How to Clean Yellow Discolored Plastic

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A thorough cleaning with household staples such as vinegar, baking soda and lemon juice just may give your yellow discolored plastic a new -- stain-free -- lease on life.
Image Credit: BRETT STEVENS/Cultura/GettyImages

While some plastic home products are durable enough to last for decades, once that plastic becomes stained, yellowed or cloudy, you may feel like tossing it in the trash or recycle bin. Before getting rid of yellowed food containers, bowls or fluorescent light covers, give them one more chance.

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A thorough cleaning with household staples such as vinegar, baking soda and lemon juice just may give them a new — stain-free — lease on life.

Vinegar Soak to Clear the Cloudiness

Over time, plastic — especially plastic that comes into contact with food — may become cloudy. Remove that cloudiness with a mixture of equal parts white vinegar and water. If the yellowed plastic area is the inside a cup or a container such as a plastic blender, pour the mixture into it.

Use enough liquid to fill the container, or at least cover all the cloudy areas. If the cloudiness is on the outside of a plastic item, submerge the item in a plastic or glass vessel containing the vinegar solution. You may have to rotate the cloudy plastic piece from time to time or weigh it down, since it most likely floats.

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Allow the clouded plastic to soak for several hours to ensure that the item gets thoroughly doused in the cleaning agent. Remove it and scrub it well with a nylon scrub pad. Rinse and wash it thoroughly afterward.

Baking Soda Scrub

Baking soda may remove some types of yellowing such as those caused by dyes and minerals in some foods. Make a paste of baking soda and water, and then wet the yellowed plastic. Dip a toothbrush, scrub pad or scrub brush into the paste, and scrub the affected areas. It may take several tries to lighten the plastic completely.

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Lemon Stain Lifter

Lemon juice's acidity makes it an excellent stain lifter. Pour lemon juice — either straight or diluted with an equal amount of water — over or into the yellowed plastic, allowing the item to soak for a while.

Check the plastic after an hour or so to ensure the citric acid is working. If it's still yellow, then let it sit longer, or place it out in the sun with the lemon juice still on or in it. Scrub the item with a nylon scrub brush and a mild dish soap solution afterward.

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Hydrogen Peroxide and Plastic

Discolored plastic can't hold up to hydrogen peroxide. The stain will lift after a long song in this houshold cleaner. Hydrogen peroxide is safe and works if you have an Otterbox clear case yellowing issue as well.

Use hydrogen peroxide and plastic bowls to clean smaller bowls and cups. Pour undiluted hydrogen peroxide into a large plastic bowl and let the smaller items soak. This will clean both the tub and the smaller discolored items at once.

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Simple Bleach Soak

Bleach removes some stains and discolorations from plastic, just as it can from fabrics. Add 1 tablespoon bleach per cup of water, using enough liquid to cover the discolored areas completely.

If the item needs to soak for a long period in the solution, then use a glass or larger plastic container to hold the bleach solution. After 30 to 45 minutes, rinse the item off and wash it in warm, soapy water to remove any lingering layers of bleach.

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Kathy Adams is an award-winning writer. She is an avid DIYer that is equally at home repurposing random objects into new, useful creations as she is at supporting community gardening efforts and writing about healthy alternatives to household chemicals. She's written numerous DIY articles for paint and decor companies, as well as for Black + Decker, Hunker, SFGate, Landlordology and others.

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