How to Clean A Garbage Can

By far, one of the most germ-ridden things in your home, the garbage is a source of bacteria and odor that is often overlooked. Though liners catch much of the debris, liquids and trash residue still find their way onto the inner surface and need to be cleaned away regularly. It’s a dirty job, but here’s how to make your efforts most effective.

You Will Need:

  • Rubber gloves
  • Paper towels
  • Old rags
  • Bleach
  • Ammonia
  • Water
  • All purpose cleaner (choose the scent and product that you prefer)
  • Toilet brush or other long handled brush
  • Face mask (optional, but helpful for those really stinks cans)

Steps to Clean the Garbage Can:

  1. Protect yourself from germs and make the appropriate cleaning preparations. Rubber gloves will protect your hands from all of the bacteria. A mask may be helpful for cans with strong odors. Wear old clothing.
  2. Begin by emptying all of the contents from the trash can. Particularly in outdoor trash cans, check the bottom for any rodents and/or bugs that may have climbed in looking for a treat. Remove as much residue as possible.
  3. Depending on the size of the trash can, rinse it out in the sink, tub or use a hose outdoors.
  4. Fill the trash can 1/4 – 1/3 full with hot water.
  5. Add either bleach OR ammonia. Never mix the two or it will create toxic fumes.
  6. Allow the cleaners to soak in the trash can for 30 minutes up to several hours depending on the degree of cleaning that is needed.
  7. Use a scrub brush or soft cloth to scrub the surfaces and remove any odor –causing residues. Be sure to get all of the edges where residue can build up.
  8. Use the liquid to clean the trash can lid as well.
  9. Dispose of the liquids and dry the surfaces with a clean, soft cloth or allow it to air dry.
  10. If possible, place the can in the sun while it dries. The sunlight will destroy any remaining bacteria and help remove any lingering odors.
  11. Be sure the trash can is completely dry before sealing the lid or replacing the liner. Any lingering moisture will lead to bacteria and mold growth which causes odors.

Additional Tips and Advice

  • High quality garbage bags will help minimize the amount of gunk that seeps through on the surface of your trash can. If needed, use double bags to prevent leakage.
  • Bleach/disinfecting wipes make for convenient, frequent cleanings each time you take the trash out. It’s a quick way to prolong the cleanliness between deep cleanings.
  • Typically, trash cans should be cleaned monthly. More/less frequent cleanings may be needed depending on use and type of trash. Whenever spills occur or an odor starts, it’s time for a cleaning.
  • Plastic trash cans tend to hold odors more than metal trash cans.


  1. Soak the garbage can in hot water and laundry soap, and scrub with a sponge! It gets all the “gunk” off, stains go away and it smells FRESH!

  2. CindyG says:

    Super hot water and add some bleach. LOTS of bleach. Let it sit for a little while to remove all the ‘leakage stains’ and then swish it around. A great place to dump the water from the can is into a toilet.

  3. Soaking the inside in ammonia and hot water, then letting it dry under direct sunlight works wonders. This tip also works for diaper pails/genies.

  4. Clean trash cans by rinsing them and letting them sit in the hot sun for a day.

  5. Take it out to the front yard and hose it down. Rub it clean with a little bleach on a rag and rinse it off. Your yard also benefits from the extra water and you won’t be wasting anything. The small amount of diluted bleach won’t hurt the grass.

  6. Clean trash cans with Mr. Clean or some other good smelling cleaner and then let it sit for a bit. Then after dry spray Lysol in it to help keep mold and mildew away and also put a sachet of your favorite scent to help it smell good.

  7. Pour some Pine Sol in the bottom. Add hot water and leave the can for about 30 minutes to soak. Using a rag, rub all over the inside and outside. Rinse and wipe dry. Smells great, and is clean!

  8. Put on some laundry detergent and scrub it with a sponge in hot water and then let it dry out in a sunny day (for the whole day).

  9. Not effective.

  10. Do not dump stuff into the toilet. This, along with the tub, sink, and any drain, is the gateway to our drinking supply. The more filth you dump in, the more Clorox and potential problems occur in our drinking water. Best place to dump is into the ground or throw things in the trash for the landfill. Use the least amount of bleach or whatever to protect the environment. Hydrogen peroxide is one of the most effective and safest disinfectants to use in this situation. Also, hot, hot water and borax are relatively safe environmentally, and effective.

  11. I have a separate toilet brush for cleaning the kitchen trash can. I have short arms, so the extra length makes it easier to reach the bottom, and the bristles get any of the harder to clean bits out!

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