Smelly Trash Can? How to Clean & Deodorize Garbage Cans Quickly

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Cleaning a stinky garbage can isn’t as simple as hosing it off. If you’re like me, that’s where your process started and ended.

However, that will not get rid of strong smells and stains.

This article will cover simple tips and tricks to clean and deodorize garbage cans so they don’t stink up your garage.


How to Keep Your Garbage Can From Smelling in Garages

Cleaning a smelly trash can is a three-step process of cleaning, deodorizing, and disinfecting.

Step 1: Cleaning Garbage Cans

The first step is always to empty your trash can. 

Remove the garbage until you can see the bottom of the bin. Once you’ve removed everything, you can see where the foul smells are coming from. 

One of the more common reasons for the smell is when liquids leak out of trash bags into the outdoor garbage cans. Even if you don’t throw open containers in the trash, juices can seep from food scraps, or fast food cups can spill. 

It’s easy for the liquid to mix with your other trash and marinate into something that smells repulsive. 

Even worse, it could attract flies or other insects, leading to maggots in your trash can.

Similarly, during warmer temperatures, the sun beating down on a black plastic garbage can starts to cook the trash inside. This can soften any leftover food or animal waste, causing it to stick to the inside of the trash can.

In either case, thoroughly cleaning garbage cans is a critical first step to remove any lingering odors. 

We’ll need sufficient water pressure to remove scraps or caked-on garbage stuck on the surface. A pressure washer is ideal, but a garden hose will work if the nozzle has a ‘jet’ setting. 

If your pressure washer has an attachment that mixes soap with the water, you’ll definitely want to use it.

I recommend Simple Green dPRO 3 Plus, a combination cleaner and disinfectant for most homes.  

Simple Green also makes a Heavy-Duty Cleaner & Degreaser that works well if your trash has a lot of greasy food waste or automotive byproducts.

For tough-to-remove stains, fill part of the garbage can with lukewarm water and mix in your Simple Green. Then, scrub the garbage can inside and outside with a deck brush. 

Once the stains are gone, rinse thoroughly to help eliminate any residual odors.


Step 2: How to Deodorize Garbage Cans

Usually, you’ll want to both deodorize and disinfect your garbage can. Occasionally, you’ll just want to quickly freshen it up.

If your HOA requires you to store your garbage cans in your garage, you may want to do this every week. 

Most off-the-shelf trash can deodorizers contain harsh chemicals, but some natural remedies can be just as effective.

However, some commonly used substances in your household can also clean your can effectively.

If you prefer using chemical-based store-bought solutions, follow the manufacturer’s instructions to eliminate odors. 

If you prefer using chemical-based store-bought garbage can deodorizers, follow the manufacturer’s instructions to eliminate odors.

Some more popular solutions, like vinegar and bleach, will disinfect and eliminate odors simultaneously.

I’ll cover them in the next section.

Still, finding cleaning products that will clean, deodorize, and sanitize your trash cans has never been this easy. 

Odor Commander Spray

Odor Commander is a natural, fast-acting, and powerful odor control spray that can help you eliminate unpleasant smells from your trash cans, compost bins, and other sources of household odors.

Unlike perfumes that only mask the smell, Odor Commander eliminates the odor at the source by using a plant-based formula that is safe, eco-friendly, and trusted by industry professionals.

The refreshing lemongrass scent can be used on any surface affected by odors. Odor Commander is easy to use: spray it on the area you want to deodorize and let it work its magic.

It’s also great to help prevent odors before they start by spraying it in your trash cans or compost bins before adding any waste.

Odor Commander Trash Odor Control Spray
  • Odor commander stops odors, making compost and garbage, much easier to manage
  • Removes unpleasant odors from trash bins, compost, and garbage cans
  • Certified with the ECOLOGO UL program, 1 of North America's environmental standard and certification marks
  • No toxins, no masking, no perfumes, just naturally powerful


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Stinky Bins Garbage Odor & Sludge Control

Liquids and food waste produce most of the odors in our trash cans.

Stinky Bins is a garbage can deodorizer made of natural, biodegradable, eco-friendly granules. It absorbs moisture, resulting in an odorless compound.

This helps control and eliminate the odor and sludge from your garbage cans, trash bags, and other waste containers.

Stinky Bins is easy to use: you just need to sprinkle some of it on the bottom of your trash can and let it do its work. It’s available in a cherry scent that masks any smells that aren’t absorbed.

Stinky Bins Garbage Odor Absorbing Granules
  • Green solution. Biodegradable
  • Natural absorbent granules
  • Maximum strength natural botanicals
  • All-natural emulsifying agents
  • Aggressively absorbs liquids
  • Fast-acting odor neutralization
  • Powerful Cherry Scent


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Dryer Sheets

Dryer sheets are incredibly versatile and can be used in your laundry or polish bathroom appliances. They can also trap foul odors coming from your garbage. 

All you need to do is add one or two sheets to the bottom of your kitchen garbage bag. I also like adding one to my outdoor garbage can whenever I add food waste.

Dryer sheets are best used to maintain your trash can after thoroughly washing, deodorizing, and disinfecting. 

Swap old sheets for new ones every time you empty the bin or replace the trash bag.

Cat Litter

Even if you don’t have a cat in your house, it’s worth keeping some cat litter around. 

Not only is it great at absorbing oil and gasoline spills in your garage, but it also helps to deodorize garbage cans, as well. 

Adding a layer of cat litter to the bottom of the trash can (after cleaning it) will absorb spilled liquids from your garbage. That helps trap foul smells and stop them from permanently staining your trash can. 

Baking Soda

Every home should have baking soda on hand. Not only is baking soda a great way to extinguish small kitchen fires, but it’s also an excellent odor absorber for trash cans. 

You’ll usually find an open box of baking soda in your fridge, absorbing the smell of those week-old leftovers. 

The same principle works to deodorize trash cans, too.

During your initial washing and scrubbing phases, you can use a solution of baking soda and water. This creates a paste that not only eliminates stains but helps remove garbage odors.

If you prefer washing your garbage cans with commercial products, you can still use baking soda to help deodorize your trash can. 

Once your garbage can is clean and dry, sprinkle baking soda on the bottom to help absorb odors until the next wash. 

It also helps absorb any moisture and liquids that leak out of your garbage, preventing them from sticking to the surfaces of the bin.


Step 3: Use a Garbage Can Disinfectant

The final step in cleaning that smelly trash can is to disinfect it. Here, we’ll focus on killing germs and bacteria on your trash can’s surfaces. 

This isn’t always required, but it’s necessary if you keep your garbage can inside the house.

Bleach

Bleach is among the most potent disinfectants out there. As an added bonus, it’s very inexpensive and easy to find. In fact, there will probably be a bleach bottle somewhere in your house. 

Unfortunately, bleach leaves a powerful smell of its own. However, bleach is your best bet if you’ve tried other methods to eliminate the odor in your garbage can without success. 

It will kill the germs responsible for the odors spreading from your trash can. 

Any time you use bleach, take some essential precautions, such as:

  • Avoid leaving the bleach in the trash can for too long. This can cause permanent discoloration.
  • Always use bleach outdoors or in a well-ventilated area to avoid inhaling excessive fumes.
  • Always wear gloves throughout the cleaning process. My mum cleans with bleach so often that it’s melted off her fingerprints! (true story)
  • Avoid touching your face, and protect your eyes with goggles.

Vinegar

Alternatively, undiluted white vinegar or cleaning vinegar is an all-natural solution that is affordable, eco-friendly, and just as efficient as store-bought products.

You’ve probably used vinegar for cooking. However, vinegar is also great for cleaning concrete or removing rust from tools. It is also a great natural disinfectant and deodorizer.

Like baking soda, vinegar helps clean garbage cans from beginning to end. 

Vinegar contains acetic acid, also found in most store-bought home cleaning products.

You can choose white or apple cider vinegar if you have extra. However, cleaning vinegar should be available in your grocery store’s cleaning supplies aisle and may be less expensive. 

Best of all, vinegar is potent enough to thoroughly disinfect your cans and kill germs.


Wrapping It Up

Addressing a smelly garbage can requires a systematic approach. Let’s recap the key steps:

  • Cleaning: Start by emptying the can to spot problem areas. Often, leaked liquids are the culprits behind the odor. Use water pressure, preferably from a pressure washer, to dislodge stubborn residue. Products like Simple Green dPRO 3 Plus can be effective for deep cleaning.
  • Deodorizing: This step neutralizes odors. Options range from store-bought solutions like Odor Commander Spray and Stinky Bins Granules to household items like dryer sheets, cat litter, and baking soda.
  • Disinfecting: This is important for indoor cans. This step kills bacteria and germs. Both bleach and vinegar are effective disinfectants. Remember to handle bleach with care.

Following these steps, you can effectively reduce or eliminate garbage can odors in your garage or home.

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Tim Wells

Tim Wells, the founder of Garage Transformed, has been featured in dozens of home renovation publications, including BobVila.com, Home Stratosphere, House Digest, Livingetc, and SFGate. Since 2018, he has helped over two million people transform their everyday garages into something they can be proud of. He lives in Central Florida with his wife and bulldog.