Advice For Buying a Neoprene Lunch Bag


Neoprene lunch bags hit the packed lunch scene in early 2006, according to Google Trends. Today, there is a vast array of companies offering the insulated bags in fun colors and patterns. If you are considering buying a Neoprene lunch bag, or have questions on how to care for your Neoprene lunch bag, read on in this all inclusive guide to buying Neoprene lunch bags.

If you need to know how to clean your Neoprene lunch bag, check out "Care and Cleaning of Neoprene Lunch Bags." Don't miss the results of Everything Pantry's Neoprene Insulation Test below!

Origins of the Neoprene lunch bag

The BUILT company, established in 2003, claims to be the creator of the original Neoprene lunch bag. Founded by three friends, the company focuses on innovative, well-crafted design containers for the portable food and beverage market.

Their focus in this design space led them to the use of Neoprene. The company's first successful Neoprene product was the  Two-Bottle Wine Tote, which remains popular today. Shortly after, the "Gourmet Getaway Lunch bag" was born, launching the birth of the Neoprene lunch bag industry.

What is Neoprene? 

Neoprene is best known as the material used to make wetsuits for surfing or diving. It was originally developed by DuPont™ in 1931 as a substitute for rubber. "Its physical toughness, water resistance, flexibility, and usability over a wide range of temperatures make Neoprene ideal for a variety of applications and products."

DuPont™ sold its Neoprene division to the Japanese company, DENKA in 2014, bringing a long era of Neoprene history to an end. Neoprene compliments DENKA's core business of Chloroprene rubber.

What is Neoprene fabric good for? Neoprene fabric is good for insulating things like food and and holding in warmth for human bodies. The soft material is ideal for padded cases offering added protection to contents. Neoprene is heat resistant and works well in automobile engine parts like gaskets. Neoprene's flexibility offers a wide range of services in the medical field, for space equipment, military gear, and athletic clothing. 

Products made from Neoprene.

Products made from Neoprene.

How is Neoprene made? Contrado, a fashion website, explains that Neoprene is made through a chemical reaction that uses chloroprene. As a result, polychloroprene chips are left behind.

"Those chips are then melted and mixed with various...  agents. Then, it’s put in an oven and baked until it expands... Neoprene is sliced up to create sheets in the desired thickness."

Neoprene material has a strange, squishy feel to it. It's flexible, water-resistant, and insulating. Neoprene is not just for deep sea diving suits, but is used for lunch bags, laptop cases, boots, even landfill liners.

What type of material is Neoprene? Neoprene is a synthetic (man-made) rubber.

What's Neoprene fabric? Neoprene fabric is Neoprene that has elastic fabrics mixed in to increase the flexibility of Neoprene for garment use.

Is Neoprene the same as polyester? Neoprene is not the same as polyester. The foam material is typically laminated inside two pieces of other fabrics, usually polyester or nylon.

Is Neoprene the same as rubber? Neoprene is a synthetic rubber. According to Chemical Safety Facts, Neoprene is one of the first synthetic rubber products ever made. "Neoprene is generally stronger and harder than natural rubber and more resistant to water, oils and solvents."

It's natural to compare Neoprene to rubber, such as the rubber in vehicle tires. Neoprene and tire rubber are made up of different materials. According to US Tires Manufacturers Association, tires for vehicles are composed of a combination of different materials, including natural rubber, synthetic polymers, and materials such as steel (does "steel-belted" sound familiar?).

Which is better, Neoprene or rubber? Coi Rubber Products explains that Neoprene is a superior product compared to natural rubber because of better resistance to oil, grease, and heat tolerance in automotive applications. 

To clarify, Neoprene is generally not used in the manufacturing of vehicle tires, since it would be too expensive. It excels in the form of gaskets and other parts that perform in hot environments.

When comparing Neoprene and natural rubber, rubber by itself lacks impressive qualities. As mentioned, tire manufacturers don't use 100% natural rubber in their products, but a combination of materials that compose a better, more high-performing end product.

Comparing stitch qualilty of Neoprene lunch bags.

Comparing stitch quality of Neoprene lunch bags.

Neoprene as a lunch bag material

It's clear to see that Neoprene fabric holds many advantages for consumer products. In the automobile industry, Neoprene is resistant to oil and grease and has good heat tolerance. In the wetsuit industry, Neoprene is resistant to ozone and oxidation, and withstands outdoor conditions.

Let's look at how Neoprene compares as a lunch bag material.

What is so special about Neoprene bags?

Neoprene has many positive characteristics, especially for lunch bags:

  • naturally insulates
  • washable
  • water resistant
  • flexible material stretches to fit "one more thing"
  • durable, strong, and long lasting
  • doesn't ugly out
  • comes in a variety of colors and designs
  • stylish lunch bags for work
  • fun kids designs for school

The disadvantages of Neoprene fabric for lunch bags are few. The most obvious one, is that due to the foam-like quality of Neoprene, it is impossible to sew objects with strong "form." Neoprene bags and clothing often lack much shape. If you observe the wine totes, "koozies" for beverages, and Neoprene cases for electronics, they tend to be a bit shapeless.

Neoprene lunch bags have a somewhat universal shape and style. A few people have compared them to bowling ball bags. All of the Neoprene lunch bags on the market have a handle pierced into the fabric, and a roundish, yet square shape.

Although Neoprene goods have some shape limitations, the properties of the man-made material do their job well. So well, in fact, that the fabric has a strong following among owners of Neoprene products. Neoprene is in a class by itself and fulfills needs that other fabrics cannot.

Nordic By Nature care tag

Neoprene lunch bag manufacturers like Nordic By Design® and Built® take pride in their Neoprene products.

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What to look for when buying a Neoprene lunch bag

You're probably wondering if your next lunch bag should be Neoprene. My opinion is a bit slanted, because I love my Neoprene lunch bag - I'm on my third one, and that's only because my kids took my first two bags!

Below is a list of features to look for when buying a Neoprene lunch bag and all of the reasons why I love mine.

Shopping for a Neoprene lunch bag

What is a Neoprene bag good for? Neoprene bags are good for insulating food (keeping cold foods cold and warm food warm). The Neoprene fabric contains air pockets of cells that create a cushioning effect, effectively protecting and insulating whatever is inside.

Neoprene lunch bags vary in quality, just as any constructed product will. Look for manufacturer's that take pride in a quality-constructed Neoprene lunch bag. When buying a Neoprene lunch bag, look for these important construction points:

  • reinforced stitching
  • heavy duty zipper
  • thick Neoprene (up to 4mm)
  • handle for carrying or sturdy strap for over-the-shoulder
  • a fabric design and color that hides stains easily
Comparing Neoprene lunch bag handles.

Comparing Neoprene lunch bag handles.

Things I love about my Neoprene lunch bag

The best thing I like about my Neoprene lunch bag is that is stretches to fit whatever I put in it. I'm always grabbing mismatched containers. Sometimes I have to resort to a bigger container because the dishes are dirty or the container I want is in the refrigerator. Because the fabric is flexible, I can zip the bag closed and not worry about the zipper pulling apart and becoming damaged.

Neoprene bags have a quality feel to them. Like most lunch bag owners, I am annoyed with cheap, plastic vinyl lunch bags that crack and ugly out in one season. Neoprene lunch bags can last for years, so they are good investments. Neoprene bags are soft, yet durable. The current one I have is the thickest Neoprene you can get. Because it is thicker, it holds its shape firmly (some people have complained about Neoprene lunch bags being too "floppy"). Pro tip: when buying a lunch bag online, use the search term "thick Neoprene lunch bag."

Neoprene lunch bags are easy to clean. I clean my Neoprene lunch bag by throwing it in the washing machine with a load of towels. Heck, I've even washed it right in the kitchen sink water when washing other dishes. If I have a food spill, I spray on laundry stain spray. I follow best care practices and always air-dry my Neoprene lunch bag. If you need to know how to clean your Neoprene lunch bag, check out my article "Care and Cleaning of Neoprene Lunch Bags."

Comparing pockets Neoprene lunch bags.

Some models of Neoprene lunch bags may not have pockets or carrying straps.

I like the color and design choices. Neoprene lunch bags come in all kinds of fun colors and patterns, so my bag can reflect my personal style. There are even some online platforms where you can upload your own design. Choose from very conservative neutral colors, floral, geometrics, animals, camo, and character designs. Neoprene lunch bags looks professional in a work environment and can please the pickiest kid. Look for designs and colors that hide dirt easily.

What's wrong with Neoprene? Neoprene can retain odor, but this isn't a problem if you wash your lunch bag regularly. New Neoprene will have a factory odor that will take time to dissipate. In the right conditions, Neoprene can mold, but this can easily be avoided by following best practices of using Neoprene products. If Neoprene is sandwiched in between polyester fabric, the polyester fabric can shrink if put into a dryer.

Common questions before buying a Neoprene lunch bag

Neoprene lunchbag insulation test.

Neoprene lunchbag insulation test.

NEOPRENE INSULATION QUESTIONS

Are Neoprene lunch bags insulated? Neoprene lunch bags are naturally insulated, due to the construction process of the man-made product that produces cells of air pockets in the foam-like material.

How long do Neoprene lunch bags keep food cold? Neoprene lunch bags keep food cold for about 4 hours, when ice packs are added. Neoprene is a good insulation choice for lunch bags and keeps food cold.

In the test below, three different Neoprene manufacturers are tested. The exact amount of water was frozen in a measuring glass and then placed inside each lunch bag at room temperature. The bags were: Youkee Home©, Built©, and Nordic by Nature©. All three bags performed similar. The surprise was that even though the older style Built© bag felt slightly thinner than the other two, it held the cold longer. The Youkee© bag was the thickest, but no ice was left in that bag after six hours.

Note that the test was originally performed with ice cubes, but was determined not to be precise enough between each bag. However, the Built© bag still showed a slight ability to hold the cold longer. Any of these bags would be adequate.

Neoprene thickness and zipper comparison between bags. All bags have metal zipper pulls.

metal zipper pulls.

NEOPRENE FABRIC QUESTIONS

If you need to know how to care for your Neoprene lunch bag or how to tackle any of the special situations below, check out "Care and Cleaning of Neoprene Lunch Bags."

Does Neoprene smell? Neoprene has a strong chemical smell or "factory smell," especially if being removed from a sealed bag or box. The Neoprene needs time for the smell to dissipate.

Does Neoprene mold? Neoprene can mold in the right conditions, but can easily be avoided through proper care of the Neoprene lunch bag.

Does Neoprene stain easily? Although Neoprene is stain-resistant, it can still stain, but not easily.

NEOPRENE DURABILITY QUESTIONS

How long does Neoprene last? According to the Built website, Neoprene can last up to 50 years. This length of time is affected by length of exposure to UV rays, organic materials, and care in washing.

Contradictorily, Neoprene wetsuits don't make the fifty-year mark. According to SurfMentor, "The sun, minerals in the water, stretching to get into the suit, proper or improper care of the suit, and general abrasion all contribute to the wear and tear of a wetsuit... with proper care, a good quality wetsuit can last several years." The Pategonia site supports this statement, but defines the life of a Neoprene wetsuit as 1-5 years.

Although wetsuits and Neoprene lunch bags use the same materials, a Neoprene lunch bag would not be facing the natural elements and use challenges a wetsuit does. Therefore, 50 years is a highly possible lifespan of a Neoprene lunch bag.

Does Neoprene deteriorate? Neoprene deteriorates with prolonged exposure to UV rays, organic materials, inorganic materials (like salt water) and chemicals (laundry detergent) and improper use, care, and handling of the product.

NEOPRENE ENVIRONMENTAL QUESTIONS

Is Neoprene bad for the environment? Neoprene is derived from petroleum products. Manufacturer's are looking for more environmentally-friendly ways to continue to produce Neoprene. Patagonia, a company that designs outdoor clothing and gear, uses limestone-based polychloroprene for most of its Neoprene products that has less of an environmental impact. Recently, Patagonia is promoting Yulex® natural rubber wetsuits to replace their oil- and limestone-based Neoprene products.

How can I recycle Neoprene? According to Encore Recyclers, "Neoprene is completely recyclable, though not every recycling facility can take it." Ask your local recycling facility if they accept Neoprene. The unique properties of Neoprene lend it to being "upcycled" and used to make other products.

Examples of upcycling include sewing bags for smaller gear, making your own "koozie" or making a purse or tote. Small patches of Neoprene can be saved to patch a wetsuit (although I probably wouldn't bother patching a lunch bag).

DONATE NEOPRENE FOR REUSE

Owners of Neoprene wetsuits are an ecologically-minded bunch. As a result, there are numerous opportunities to recycle wetsuits such as giving to charitable organizations. This might not apply to lunch bags, but I thought it was worth mentioning here.

Makers of other Neoprene products have their own recycling programs, such as Pategonia. There are too many recycling resources to list here, but the Padi blog offers an extensive listing of organizations that recycle wetsuits. 

If you want to know which brand of lunch bag is best, they really all are quite similar on the market. The BUILT brand started the Neoprene lunch bag craze; Nordic By Nature is another popular brand. Health concerns of Neoprene fabric

Asking if Neoprene lunch bags are safe is a logical question. You're keeping food in a Neoprene lunch bag, after all! Below are answers to questions you might have about health concerns and Neoprene fabric for lunch bag use.

Is Neoprene rubber toxic? Neoprene rubber is not toxic, but the manufacturing process is. According to Chemical Safety Facts, "Neoprene itself is not considered toxic, but in a manufacturing setting, the gases from its production can be hazardous." Neoprene is toxic to humans if they inhale manufacturing gases in the production process or if they inhale fumes from a burning Neoprene bag.

Is Neoprene toxic to humans? According to Chemical Safety Facts, "The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has not classified Neoprene as a carcinogen, and using products that contain Neoprene is unlikely to cause exposure to chloroprene, as the levels of chloroprene in most Neoprene-containing products is very low."

BUILT, the original creator of Neoprene lunch bags, has posted on their website: "totes are tested for lead safety, and unlike other lunch bag manufacturers, we don’t use PVC in our products." Nordic by Nature, another well-known manufacturer of Neoprene lunch bags, posted on their website, "lunch totes are made of lead-free and pvc-free materials to keep your family’s food safe from nasty elements found in cheaper plastic lunch boxes and bags."

Is Neoprene food grade? Neoprene fabric comes in a food grade material and is FDA compliant for products that are in contact with food, such as Neoprene lunch bags, or food-grade gloves for handling food. Neoprene is a good choice for lunch bags because it is made of food grade Neoprene.

Is Neoprene safe against COVID-19 and other viruses? Built, a popular maker of Neoprene lunch bags, posted this on their website: *According to CDC guidelines machine washing with soap reduces the risk of spreading the virus that causes COVID-19. Our Neoprene bags are all machine washable. For more information go to cdc.gov.

What is the best Neoprene lunch bag?

If you want to know which brand of lunch bag is best, they really all are quite similar on the market. The BUILT brand started the Neoprene lunch bag craze; Nordic By Nature is another popular brand. 

I ordered the lunch bags from Amazon. It was fun to have such a vast variety of colors and sizes. All of the Neoprene lunch bags are basically the same shape. I think this is because it's a little hard to sew the bags, but also the way they are cut, since the handle is part of the material. They are well-designed and easy to take food containers out and put food into.

I looked on the shelves at my local Walmart and these Neoprene bags are still not available. I don't know why Walmart hasn't figured this out yet. The bags they offer are cheap vinyl and the worst size ever for lunches. If you buy a Neoprene bags online, you will have the fun of choosing from all kinds of unique prints. You and your kids can each pick out a different design. As you can imagine, this is a great way to tell your lunch bag apart from other members of your family.

In conclusion...

I hope you make the leap and buy a Neoprene lunch bag. I whole-heartedly believe that Neoprene bags are worth the investment. I love mine and after trying others, I'm convinced that Neoprene lunch bags are the best! 


About the author 

Renee Matt

Renee is a former kitchen designer, home remodeling enthusiast (having lived through several DIY projects), and an Iowa farmwife. Renee is passionate about preparedness, garden skills, and knowing where her food comes from. She uses her technical background and expertise to bring the Everything Pantry website to life.

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