Sunday, April 27, 2008

Containers: Plastic vs. Alternatives

large plastic bin, blue

While I love beautiful storage containers, there are times when we just need something practical. And that often means plastics - unfortunately, given some of the environmental issues.

In Organize Your Home ... in No Time, Debbie Stanley writes:
In most cases, it's best to choose a container made of plastic. ... In general, plastic is the most versatile, long-lasting, and trouble-free material for storage purposes. Be sure to choose plastic containers that are well-made, not brittle or flimsy. Rubbermaid's products are excellent.
And indeed, plastic storage boxes can be extremely useful. Here's a quote from the book Saving Stuff:
Large rubber or plastic containers: used for the safe storing of most collectibles in hostile environments. With a little investigation and good consumerism you can identify good-quality, sealable storage containers made from polyethylene and polypropylene, two fairly stable synthetic materials. Rubbermaid and Tupperware are both made from the right types of plastics.
The major exception, where plastic containers may be a poor idea, seems to be clothing - and there isn't a clear consensus here.

Some people recommend air-tight plastic storage for clothes to protect them from bugs (see here and here and here) while other sources say it's a very bad idea because fabric needs to breath (see here and here and here and here and here).

Here's a quote from Real Simple:
Cloth garment bags are preferable to plastic for long-term storage and are essential for leathers and furs, which may crack or break off if kept in plastic. "Fabric needs to breathe," says Wayne Edelman, owner of New York's Meurice Garment Care. "If you don't have cloth bags, hang sheets over garments."
And here's another quote from Real Simple, which says the opposite.
Moth larvae can crawl through spaces as narrow as 0.1 millimeter (the diameter of sewing thread), so the containers you store clothing in must be tightly sealed. Choose plastic bins designed for home storage, plastic garment and sweater bags, or storage chests made of metal or cedar.
And here's a source that lists similar concerns regarding plastic tubs for fabrics kept for sewing - noting that some plastics are OK, but others are not, and suggesting alternatives.


Anonymous said...


Listen, you are preaching to the choir. I adore plastic for its space saving, functional qualities.

But I am torn between the plastic and the so-called eco-friendly containers made of natural resources!

Cynthia Friedlob said...

Just a quick tip for those storing fabric items in cedar chests: it's a good idea to wrap them in acid-free tissue paper before putting them in the chest. The wood smells lovely but over time it can stain some fabrics. It would be a shame to damage the very things you're trying to protect!

Jeri Dansky said...

Good point, Cynthia - many people don't realize that cedar chests can cause some damage.

John, the only way I know to have the best of both worlds is to get someone's used plastic containers that they no longer need - hopefully because they've decluttered.