You Should Be Cleaning Your Garbage Can—Here's How to Do It

Your trash can might be just as filthy as what's inside. Here's how to clean it.

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garbage can
Photo: Getty / Spiderstock

You use that garbage can as a vehicle for getting rid of the trash, but it could be just as dirty as what's inside. Abe Navas, general manager for Emily's Maids, a house cleaning service in Dallas, Texas, says, "Maybe the bag you are using isn't 100% hermetic and little pieces get out. This is how your can gets dirty."

Any food residue can cause bacteria and mold growth, so your garbage can be an epicenter for that if you're not conscious of it. Navas says, "Not every organic material is built to last, so without refrigeration, everything decomposes. This process releases gases and causes the bad smell of your garbage can," he adds.

Plus, the can gets contaminated fast. When you toss food in the trash bin, it's easy for residue to splash on the outsides, back area and on the surrounding areas of the floor. "To avoid spillage and spray, place each item in the trash bin instead of throwing. If garbage bags are leaking, the bottom of the trash bin may be covered with microscopic bacteria, that are rarely getting cleaned," adds Colleen Costello, CEO and co-founder of Vital Vio, a tech company that manufactures bacteria-killing LED lighting.

So, how do you clean it? Here's a handy guide with all you need to know about keeping your kitchen and garbage can as clean as possible!

How to Clean Your Garbage Can

When you take out your garbage bag, check for any visible food residue or spills on your can. If you notice anything, grab a bucket of water, a sturdy brush and some soap. "If you want to disinfect, then you need some bleach," Navas says. Here's how to do it.

  1. To disinfect your can, pour in a little bleach, then add some water and let it sit for a few minutes (here's how to make your own sanitizing solution at home). The bottom of your can is often the worst part, Costello says. If you let it soak, then it will be easier to clean. After a few minutes, dump out the bleach mixture.
  2. With the brush and soapy water, scrub the inside and outside of your garbage can.
  3. Finally, rinse with water and let it dry completely before putting a new bag in.
  4. Make sure the bags you put back in are strong, tough bags that don't easily tear or rip at the bottom (we like these ones from Target, $10). Leakage can cause germs and bacteria to grow all around the bin, which can spread and remain on the surfaces for a long period of time, says Costello.

How Often to Clean Your Garbage Can

Costello says you should be cleaning your garbage can about once a month. "That should be enough to kill the bacteria living there," she says. "Of course the longer you wait, the more bacteria and mold are able to grow in a wet, damp environment. If bacteria buildup starts to get out of control, it can be harder to clean," she says.

The Best Products for Cleaning Your Garbage Can

When cleaning and using disinfectant products, be sure to read the back of the label to see the dwell time. "This indicates the amount of time the surface must remain visibly wet in order to actually kill bacteria and microorganisms before the disinfectant is wiped off," says Costello. "Typical disinfectant products require dwell times of around ten minutes, which is a common misconception when cleaning around the kitchen," she says.

Additionally, consider using air fresheners to cover up the smell coming from the trash bin. "However, this can be a dangerous habit as the smell could be coming from harmful microorganisms hiding in the bin. So, it's best practice to use something to kill bacteria, then use the air freshener afterwards," says Costello.

How to Get Rid of Odors From Your Trash

A good rule of thumb: Food that spoils sitting out on your counter will also spoil in your trash. Costello says, "Dairy and meat are the foods most likely to cause smell and potential contamination, as these types of food easily perish outside of the fridge. If you're throwing away several dairy products or leftover meat/packaging, it's a good idea to regularly change the garbage bag to avoid smell and contamination of nasty bacteria, like E.coli."

Navas recommends changing your bag at about 75% fullness to keep odors at bay. "You don't want to touch the garbage or to overfill your bag, and 75% is the safe bet where it isn't overrun with garbage and you get the most of your bag," he says. A good benchmark for changing your bag is your trash pickup day, which for most people is once a week, but you can do a smell test every time you open the lid. If it's beginning to smell bad, take it out!

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