How to Clean a Trash Can to Remove Pesky Odors

Keep your home's trash cans clean and funk-free by following these simple steps from a cleaning professional.

Sinks, countertops, and toilets often get the most attention come cleaning day. But when it comes to neglected items that could use an occasional scrub, your trash cans might very well fall at the top of the list.

Failure to clean your home's trash cans, especially in the kitchen, can result in the spread of bacteria and germs (particularly if spoiled food has been thrown out), odors permeating your home, or, in the case of outdoor cans, unwanted animals showing up to your yard. The good news is that a trash can is relatively effortless to clean and maintain, and you don't have to clean it as often as you might think.

The type of trash can you own might help determine your cleaning schedule and solution. So what's the ideal material? According to Becky Rapinchuk, CEO of Clean Mama, "any impermeable material is best." Look for aluminum, stainless steel, or plastic, especially if you're in the market for a new can. "They are easy to clean, and don't absorb odors easily," she says.

If you're ready to tackle your trash can, incorporate the following steps into your cleaning routine to keep this household helper in prime condition.

woman removes trash bag from trash can
Image by Grace Cary / Getty Images

How to Clean a Trash Can

For most standard trash cans, the cleaning process is fairly straightforward. One essential preliminary step is to make certain they're completely empty of all trash. Be sure to take the bag out and wipe out any loose debris. Don't forget to check the inside of the lid in case anything sticky stuck around before moving on.

Step 1: Rinse It Out

If it's a pleasant day and you have access to a hose, take the can outside and thoroughly rinse it out. The indoor alternative is to place it in the bathtub or shower and use the showerhead or faucet to do the same. If it's easier, lay the can on its side to hit all angles.

Step 2: Spray and Soak

Next, soak the can with an effective cleaning solution. Using a disinfectant or all-purpose cleaner, saturate both the inside and the outside of the can. For an extra stinky can, you can add a bit of baking soda as well. Baking soda makes for a good deodorizer; you'll only need about half a cup if needed. Let the solution sit for five to ten minutes.

Step 3: Scrub It

You'll want to roll up your sleeves for this part. Using a sponge, soft cloth, or long-handled bristle brush (depending on the size of the trash can), scrub the interior of the can to remove any dirt and grime. The scrubbing action combined with the cleaner will work as a powerful duo to get the trash can clean and sparkling.

To clean the outside of a trash can, stick to a microfiber cloth, particularly if it's made of a material that can be easily scratched such as stainless steel.

Step 4: Rinse Again and Dry

Once the cleaning solution and baking soda has done its job, it's time to rinse the can once again. Using the hose or showerhead, spray the inside and outside of the trash can, without forgetting the lid, fully saturating it to remove any persistent suds or residue.

Next, allow the can to air-dry. If you need to use it quickly, take some paper towels or a towel and wipe it down completely. Just be sure it's totally dry before adding a new bag to prevent moisture from getting trapped and potentially causing mold and mildew.

As a bonus step, place a few new garbage bags at the bottom of the can so it's quick and effortless to replace them between cleanings.

kitchen drawer trash can
Tria Giovan

How Often to Clean a Trash Can

So how frequently should you go through the aforementioned process? "It depends on the use of a trash can," says Rapinchuk. "An outdoor trash can that goes to the curb and holds all your garbage should be cleaned seasonally and at least two times per year to prevent insects, bacteria, and a foul-smelling can."

Being that they're inside a high-traffic area of the house, she says kitchen garbage cans benefit from a quarterly cleaning or, at the very least, two times per year. "Wipe the lid weekly or as needed to keep it clean," Rapinchuk says. As for indoor trash cans? Since they aren't utilized as regularly, she advises they can be cleaned on an as-required basis.

How to Get Rid of Trash Can Odors

"Keeping a trash can clean is the best way to get rid of odors," says Rapinchuk. Sounds simple enough but if it's not currently part of your regular routine, it's easy to forget. You can make it a habit by finding a cleaning routine that works for you and your family.

Baking soda can also come in handy for deodorizing a trash can between cleaning sessions. "If you need to just get that smell out without cleaning it, you can sprinkle a little baking soda in the bottom of the can to absorb any lingering odors," says Rapinchuk. "When you're ready to wash it, add a squirt of dish soap and wash in a utility sink or outside with a hose."

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