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This Is The Best Fix For Your Stinky Outdoor Trash Cans

cleaning garbage cans

I’ve always been a summer girl at heart, but even I can admit there are certain drawbacks to all this hot weather. For one, I absolutely ABHOR taking the trash out to our big outdoor trash cans during the summertime.

Why? Well, when it’s nearly 100°F outside and our big black trash cans are full of garbage, it’s not uncommon to be able to smell all that garbage from several feet away. And the stench is about ten times worse once you open the lid—it’s enough to trigger anyone’s gag reflex!

But luckily for me (and for those of you who also struggle with this problem), there’s a fairly simple solution to the problem of stinky outdoor trash cans. In today’s blog post, I’ll be sharing a simple step-by-step process for how to deodorize your outdoor trash cans quickly and easily!

How To Deodorize A Stinky Outdoor Trash Can

cleaning garbage cans

You’ll need:

  • Dish soap
  • Garden hose with sprayer attachment
  • White vinegar (optional)
  • Broom, scrubber, or long-handled scrub brush (optional)
cleaning garbage cans

Directions:

Step 1 – Empty It

In order to properly clean your trash can, you’ll need to empty it out entirely. The best way to do this (if you can time it right) is to wait to clean your trash can until right after it’s been emptied out by the garbage truck.

(If you don’t want to wait, you can always just pull any trash out of the can and set it aside somewhere.)

cleaning garbage cans

Step 2 – Add Soap

Next, pull your trash can to an area you don’t mind getting wet and soapy, like a driveway, the gutter, or even your lawn. Once you’ve relocated your empty trash can, squirt a bit of dish soap into the bottom of the can.

(Don’t have a good spot outside to wash your trash can? Take it to a self-serve car wash and spray it down there!)

cleaning garbage cans

Step 3 – Wash It

Grab your garden hose and sprayer attachment, and turn it on to the most powerful sprayer setting. Spray the inside of the can thoroughly to “pressure wash” it, paying special attention to any visibly grimy spots.

cleaning garbage cans

Step 4 – Rinse It

Once you feel like your trash can has gotten a thorough washing, dump out the soapy water. Use the hose again to rinse any remaining suds or grime out of the can, allow it to drip-dry for a few minutes, then smell the trash can again.

If the stink is gone (or mostly gone—it’s a trash can, so it’s probably not going to smell great), you’re done! Let the trash can dry completely before replacing or adding trash to it.

If your trash can still smells, simply proceed to Step 5!

cleaning garbage cans

Step 5 – Use Vinegar (Optional)

If washing your trash can wasn’t enough to get rid of the stink, you can use white vinegar to help neutralize those stubborn odors. After rinsing all of the soapy water out of your trash can, pour around two cups of white vinegar into the bottom of the can.

cleaning garbage cans

Use an old broom or scrubber to scrub the vinegar around the inside of the can. Allow the vinegar to sit in the bottom of the can for an hour or two, then rinse the can again with your hose.

cleaning garbage cans

At this point, the smell should be much less noticeable. Allow your trash can to dry completely before adding trash to it, and you’re done!

3 Bonus Tips For Stinky Trash Cans

  • Don’t store your trash can inside your garage. Keeping your trash cans in an enclosed space will only concentrate the smelly aroma of the garbage inside the case!
  • When choosing an outdoor location for your trash cans, look for a shady spot. Keeping them out of direct sunlight will help control odor levels.
  • Don’t like seeing your trash cans outside? Use an outdoor screen like this one to shield the cans from view!
  • You can use dishwasher tablets to clean your garbage cans: drop a tablet or two in an empty can, add hot water, and let it soak until the tablets have dissolved. Give it a scrub with your old broom, dump out the water, and you’re done!

Do you have any tips or tricks for smelly trash cans?


Jill Nystul Photo

Jill Nystul (aka Jillee)

Jill Nystul is an accomplished writer and author who founded the blog One Good Thing by Jillee in 2011. With over 30 years of experience in homemaking, she has become a trusted resource for contemporary homemakers by offering practical solutions to everyday household challenges.
I share creative homemaking and lifestyle solutions that make your life easier and more enjoyable!

About Jillee

Jill Nystul

Jill’s 30 years of homemaking experience, make her the trusted source for practical household solutions.

About Jillee

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Homekeeping Tips

  • My dad froze his kitchen garbage for years or at least what he didn’t compost, and, of course, his dutiful daughter does the same! Our town now does curbside recycling (YAY!) and the recycle bin gets stinky too, even though I clean out what I put in it. Thanks for this cleaning tip!

  • In my kitchen garbage can, I throw in a couple of fabric dryer sheets after I have cleaned it and before I put in a new bag. That might work for this too.

  • I used cleaning the garbage can as an opportunity last week to purchase a new toilet bowl brush. I used the old one to scrub out the bottom of the garbage can.

  • Is that a special pressure washer on the end of the hose? That would be great for washing down the house in spring. ! Ace? Home Depot?? I love this blog!
    Mary

      • I use the “Gilmour Nozzle Water Jet with Built-in Shut-Off
        Item #: 204693 | Model #: 06MJGF”. This little nozzle is quite inpressive for its size and price! i use it it, along with a pump garden sprayer loaded with my *”miracle house cleaner” to clean the outside of my house and my *”miracle car wash” to clean my car. It can reach to the top eaves of my second story house. The only draw back to these is that they are so small and get lost in my garage and yard if I take it off of the hose. BUT @ -$2.00 at Lowes (I am sure Home Depot has an equivalent) I usually pick up several at a time. I have let neighbors borrow them only to have them give my nozzle and I a look of “what am I supposed to do with this puny looking thing” and then turn their nose up at it. But then once they use it and experience the awesomeness of it I never get it back!

        *MIRACLE HOUSE WASH
        A 1 gallon pump type sprayer
        2-4 Cups of household Bleach (amount varies depending on how dirty an area I am cleaning)
        1-2 Capfulls of liquid laundry detergent
        12-14 cups of water

        1. Measure bleach into sprayer bottle
        2. Slowly add your water to the 1 gallon mark on your sprayer.
        3. Pour in laundry detergent.
        4. Cap the sprayer bottle tightly and shake well.
        5. Pump up the sprayer and spray on the side of house, garage door, roof, windows etc…
        6. Let sit for 5 mins and rinse off with hose that is equipped with the high pressure nozzle.
        SAFETY INFO – IMPORTANT!!!!
        – Remove pets and children from the vicinity.
        – Spray down vegetation with copious amounts of water BEFORE AND AFTER cleaning.
        – Wear protective clothing and eye protection (I usually wear white clothes, large sunglasses and a hat).

        MIRACLE CAR WASH (TOUCH FREE!!!!!!)
        This recipe is great because, unless you are washing a motor home or if your car is REALLY dirty, you won’t use the whole gallon. I keep this on hand at all times for quick washes!
        INGREDIENTS
        A 1 gallon pump type sprayer
        1 Cups of household Bleach
        2-4 Capfulls of liquid laundry detergent
        OR your favorite car wash mixed according to the directions on the bottle (ALWAYS make sure that the car wash does not contain ammonia, if it does OMIT THE BLEACH)
        12-14 cups of water

        1. Measure bleach into sprayer bottle
        2. Slowly add your water to the 1 gallon mark on your sprayer.
        3. Pour in laundry detergent.
        4. Cap the sprayer bottle tightly and shake well.
        5. Hose down entire vehicle with hose equipped with high pressure nozzle to loosen any dirt, mud, pollen or bugs.
        6. Spray down entire vehicle with “Miracle Car Wash” let sit for 5 mins (Do not let the solution dry on your vehicle).
        7. Rinse thoroughly and repeat if necessary (I have never had to repeat).
        8. (Optional) Dry entire vehicle with a soft cloth or chamoise and wax (I RARELY dry my car after I wash it and this method had left very little spots behind after it dries AND my car is BLACK)
        NOTE: The laundry detergent may remove wax…. So use Car Was Soap if you are concerned with that possibility. Household pine cleaner (Pine Sol) and *Oil Soaps (Murphy’s Oil Soap) work very well withough removing the wax, but I always have laundry detergent on hand do that’s what I use most of the time.

  • Arm & Hammer Carpet Fresh handles this problem quite nicely. Whenever it starts to get stinky in there, I sprinkle in some of this Carpet Fresh and that’s it. Problem solved. I keep a box of this in my garage, so it is on hand when I need it. Plain baking soda may work as well, but this in nicely scented so I prefer to use it.

  • Your blog is like a “to-do” list for me. Everytime you post a cleaning tip I go and do it and mark it off the list!!! My trash can is clean and the hubby can’t complain about diapers smelling it up any more!!

  • Tip: My husband did this to our garbage can (I think he is a genius). You won’t want to do this if you keep your garbage can in the garage though… Only if you keep it outside. He drilled holes in the bottom :) Now if something leakes it will fertilize the grass…haha! And when I give it a wash it will drain and dry out without me having to tip the big ‘ol thing!

  • Did you really just suggest putting bleach in your yard? Even diluted bleach is not going to be good for your grass. (Straight bleach will kill grass on contact, you can watch it happen on a sunny day, takes minutes. If I’m not mistaken, you can see it in the picture you posted– most of your yard looks green, the grass in front of the trash can where the water poured out is already browning.) Not so hot for the environment either for it to go floating down the driveway and into a storm drain killing who knows how many organisms. This might get the smell out of your trash can, but the environmental impact is a bigger price than I’m willing to pay. And to think you posted this on Earth Day weekend…. smh Jillie, I’m usually a fan, but this one is off the mark.

    • I disagree with you. I have been to http://www.clorox.com and have read about their bleach. I use Clorox Bleach for a number of cleaning tasks. It says “Household bleach begins and ends as salt water in a fully sustainable cycle.” “Bleach degrades primarily into salt and water and the remaining 2 percent to 5 percent is effectively treated by municipal waste water treatment plants or septic systems. No bleach gets to the environment.” ” Once diluted, bleach breaks down quickly-mainly into salt and water.” “Bleach does not contaminate ground water because it does not survive sewage treatment – either in municipal sewage treatment plants or in septic systems. Thus, there are no harmful effects of bleach in the environment.” Her recipe dilutes the bleach, I don’t see how it harms anything.

      • There are still animals and children to consider in neighboring areas – and there are safer alternatives readily available. Most people use way more than they need to be diluted properly. Common sense says, if you can’t ingest it, touch or smell it without it burning, than maybe it’s not safe to pour into the ground. Do you think Clorox might be biased on the topic? But you’re probably right, if it’s a product that makes life more convenient and easier than by all means just pour that baby right into the ground.

  • I pour two scoops of kitty litter in my mine each week and it really does the trick! I suppose it’s also along the same lines of the baking soda and powdered carpet cleaner though. It absorbs the smells and gets emptied right along with the trash when they pick it up. It’s a win-win for me because I don’t know if I can bring myself to actually scrub my can. Yikes!

  • My husband has always strapped the can to the top of the car or van (we recently bought a truck YAY!) and drove it down to the car wash and uses the wand. He’s gone for 20 minutes, spends a couple bucks and comes back with a sweet smelling can. The force of the wand is strong no need to crawl in and scrub off any leftovers, damage the grass, or worse yet have to pick ickiness off the lawn.

  • We have been in the trash can cleaning business in Orange County, California for over 5 years and started the business because of the enviromental impact of cleaning these cans. There is a misconception that because a product is “biodegradeable” or “environmentally friendly” it can be safely disposed of in our waterways. It takes soil to degrade these products; therefore, all cleaning products, including biodegradable products, should be disposed of at least 200 feet away from any water source, including our storm drains. More information can be found at http://occleanacan.com/biodegradable-does-not-mean-environmentally-friendly/ and http://occleanacan.com/trash-bins-impacting-our-environment/

  • We are leading manufactory who supply outdoor litter bins and advertising dustbin with good quality and competitive price, the litter bins are used at street, park, travel place, housing estate, etc, and the advertising dustbins are used for both propagating the advertisement and collecting the litters. I think they will be received by you, We hope to be a partner of your company.
    Email me if you are interested in us, and detailed we will discuss by email, thank you.

  • We are leading manufactory who supply outdoor litter bins and advertising dustbin with good quality and competitive price, the litter bins are used at street, park, travel place, housing estate, etc, and the advertising dustbins are used for both propagating the advertisement and collecting the litters. I think they will be received by you, We hope to be a partner of your company.
    Email me if you are interested in us, and detailed we will discuss by email, thank you.
    emai: athenaqin110@yahoo.cn

  • How about hauling the can to your curb, then using a garden sprayer shoot straight clorox all around the sides. Let sit 5 to 10 minutes. Scrub sides with a prickly broom, fill with water being sure to douse sides of can. Pour out, rinse again, scrub and repeat. Then let dry in sun. You can also buy 96 gallon trash bags which fit the standard residential wheeled cans. Google it. Although they are $1 apiece, 55 gallon drum liners can be hooked to one side of your bin with a clothespin. Every bag of kitchen trash goes in the liner giving you double protection and lengthening time between cleanings. Teach the kids how to do it and they will be more careful taking out the garbage-Another thing to consider is neighborhood covenants: some do not allow you to place your trashcan outside! Like mine, it must be kept in the garage. Jus’ sayin….

  • We had the same problem and my wife solved it by getting these big garbage basg that fits the large trash cans. After using them all last summer and fall we have the proble solved with smelling trash can. Every time the garbage is removed so is the large plastic bag used as a liner for the trash can. It was not easy to find those large 100 gallon bags but they are available and you can see them here http://biggarbagebags.net
    Hope you all get a non smelling garbage….

  • We live in a neighborhood where we have no grass, just patios and planting beds. So any type of cleaning that needs to be done outside, like our very stinky trash can, is nearly impossible. But I would have never thought to bring the trash can to carwash!! We have guest coming in town tomorrow and I am embarrassed of our trash can that’s parked very close to our front door. It’s going for a ride in my husbands truck tonight :-) Thank you for your post!

  • Another tip: We drilled a few small holes into the bottom of our trash can. We have to keep it our doors and sometimes the trash leaks or the lid isn’t perfectly aligned so rain gets in. Occaionally, possums get in and chew open a bag. All THAT is what stinks. I’ve found the trash to be much cleaner/dryer since the holes were drilled. Do about 8 small holes or so. That way, if 1-2 get clogged it will still drain. I still have to soak it with bleach or something on occasion, but not as often.
    TIP: When you soak it in bleach or detergent, be sure and either pour the chemical water onto a weed infested area, to help I’ll weeds, OR pour it onto an area that has a little mildew or dirt build up, to help clean it. MULTI-TASKING cleansers are cool!

    • Instead of immediately throwing out the empty food bags that came with ziptops, I save them. Any smelly trash goes into those bags and the odors stay sealed up, I have no smells in the house or in the trash receptacle. The bags can’t be recycled in my area, so it seems like a reasonable way to use them and conform with the regulation that all trash be bagged.

    • Unfortunately, your “chemical water” will leach into the ground and into the water table, polluting everything downstream. Don’t pour any chemicals onto the soil, weedy or not!

  • Regarding the “Smelly Outdoor Trash Cans” matter, 1st mistake done was non-segregating the waste. There are many recyclables (plastic, paper, glass, etc.). You can separate the bio-waste and compost. The milk and other similar cans/cups, etc., should be washed before put into the trash.

  • Totally agree with you. I have a touchless trash can for my kitchen it absorbs all the odors when you place an odor-filter. My biggest problem is the outdoor trash cans. It’s actually very frustrating having to deal with unpleasant garbage odors every single week. I hope I can find a good odor-filtering outdoor trash can. Found my touchless trash can here

    https://sleekdwellings.com/

    • LOL! Where we live there is a service called Canology that does this with eco-friendly cleaners! I don’t know how much they charge (I live in an apartment, so we have a dumpster not cans), but they promise to leave your cans “clean, sanitized, and smelling fresh!”

  • Jillee, I use your method already, except I use blue Dawn. I use blue Dawn to clean everything and for a number of reasons – (1) I am trying to preserve the environment. If Blue Dawn is gentle enough to clean oil-soaked wildlife from careless oil spills, it’s good enough to be poured into water for cleaning and dumped outside in small amounts, or down the drain.
    (2) Also, and most importantly to me, I have parrots, and parrots have very delicate respiratory systems and I will not risk anything, such as using hydrogen peroxide, that I think may damage them.
    (3) It is versatile does save money from the unnecessary expense of store bought cleaners.

  • I’m actually pretty disturbed that the advice here is to just pour the ‘soapy’ water or ‘all-purpose cleaner’ or worse… ‘bleach’ outside? That’s terrible advice and is really irresponsible when it comes to the environment. If you’re giving advice that people are following you should consider something that is safe and will be eco-friendly. It might be convenient to use, and make it easier to clean, but soap along with chemicals were not meant to be poured out as if they don’t affect everything around them. They are not clean either.

  • Jillee, many of us must keep our cans inside all winter in order to be able to move them down to the curb. Otherwise they are surrounded by mountains of snow and ice and must be literally dragged across a lawn that might be three feet deep in snow to get them to the driveway. Also, don’t you guys get skunks and raccoons getting into your trash? The garage is the only solution. Love your info!!!!

    • We bought “bin straps” to keep te raccoons out. We also take our garbage out at 7 a.m. the morning of collection due to raccoons. They are a huge problem, huge. Maggots are a problem in the heat too; flies get in the indoor trash bags and we have to make sure everything is bagged tightly.

  • We have bears. We have to store our cans inside or we’d spend every morning picking up trash. We use all of those tips and tricks to keep our garbage cans clean. We also put mothballs in the bottom and spray Lysol. That helps a lot! FYI: Chicken remnants and shrimp shells create the worst stink…

  • We got a new to us trash can from the pick up people. It was empty, clean, but oh so stinky. I sprayed Fabrize in it and the smell went away. It was horrible before. We wash our cans now regularly. We no longer have pick up, but take it to the land fill ourselves.

  • The best way to keep garbage cans stink free to NEVER put trash in it that isn’t first bagged. My husband loves to throw stuff directly in the can! It migrates to the bottom where part of it inevitably gets stuck, decomposes, and stinks to high heaven. If I can manage to keep hubby from doing this our two cans stay stink-free.

  • Why not sprinkle baking soda and a few drops of peppermint oil in the bottom of the trashcan after the trash can dries??? Also why not line the can with a large trash liner and after each time the trash is picked up–line the trash can again and the can will not continue to smell as the smell will be in the trash can liner which will be picked up by the trash company each week.

    • I do not have the problem of trash and actual garbage in mine…it is just the smell of the stuff in the bags putting out that lovely, pungent odor as it bakes in the sun. Crazy as this sounds…if I have certain foods that I do not run in my disposal, I take a Ziplock bag and mark it “trash” and put stuff in it until the night before they pick up and put it in the trash bin then. Unfortunately, that cannot be done with my “kitty-poop” bags. :)

  • I personally would use Thieves Household Cleaner to clean out the trash container as it is a safe product to use with no nasties in it. I use this to clean everything and threw out all the other cleaners–Windex, Four O Nine,–you name it–I threw it out. Used all unhealthy products for 10 years cleaning for others using their products and finally found out how unhealthy they were and have beenusing THC since 1999.

  • These are great tips after the fact…. how about avoiding the repulsive odor as much as you can beforehand. I always rinse out or wash if need be any and all food containers (jars, cans, plastic) before putting in a trash receptacle. Never, ever put food scraps of any kind in the trash; either put down garbage disposal if available or wrap up the scraps and freeze until trash day when you throw out. After trash pick up, open up the can and let the sun and air naturally clean it out. I have been doing this for years and can not remember the last time I had to clean the can. Another good tip….. put an oversized heavy duty plastic lawn bag in your trash can as a liner and throw smaller trash bags into it daily to further contain the trash. Great good luck to all on this “smelly” problem:)

  • One of the things we do to minimize the smell is to pour a whole bag of kitty litter (the cheapest kind) into the bottom of the can. We change it out about every 3 to 4 months when we clean them. It doesn’t completely get rid of the smell, but it sure helps and it absorbs any wet stuff that leaks out of the bags, making it easier to get clean.

  • I wash out the garbage cans every week . I spray the inside down with water then pour a little Pine Sol . I use a broom from the 99 cent store to scrub the inside.
    I would not wash the garbage cans on the grass and let the dirty water weather it be Pine Sol or dishwashing liquid run onto the grass. I think the grass would die.

  • I never have a problem with mine. I use trash bags and hose the inside out once a year. I often leave the bag in my container on trash day and they dump the container leaving the bag. After enough stinky stuff gets thrown in the bag week after week, I pull the bag, tie it and set it out front. The container sits in my garage and I often leave the top OFF because things don’t smell as bad as leaving it covered in 100 degree weather.

    • I think everyone uses bags but it can still get really smelly. I have two cats so I have bags from cleaning out the litter box twice a day!!! YUCK! Therefore I do the same thing Jill is talking about on a weekly basis, right after the bins are emptied. Also…Dawn dish washing liquid is very safe for the environment and will not hurt your grass, shrubs, driveway or anything. You can even wash your fresh fruits and veggies in water with Dawn in it so they are safe to eat. Have you seen the commercial showing the baby duck being washed in Dawn after an oil spill? Not just hype. It is for real.

  • I put old paper or store plastic bags in the bottom after its cranny slightly damp . They stick to the bottom and after thrash has been emptied if they haven’t fallen out I can just pop them out and the can isn’t as dirty

  • I definitely wouldn’t leave the lid open. We can get some strong wind gusts during certain times of the year and I can see trash flying out of the bin. I live in the Midwest.

  • It’s VERY EASY!! Buy the 65+ gallon Garbage Bags (Amazon) & a Gorilla Rubber Band~Fits inside the can & place rubber band @ outside to hold it up~Simply Place ALL garbage inside then remove band, tie bag & put out for pickup!
    Save rubber band for next one! Never
    have stinky garbage & mine sits in the Sun. Clean can w/Steamer every 6 mos & BE

  • This new trash can that was developed freezes your trash in minutes which means no more odor which should eliminate a stinky outdoor trash can. It is called Petal and only costs $1 per month in electricity. There are no liners required and it completely eliminates odors, bugs, rodents and viruses. It can be purchased at petalclean.com

  • The best spray I have found to kill garbage odors in plastic trash bins is Earth’s Answer Microbial Deodorizer by Gardens Alive! It is a microbial digester of organic waste, and there is NO garbage smell after spraying it into a garbage can that you have cleaned out of debris. It contains beneficial bacteria, natural surfactants and a citrus fragrance. I spray it in and use a paper towel to spread it to all the nooks and crannies of the can – bottom and sides. Don’t rinse afterwards. Leave it there. It’s amazing stuff.

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