Turns out, silicone isn't just for the A-listers and housewives of Tinseltown. Hyped as the "plastic alternative," silicone is a durable, heat-resistant, water-repellent, chemical-resisting, germ-thwarting zero-waste godsend!
While cleaning these reusable bags isn't exactly rocket science, it's important to thoroughly wash them to ensure they remain food safe, germ-resistant, and durable. With a few household items you and your reusable silicone bags can achieve the zero-waste triple threat: maintain a multiple-use item, save money, and preserve the planet- Yipee! If that's not compelling enough, these baby's last a whopping 3-5 years, depending on how well they're looked after. Good thing you're about to learn how to do just that!
Before we get into the manual washing breakdown, the dishwasher-owners among us will be delighted to know that you can pop your silicone bags onto the top shelf of your dishwasher and call it a day.
During my shopping hauls and within the eco-community, I've noticed more and more product offerings opting to use or switching over to silicone. I appreciate silicone for its myriad of impressive (not to mention useful) attributes, but silicone gets a shiny gold star from me because it comes from the very thing it's helping me protect- our planet. Yup- most don't know it but silicone is derived from silica, a type of sand.
One of my favorite life and kitchen hacks of late is ditching reusable plastic bags for silicone ones. Silicone makes for excellent reusable food storage bags because of its properties. Not only are they more hygienic and food-safe (they don't contain phthalates and BPA like plastic does), but they're more durable and last much longer than their plastic counterparts.
However, it's not all sunshine and rainbows. In our FAQ below, I talk about some of the negatives of silicone.
Everyone enjoys a good soak, which is why we start this washing run with a nice warm bath. Prepare your sink or a bowl with warm water and soak the silicone bag/s. The objective here is to help dislodge any food matter and draw out any lingering odors, so resist the temptation to add soap at this point!
Once the bags are soaking, keep busy for ten minutes or so, be it couch potato'ing or answering emails, before returning to the scene of the grime.
Once the time has passed, rinse out the water, ensuring all the food build-up is drained. For the second load, you'll want to add warm water and a few drops of liquid soap to the mix. We're never too old for bubbles, so don't be afraid to get an excellent soapy mix.
With your scrubber of choice, carefully clean the entirety of the bag's interior using circular motions, and be sure to get the corners. Then focus on the bag's external surface making sure you wash front and back.
You'll want to rinse the lathered bag/s with warm water making sure to remove all the soap. I like to fill the bag with a little bit of water and shake it before pouring it out (Beyonce may or may not be played at this point).
Using a non-abrasive towel, wipe down the inside and outside of the bag to get off the bulk of the water. To finish off drying, place each bag on your dish rack but do not turn them inside-out as this can damage the sealed edges and jeopardize their longevity. We don't want to create any watermarks or damp smells so it's best to keep the bags open during the drying process. I get nifty and hang them by their open mouths off drying utensils like a spatula.
Once your silicone bags are dry they'll be ready to be recruited back into service. However, there are some instances where reusable bags maintain a stubborn stain or odor which is why I've prepared a few bonus steps ...
Over time and with certain food items silicone bags can get sticky or hold stains and smells. Tomatoes are my main offender but many fruits and sauce-based foods are likely to leave a mark and odor too. For a deeper silicone bag clean, you'll want a longer soak (as seen in step one) making sure to fill the bag with warm water.
To tackle the stains and odors themselves, mix together the ingredients listed for the stain-removal solution (baking soda, lemon juice, vinegar) until you form a paste. Apply the paste to the interior of the bag (brace for foaming) making sure to give extra attention to the stained bits and then let the bag sit for 15 minutes or so.
To dry, repeat step five, and voila- your silicone bag is as good as new and ready for action.
They are when compared to plastic alternatives, but they are by no means perfect. The process of creating silicone utilizes non-renewable resources like natural gas and oil. Silicone is not biodegradable. It can be recycled but only if sent to a specialist recycling facility. And finally, there are quality silicone reusable bags and low-quality options that are less sustainable and durable.
Traditional plastic sandwich pages are technically safe to wash and reuse. However, with wear and tear bits of plastic can degrade and dislodge getting into the very food it is protecting. As a direct alternative, it's better to switch to silicone food bags that come in an array of sizes and colors and are specifically designed to be food-safe and durable enough to reuse with proper washing and maintenance.
As I discussed in my guide to drying sandwich bags for reuse, silicone bags can be patted down with a non-abrasive cloth before air-drying on a dish rack. It is important to not turn your silicone bags inside out at this point as it can damage the bags' sealed edges.
Unlike their plastic counterparts, reusable silicone bags are 100% microwave safe and will not have any adverse effects on the food you're warming up.
Since Ziploc bags are made of plastic, they do contain BPAs and other chemicals that are harmful to our hormones. It should be noted that storing your food in plastic bags can put you at risk of health issues with prolonged use.
While traditional plastic freezer bags are freezer safe, they're still home to harmful toxins and chemicals that can seep into your food. It's advised that you store your food in food-safe, toxin-repelling materials such as silicone, which is not only temperature resistant but aids in better health for your body and planet.
While by no means perfect, silicone is on balance, helping us kick single-use plastic to the curb. Since packed lunches and nifty food storage are foundational to cutting waste and ditching plastic (think: less plastic-wrapped takeaway, more home-based food prepping), I highly recommend people make the switch to reusable silicone bags. With the washing routine mentioned above in between uses, your silicone bag can last up to 5 years- that's hundreds of plastic food bags replaced!
With a few conscientious shopping choices and a lesson or two from your friendly eco bloggers, you've got waste reduction in the bag. The silicone bag that is (wink wink).