Tips for Cleaner Trash Cans

Posted by John on September 12th, 2013

This post stinks.  Well, our trash cans do anyway.  Before we wrap up our garage improvement series, I felt I needed to go where no home blogger has gone before and talk about the trash.  There are two types of people out there: those that keep their trash cans in the house and those that keep them in the garage.  We’re the latter.  A couple months ago, Lisa went out to the garage to throw a bag into the trash can and came back in the house shrieking.  Apparently, there were maggots all over the rim of the bin and she wasn’t going anywhere near it.  That got me thinking.  What’s the best way to keep our trash free from odors and insects.  I came up with these tips for cleaner trash cans.


Some of these tips will be supremely obvious, but others you may have ever occurred to you.

1.  Don’t Throw it, Place it.  I have a habit of opening up the trash lid and then heaving my bag full of discarded slop right into the bin without a second thought.  Why that’s a bad idea: If the bag isn’t placed right side up, it can leak out its contents right from the top of the bag into the bin.  That liquid mess then becomes a Golden Corral for a hoard of house flies.  Even if you manage to toss the bag into the bin right side up, you risk tearing the bag open from the impact.

2.  Double Bag the Nasty Stuff.  We have two little kids.  On any given day, we are knee deep in  dirty diapers.  Every week, it seems I need a fork lift to deposit all of our kids’… deposits.. into the garbage can.  Now, if I can smell the odor through the bags, chances are our 6 legged friends can too.  I like to double bag those diaper hauls, but I don’t merely drop one bag into the next, I cover the top of the first bag with the second.  That way, it’s pretty impossible for a fly to make it into the inner bag OR for a … deposit… to make its way out.

3.  Deodorize.  I’m sure somebody somewhere makes a deodorant for exterior trash cans.  A quick and cheap option is to poke some holes in a box of baking soda and duct tape it to the bottom of the bin.  If you don’t tape it, it’ll get tossed with the rest of the trash.

4.  Compost and Dispose.  Since we have a septic system and not a sewer, we don’t have an in-sink garbage disposal.  Consequently, everything that can’t be recycled needs to be tossed in the trash.  That’s a bummer for us, but if you do have a garbage disposal, you can greatly reduce the amount of waste that gets put in the trash.  That’s a good thing for garbage odor.  Additionally, if your township allows it (some actually don’t) you can start a compost bin for food items that are safe to compost.  Lisa and I will be starting a garden sooner or later so we need to get on that.

5.  Wash it.  Maybe once a year, it can’t hurt to hose and scrub down the bin.  I use a scrub brush on an extension rod and clean the whole thing down with liquid dish washing soap and then follow it up with deodorized powder laundry detergent.  It’s still a trash can, but it smells a whole lot better.

Are you an inside the garage person or an outside the garage person?  If you don’t have a garage or are a city dweller, how do you keep it from getting out of hand?

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  • Great tips!! I also had a little mishap in my regular trash can leaving it with some white paint down the sides. Whoops…

  • Angela Says

    We wash our trash can once a year or so, when ever it starts to stink up the garage. One more tip to keep your trash can cleaner. Don't throw out a frozen turkey the day after trash day, throw it out on trash day. I may or may not have done that and made the trash can live on the curb for the rest of the week. 🙂

  • Julia @Cuckoo4Design

    Great tips. Mine are just plain nasty but I love throwing the stuff 😉

  • We have compost, plastic and garbage inside below the sink; and glass and paper outside on the patio (we have to separate things in Spain in order to recycle them). Each bin isn't too big, so we empty them pretty often. I totally agree with double bagging the nasty stuff – that's something you learn the hard way, I think. And every few months or twice a year we scrub the bins… especially the glass one gets pretty dirty for some reason (not totally empty beer or wine bottles I guess…)

  • Ha, I thought I was the only weird one who liked clean trash cans. Even though ours lives outside I hate it when it gets all gross, so I'm always careful to place the trash bags rightside-up instead of chucking them in. I also hate when loose trash somehow makes it into the can. All it takes is some junk mail to get tossed in on the way to the house and a slightly leaky bag to land on top of that, and suddenly you've got a disgustingly dcoupaged trashcan.

  • kellyatvatw

    Great idea to add some baking soda! I mean, OUR trash cans are always fresh and flowery, but you know, HYPOTHETICALLY, if they DID stink… 🙂

  • We have to keep our trash cans outside since we don't have a garage (do people actually keep those huge trash cans inside their house? I don't know where would be a good place for that).

    How do we keep it from getting out of hand? We don't… lol. And just happening upon this post today is like destiny because I just brought my trash can back from the curb and IT STUNK SOOOOOO BAD! We have this fig tree that makes so many figs and I basically have to take them off the tree and throw them away. Kyle and I don't like figs (they're weird) and we don't know anyone close by enough who wants 'em, but we do tell all our neighbors to grab a fig anytime they see one that's ready to eat. These figs just fall off the tree and turn into mush and start rotting and this brings all the flies. Our entire exterior of our house is surrounded by flies at this time of year. It's really gross. I try to keep on top of it, but these figs just keep popping out and dropping off and splattering everywhere. They're really pretty gross. I vow to never have a fig tree again. But since we rent here, I kinda don't think we should chop down the tree…

    Anyway, I put two bags full of figs in the trash can about a week ago, and after a week of rotting the trash can smells disgusting and they leaked through the bag so there was a gooey liquidy mess at the bottom of my trash can by the time I came to bring the trash can back from the curb today. I rinsed it out and then I sprayed some fabreeze. That really only helped a little and very temporarily.

    I wish my trash cans looked like yours! I definitely need to get an extension rod to be able to thoroughly clean the inside because this is just disgusting! The worst part is that I wanted to do my fig clipping duty and put them all in the trash yesterday so that they would only be in the trash for a day, but I forgot, and after my trash was picked up I remembered I needed to throw away all the ripe figs. So now my trash can has another bag of figs in it that are going to be rotting in the for the next week. But this time I triple bagged it!

    Figs are like the zombies of fruit!

    • omg. That stinks!! I never knew figs could be such a pain!! We have been talking about getting a fig tree soon too. Maybe we'll reconsider. Lisa is Italian and I think it's a good luck thing for them. Hope the triple bag works!!