How to Clean a Trash Can

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Welcome to Your No-Sweat Guide to Spring Cleaning, a month-long series that puts the fun (yep, for real!) back into cleaning. We’re talking spruce-ups that take less than five minutes, why-didn’t-I-think-of-that hacks, and hands-off cleaning tasks that basically…do themselves—plus our trustiest tools and helpers. The goal: clean less, go outside more.


There are a few major stink culprits in the kitchen, often leading to a fun game of “who’s causing that odor?” in which I fling open doors, lift up containers, and peer suspiciously at even the most benign items, searching for the offender. Lucky for me, I’ve inherited an annoyingly acute sense of smell from my mother, and I usually can’t sit still until I find the source of the odor. Sometimes it’s the sink, having had one too many run-ins with stray onions and rogue rigatoni. Sometimes it’s the fridge, because the cucumber I swore I’d eat as a snack (ha!) has lost the will to go on. Sometimes it’s even the dishwasher, which consistently collects bits of food in a vile little basket.

But sometimes, it’s something even more sinister, more insidious. Sometimes… it’s the garbage can.

I know, it’s hard to even come to terms with the horrors lingering on the lid of the can, but you’ll be better for it in the long run, I promise. Think, if you will, about the number of times you’ve pushed the existing garbage down, freeing up just enough room to scrape off your plates on top, letting the lid soft-close down onto your dinner remains. Each time, a little more crud clings onto the can, and each time you let it sit, it becomes more difficult to remove.

So, the answer? Like any other surface in your home that gets daily use, it needs to be tended to…daily. Yeah, I said it! A little everyday wiping with multipurpose spray around the lid and rim of the can is usually all that’s needed, but garbage bags do break, and things do fall to the bottom, creating the need for a serious clean. This deep clean is most easily done outside with a hose, but if you don’t have access to such luxuries (me), a bucket of hot, soapy water is all you need to make it an apartment-friendly task.

If you’re ready to face the dregs of your garbage can (you are), take my rubber-gloved hand, and follow me this way…

  • Rubber gloves
  • Utility knife or something to scrape with
  • Hot water
  • Dish soap
  • Toilet brush
  • Disinfectant spray
  • Old rags
  1. Glove up, baby, it’s about to get gross. While standard rubber gloves will work, I’d highly recommend ones that go up to your elbows, as you’ll be arms-deep in the garbage can before you know it.
  2. Similar to cleaning principles in any room of your home, you’ll want to work from the top down, so your effort isn’t negated as you go. Start by scraping any loose bits you can from the lid, the outer lip, and hinges of the can. Don’t worry too much about stubborn gunk, we’ll handle that in a sec.
  3. Here’s where a hose comes in handy: The can could use a good flushing to get rid of loose detritus, so lug it out to the yard and spray it down as best you can. If you don’t have access to a hose, though, dip a cloth you don’t care about (hello, old T-shirts) in hot, soapy water and give the whole can a wipe. It helps to hold the cloth over particularly crusty areas, letting it soak the dried nastiness into submission.
  4. For an extra-thorough clean, a dedicated toilet brush is actually the perfect tool, thanks to its long handle. Repeat a similar process as with the rag, dipping the brush in the hot, soapy water, and scrubbing the gunk away. Finish this step up with a wipe-down from a clean cloth.
  5. Once all the physical dirt has been removed, it’s time to disinfect. As many of us learned in March 2020, disinfectants only work when they’re left to sit for a number of minutes (usually 10 to 15) before they’re wiped away, so follow the instructions on the bottle precisely, and your trash can is officially a new woman. Mazel!

When was the last time you cleaned your trash can? No shame here, tell us below!



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