How to Clean a Garbage Can, Step by Step

It’s amazing how commonly the most important household chores get overlooked due to the “out of sight, out of mind” principle. If you don’t regularly see something—like the inside of your fridge drawers, your oven, or your pantry shelves—you’ll probably be less apt to clean it on a regular basis. Plus, actually hunkering down and doing the scrubbing and rinsing feels like a lot of work, so it’s easy to put off until you absolutely can’t wait a second longer.

Case in point: Your kitchen garbage can. Sure, you probably take out the trash regularly (because you have to). But how often do you take a good look at the inside? And when was the last time you actually took steps to clean out the bin or disinfect it? Keep in mind that just because you can’t see (or smell) germs doesn’t mean they’re not there—as a general rule, it’s a good idea to give your trash can a good deep clean at least once a month, or more frequently in the event of a leak or yucky odor.

Fortunately, cleaning and disinfecting a garbage can doesn’t have to be a chore you dread. Just follow these expert-sourced steps, and you’ll be smooth sailing your way to a fresh-smelling, gunk-free trash can.

So, your trash is out, and it’s just you and a stinky garbage can. Don’t worry, the deep-clean process only requires a few tools, most of which you probably already have in your arsenal, and it won’t take nearly as long as you think to get the job done. Take your garbage can or garbage can’s insert outside, if you’re able—a hose and and an air-dry will get this work done quickly.

First, you’ll purchase or whip up a cleaning solution to scrub down the inside of the can. Rosa Nogales-Hernandez, Head Home Cleaning Valet for Valet Living, suggests mixing 1 cup of water with 1 cup of a liquid cleaner concentrate like Simple Green. You can also make a DIY solution with 4 cups of white vinegar, ½ cup of dish soap, and water. 

2. Remove any trash particles

Before you clean, clean out any large pieces of food or particles you see in the bottom.

3. Apply cleaner to the trash can

Use your cleaning solution to spray the inside and outside of the trash can, making sure to get the cover if there is one. 

To get any caked-on grime, use a clean toilet brush (or any nylon brush) to scrub, adding more solution or a few drops of dish soap for particularly stubborn spots. For an even more abrasive clean, try making a paste of equal parts water and baking soda and scrubbing with your brush.

This step is optional, but if you want to be sure your garbage can is germ free, spray down the inside and outside of your trash can with a disinfectant cleaner of your choice—Nogales-Hernandez recommends a product like Lysol or Clorox. Allow the disinfectant to sit for 5 minutes to allow for dwell time.

Read more: The Difference Between Cleaning, Sanitizing, and Disinfecting

Rinse your trash can until the water runs clear, then let it dry out in the sun. 

How do you deodorize a garbage bin?

If a nasty scent is still lingering in your now-clean garbage bin, or if you just want to deodorize without doing a full deep clean, you can mix equal parts white vinegar and water in an empty spray bottle and spray inside the trash can as part of your cleaning routine. Let the vinegar mixture sit for 5 minutes before rinsing.

What can absorb bad odors in a trash can?

To skip the above step altogether, try this trick to avoid bad smells altogether. The simplest way to absorb bad odors in a trash can is also eco-friendly and wallet-friendly. Nogales-Hernandez recommends sprinkling baking soda at the bottom of the can before putting in a new bag. For a natural, fresh scent to perk things up, try adding lemon peels, too.

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