I love home-made iced tea, and have gone so far as to post my recipe for it. As you can see in the picture to the right, I use translucent Tupperware 1-gallon pitchers for the tea, and after over a year of use the pitchers were getting tea-stained.
I did a lot of things to try to remove the stains – scrubbing the hell out of them, letting them soak overnight with dish soap, filling them with boiling water hoping to cook the stains out, etc, etc, etc. Nothing worked and the stains just kept getting more stainier.
I eventually turned to the web, and many (many) people recommended soaking overnight filled with warm water and a little bleach (yuck!) or OxiClean (double-yuck!!), but using any kind of chemical like that seemed, well, yucky.
Then I found someone who said they also had a problem with tea staining their plastic pitchers, and they solved it by alternating iced tea with lemonade, and the acidity of the lemonade helped keep the pitchers clean.
I like lemonade, but not enough to put it into my homemade drink-making routine, but it got me thinking. Specifically, it got me thinking about citric acid, which is the part of the lemonade that is, well, acidic, and I started wondering if I could just buy some citric acid somewhere.
And, as in almost all cases where I’m looking to see if something is available on the web, I turned to Amazon.com, and lo and behold, they had some – quite a few options, in fact. I ended up ordering the liquid citric acid in a glass jar, pictured to the right.
I took my most stained pitcher, put about 2 ounces of the citric acid in it, and filled it to the brim with hot tap water and let it soak overnight. The next day I poured out the water, scrubbed and rinsed the inside, and saw a tremendous improvement, although it was still a bit stained.
But, after treating it a few more times in rotation as the pitcher became empty again, it is now very, very clean. If you inspect it very closely you can still see some slight discoloration, but it isn’t noticeable in normal use, and seems to be lessening over time with regular treatments.
My plan is now to use this treatment every once in a while on my pitchers, to keep them clean. And, unlike with bleach or detergents, the worst case scenario is that the treatments might impart a slight citrus taste to the tea, which I don’t think I’d mind if and when it ever happens – and I certainly won’t be worried about any side-effects from ingesting a toxic chemical, because it’s just citric acid, which is edible.
So, if you have stained plastic food containers and are wondering how to safely get them clean, you may want to try soaking them in citric acid (or lemonade, if you are so inclined) and let a natural, edible acid do the work for you.