7 Steps to a Fresh, Clean, and Disinfected Trash Can

Ginny Bartolone
Written by Ginny Bartolone
Updated November 5, 2021
Clean trash bin in modern kitchen
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Your trash can puts up with a lot of garbage during the year—give it some love with this deep clean that takes less than an hour

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You've scrubbed your floors, counters, and even the depths of the pantry, but a mysterious pungent smell still lingers in the kitchen. 

Cleaning your trash can might end up on the forgotten chore list more than you’d like to admit—either because it's out of sight or because you fear what's lurking under the bag. This bacteria-hoarding staple of your home should receive a deep scrub about once a month, and luckily, the process is quick and easy. Learn how to clean your trash can in seven quick steps (and disinfect it too!).

Difficulty: 1/5

Time: 30 minutes (plus an overnight dry)

Tools needed:

  • Rubber gloves

  • Your choice of cleaning solution

  • Optional disinfectant

  • Hose

  • Extendable scrub brush

  • Dry rag

1. Empty the Trash

Girl with hair buns throwing plastic bottle in garbage bin
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It goes without saying that your trash can needs to be fully empty for a deep clean. Even if the potent smell you've been trying to locate heads out with the bag, it's still best to deep clean the can itself. The lingering odor can attract pests, mold, or smelly buildup on the lid. 

While you're at it, use this chance as a reminder to practice good garbage practices overall. Take out the trash after you toss rotten or stinky items and avoid items that shouldn't end up in the trash in the first place.

Once the bag is outside, remove any remaining loose items at the bottom of the pale with rubber gloves.

2. Choose Your Cleaning Solution

You have wiggle room to choose either a natural or chemically-based cleaning solution here. If your trash can only needs a quick clean, add several tablespoons of dish soap to a bucket of warm water. 

For stuck-on food and for freshening up particularly potent trash cans, consider a mixture below for your scrub brush:

  • 1 quart hydrogen peroxide

  • ¼ cup baking soda

  • 1 tablespoon dish soap

If you'd rather skip the DIY route but stay eco-conscious, check out one of the many EPA-approved all-purpose cleaners.

3. Pretreat Tricky Areas

Everything from coffee grounds to unidentifiable pieces of food that escaped from the bag like to hang out in the bottom of trash cans. Garbage pails with step-activated lids often have more nooks and crannies than standard bins, so be sure to clean the opening mechanism as well as the foot pedal itself.

Start your deep clean by pre-treating caked-on areas the same way you would with the stained piece of clothing. Spray your handmade or store-bought solution throughout the can and target the trouble areas with extra cleaner. Let the can sit outside in fresh air while it soaks for about 10 minutes.

4. Spray and Scrub

Add one more thin layer of cleaning solution to the inside of the bin and get out your extendable scrub brush. A new toilet brush is also an easy choice. You can even set it aside specifically for your monthly can cleaning.

  • Scrub the inside of the can first, making sure to focus on the base of the can and the inside of the lid.

  • Next, clean the outside of the trash can, spending extra time on any scuffs or stains that keep it from looking its best.

5. Rinse the Whole Can

With the can scrubbed inside and out, spray the whole thing with a hose. If you live in a small apartment without outdoor or hose access, you can perform this entire process in the shower stall or bathtub. Just make sure to spray down the cleaning area after you're done.

6. Disinfect if Necessary

If you're tackling this project during a deep cleaning session, consider disinfecting the trash can as well. Not only will this help you avoid passing germs throughout the house, but it may also take care of those persistent smells. 

Disinfecting differs from cleaning since it targets the bacteria and potential viruses on your can in addition to visible grime. In this case, you will either need disinfecting wipes or spray. 

Avoid using bleach-based products on stainless steel cans as they can stain its surface. Also, never mix cleaning supplies that interact with one another. For example, if you've just cleaned the can with a vinegar solution, do not mix it with bleach during the disinfection process to avoid creating a dangerous gas.

7. Let the Trash Can Dry

The hard part is over! Now all you have to do is let your can air dry. Overnight works best, but you can use a dry clean rag with a quick pass if you're in a hurry to get the trash back inside. While tedious, the drying process is just as crucial as scrubbing and rinsing. Leftover water in the base of your trash will harbor bad smells or attract pests.

How to Keep Your Trash Can Fresh Between Cleans

Woman sorting garbage in kitchen
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If you keep a close eye on your trash in between cleans, you may be able to wait longer than a month in between washes. 

Consider a few clever ways to keep odors out of your trash can, such as adding a layer of baking soda, a dryer sheet, or even a few drops of vanilla extract on a cotton ball at the base of your can. You can also wipe down the inside of your lid once a week to get ahead of your next clean.

Also, be sure to toss all garbage disposal-friendly scraps into the drain to avoid rotting smells and moisture buildup in your trash can. You can even start a composting bin to both keep these scraps out of the standard garbage and save up rich soil for the spring.

If digging into the depths of your garbage can is beyond your comfort level, leave the tough jobs to the pros. Call in a monthly house cleaning professional in your area for ongoing jobs or even call up local emergency cleaners for upcoming holiday parties and visits from your parents.

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