Plus, how to know when it's time to get a new one.
woman throwing banana peel into garbage
Credit: Getty / Sasha_Suzi

Your garbage can is the designated home for things you no longer want—whether it's a stale bag of chips or three-day-old leftovers. Despite the items that accumulate in your garbage can, it can often be overlooked when it comes to routine cleaning. But you'll know it's time for a scrub-down when you can smell lingering odors days after you take the trash out.

As a general rule, your indoor and outdoor garbage containers should be deep cleaned about once every month. Luckily with a few basic materials and digestible steps to follow, the task becomes a bit easier.

Materials Needed 

The easiest way to clean your waste bin is to bring it outside, so it's helpful to have a garden hose that can easily rinse out any debris and cleaning materials as you go. 

  • Garden hose 
  • Spray nozzle
  • Bleach
  • Measuring cups (1 cup capacity and 1 quart capacity)
  • Long handled nylon scrub brush
  • Rubber gloves

How to Clean a Garbage Can

Now that you have your materials together, you're ready to start cleaning. The following technique can be used on both indoor and outdoor garbage cans.

1. Choose a Good Day for Cleaning

Half the battle of cleaning out your waste bin is choosing the right day to do so. "Collection day is best, after your compost, recycling, and garbage has been picked up, because your carts are already empty," says Mary Gagliardi, Clorox's in-house scientist and cleaning expert. She also recommends cleaning your cans on a sunny day, so they dry faster.  

2. Rinse It Out  

Roll your garbage can to a spot where your garden hose can reach, then turn it onto its side. Use your hose with the sprayer nozzle attached and rise out any loose debris. Once the waste bin is completely empty, return it to an upright position. 

3. Make a Cleaning Solution 

Next, Gagliardi says to measure one gallon of water into the garbage can, then measure ⅓ cup of bleach and add it to the water. 

4. Scrub It

Once the waste bin is filled with the water-bleach solution, it's time to scrub. "Scrub the can with a new toilet brush or other long-handled scrub brush to help you reach the bottom of the can," says Vera Peterson, president of Molly Maid, a Neighborly company. Scrub the interior and exterior of the can, making sure each surface is wet with the solution for about 6 minutes to fully disinfect. 

Note: For a small, indoor garbage can, you may only need a normal scrub brush if you can reach the bottom on your own.

5. Rinse and Dry

When you're done scrubbing, dump out the cleaning solution and lay the cart on its side. Use the garden hose to rinse it out completely and let it air dry. 

How to Remove Lingering Odors

If stubborn smells are still clinging to your garbage can after cleaning, Melissa Poepping, founder of The Chemical Free Home says to leave it outside for longer. "Believe it or not, the sun is one of the best ways to remove an odor from plastic or metal," she says. Once you've cleaned and rinsed out your can, let it sit under the sun for 24 hours. Additionally, sprinkling a bit of baking powder at the bottom will help neutralize odors between washes.

How to Keep Your Garbage Can Fresher for Longer

If this is a cleaning task you truly dread, there are a few simple ways you can extend the freshness of your garbage can. Poepping says she wipes out the garbage can every time she takes the bag out. "I simply take a damp paper towel, spray the garbage can out, and wipe clean," she says. 

It's also important to be mindful of what you're putting into your waste bin. "Make sure you rinse away any food or debris from cans, jars, and other containers that had food," Peterson says. "It will help eliminate odors inside and will also help keep pests away when outdoors."

You should also avoid tossing anything liquid into your garbage can, since it's the first thing to develop a strong odor. In the case of spills, Peterson says to keep newspapers at the bottom of your bins to soak up any accidental leaks. Additionally, Poepping says leftovers should be put into a separate bag and tied shut before putting them into your garbage can. 

When It's Time for a New Garbage Can

Garbage cans are built to last, so you won't need to replace them very often. With that being said, there are some telltale signs it's time for an upgrade. Plastic iterations can hold onto odors that you may not be able to get rid of—and if that's the case, you may want to consider trading yours in. Additionally, Peterson notes you'll want to replace your waste bin if you notice any cracks, which can lead to leaks.


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