How To Clean Trash Cans

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Knowing how to clean trash cans properly goes a long way toward eliminating odors and household pests.

Whether the source is last night’s leftovers or residue accumulated in your kitchen bin over months, you can rest assured household visitors smell it, too.

So, if you’re battling pantry moths or cockroaches without success, a dirty kitchen trashcan may be to blame.

Closeup of person removing full trash bag from garbage can while holding lid

How To Clean Trash Cans

This task should be done at least once a month, or any time you find a mess in the bottom of the bin. Follow this method to clean diaper pails, too, though I’d recommend cleaning those weekly.

Equipment Needed

  • Rubber Gloves
  • Scrub brush
  • Cleaning rags
  • Hot water
  • White vinegar
  • Dish soap


1. Put on the gloves: Garbage cans are full of nasty and sometimes dangerous bacteria. Wear reusable rubber gloves and launder them in hot water after use.

2. Work outside: In a pinch, you can wash trash cans in a sink or tub, but then you absolutely must clean and disinfect right away. Washing trash cans outside skips that extra effort.

3. Empty the can and remove as much gunk as possible using rags or paper towels. Hose it out to remove the first layer of grime.

4. Scrub with the long-handled brush. Rinse and repeat until you’ve removed the food stains and spills.

5. Soak it. Add 2 gallons of hot water to the trashcan and pour in 2 cups white vinegar plus 1 tablespoon of dish soap. Using the long-handled brush again, swirl the vinegar solution around the interior of the can, wetting down every surface. Allow this to sit 20-30 minutes.

6. Dump it out in the gutter or down the drain. Do NOT dump it on your plants or lawn since vinegar can kill them.

7. Rinse and sun-dry the empty garbage can to help kill remaining germs and bacteria.

How to Keep Trash Cans Clean

Sprinkle a little baking soda in the bottom of the trash can when you change the bag. Baking soda is an inexpensive, natural deodorizer that’s also great at absorbing spills. Dump it out before cleaning the bin.

Use newspapers to catch leaks. If you’re using baking soda to deodorize, sprinkle it on top of the newspaper. On trash day, gather the corners and toss the mess before adding a fresh newspaper for the next week.

Don’t buy cheap kitchen trash bags. In the kitchen, trash bags that resist tears and help control odors are a must, so buy the thickest ones you can find. They’re absolutely worth it.

Line wastebaskets, too. You don’t need high-quality trash bags in bathrooms or bedrooms, though — just repurpose plastic grocery bags instead.

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  1. Katie Berry says:

    I think what we need to remember is that vinegar is not a registered disinfectant. Vinegar’s 5% acetic acid is sufficient to kill most germs, and certainly enough to kill those in a trash can. Does it kill salmonella? No. But are you planning to eat out of your trash can? Hydrogen peroxide 3% — the one available at grocery and drugstores — does have antibacterial and some disinfectant properties. It’s excellent at disinfecting wounds, for instance. But when sprayed on household surfaces it can lead to discoloration, which is why I didn’t recommend it here. I do recommend it elsewhere, however.

    So, keep in mind that what we want to use on a surface depends on the way we use that surface. Vinegar works for trash cans since you’re not going to eat out of them. For cutting boards and other areas prone to cross-contamination, I do recommend hydrogen peroxide.

  2. Getting the mechanics of a Simple Human trash can wet breaks it, so only wash the liner this way. Learned the hard way, but they sent me a new part for free

    1. Katie Berry says:

      I’m sorry yours broke. I’ve never heard of a trash can that can’t be washed! Hopefully your family is neater than mine; our can gets splatters everywhere. Ugh.

  3. Allie from Albany says:

    If you let your plastic containers dry in the sun, do it on a temperate day. I did it when it was 88 degrees farenheit outside, and the sun warped the plastic. Now when I open the can, the lid flies off and it never did before. We’ll have to buy a new can. %$#@&^%!!

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Oh no! I wouldn’t think 88 would be enough to warp a can, but I’m glad you took the time to let me know that happened. (Incidentally, I did our cans last week when it was 94 and didn’t have any problems. Did you leave yours sitting on hot cement or in front of a car or glass door? Either would magnify heat.)

  4. Jan Mattingly says:

    I find this is a good way to clean children, too. I’m kidding…not really.

    1. Katie Berry says:

      LOL, Jan!