll help me judge the dishwasher safety of the second box. What is the second box made of?

  39. Here is the first one:

    Obviously, the sparkly cover is not doing in the wash.

    And this is the second, only in pink. I dontl really know what it’s made of, other than plastic.

    Thanks again!

  40. @44 from Matteson: Okay, I was able to check out the photos — thanks. On the second, the bases should both do fine in the dishwasher (top rack) on heated dry, but the inner lid will warp in the heat. I’d recommend hand-washing the decorated top lid, as repeated dishwasher washings may remove the lid decoration.

  41. I was wondering if you would have any tips in cleaning the nori punches (Seaweed Punches)? I just received mines in the mail today and would like to wash it before using, however, I wasn’t sure if there was a proper way to wash it without it rusting?

  42. Hi,

    I hand wash all of my plastic containers but I always notice that at least with the ones I buy from Ichiban Kan or Daiso, there’s always a soapy smell to them. Sometimes it makes my food smell soapy even though I’ve rinsed it thoroughly. Do you have any tips? Maybe the quickest thing to do would be to just switch to a more mild dish washing soap?

    Thank you!

  43. Biggie, the fastest way to gunk up Laptop Lunchboxes after using Press N Seal, especially the FREEZER-strength, is to wash them in a dishwasher AND using Electrasol to do it.

    I don’t like other brands of DW soap, and I usually cover the small boxes with the heavy Press N Seal. (One leaky sunomono salad and the Press N Seal was on my grocery list! No matter how you drain some things, they’ll drip. I do wish LL would make a covered small box, but I digress).

    I noted I was getting gunk on my LL boxes, but when my brother borrowed them, also using Press N Seal, and used Cascade to wash them, he wasn’t.

    Electrasol users, wash the once-wrapped LL boxes by hand before putting them in the DW. Can’t get the residue off? Use clean cooking oil to do it. Don’t use toasted sesame oil, though – too smelly. Even full-fat coconut milk, smooth peanut butter, or other oily nut butters will do in a pinch. Rub it on the sticky parts and the residue will come off. Then you can either wash with Dawn to get the oil off, or send them back through the DW with the next day’s dishes.

    Whatever you do, don’t use Goo Gone or similar chemical removers. Yes, the Press N Seal residue will come off, but the smell and oily residue the chemical remover will leave behind will drive you batty getting rid of IT next.

    Hope this helps someone!

  44. Should have read PJ’s post first! PJ, put a couple tablespoons of vinegar in your rinse water or into a small basin of water big enough to dunk your bento boxes. The vinegar will help get off all the soap. You might have to leave them in a few minutes, or add a little more vinegar, but it will do the job.

    Don’t go wild with the vinegar amount, though – it can loosen or fade labels/designs if too strong or left for too long. I wouldn’t soak a submerged box overnight. I’ve also always taken out the silicone or rubber strips around the top of many boxes. For Hakoya boxes, use only a dip. Don’t soak those.

    For smelly boxes, a light vinegar solution left in the box for an hour or two can get rid of the ‘new-plastic’ smell. Don’t worry; the vinegar smell will fade once it’s dry.

  45. Any patterns for bags to hold the LAPTOP LUNCHES?
    Thanks,
    Thea

  46. Hi! I hope you can help me.

    I bought a Zojirushi Mr. Bento before school started. I put some steamed snap peas (from Trader Joe’s) in the top container for lunch the other. I washed it that night and realized that my daughter didn’t not eat the snap peas. So these snap peas sat in the container for over 10 hours. Now, the plastic lid has the smell of the snap peas (smell of beans) on its underside.

    I tried regular dishwashing detergent, baking soda/detergent, baking soda/detergent/vinegar and nothing worked.

    Now the same thing happened to the 2nd tier container of the Mr. Bento when I packed Stirred fried vegetables Beijing style. Now the lid has the smell from the sauce that I cannot get rid off.

    Any ideas how to get rid of smell from plastic lids?

    Thanks!

  47. I have a question. Are you able to fix the crack on a bento box lid? because I was trying to close mine and cracked the lid, and I just got this bento box.