How to Clean a Recycling Bin

Blue recycling bin filled with paper and plastic products and cleaning materials in front

The Spruce / Sarah Lee

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 10 - 30 mins
  • Total Time: 10 mins - 1 hr
  • Skill Level: Beginner

Recycling keeps waste out of landfills and continues to grow in popularity in the United States. Before 1990, only 15 percent of recyclable trash was separated. By 2018, the latest provided statistics from the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency, the amount had grown to 32.1 percent. By following the guidelines of your local municipality, recycling is simple once you adopt the practice of sorting disposables.

Whether you use separate recycling bins for paper, glass, and plastic or they are placed in one container, regular cleaning is important to prevent odors and to keep pests like insects and animals away. There are professional services that you can hire to steam clean your trash cans and recycling bins on a regular schedule. But, if you don't want to hire a professional, you can clean recycling bins with just a few household products and a bit of time.

Tip

While this article focuses on recycling bins for solid waste, don't forget that many food scraps can be recycled in a compost bin. You can purchase a bin or make your own. Frequent emptying and cleaning of small countertop models will keep odors at bay.

How Often to Clean a Recycling Bin

Recycling containers should be thoroughly cleaned along with all types of trash cans as part of your monthly cleaning routine. In hot, humid climates or during summer months, weekly cleaning may be needed to avoid odors.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Nylon-bristled scrub brush
  • Long-handled scrub brush or mop
  • Garden hose
  • Spray bottle
  • Plastic bins or tarp
  • Microfiber cloths

Materials

  • Baking soda
  • Disinfecting spray

Instructions

Materials and tools to clean a recycling bin

The Spruce / Sarah Lee

  1. Start With an Empty Bin

    The best time to clean the recycling bin is right after the waste material has been picked up or delivered to the recycling center. If that is not convenient, have some plastic bags, bins, or an old tarp available to hold the waste until the bin is clean and dry.

    Tip

    A sunny, breezy day is the best time to clean a recycling bin so you can work outside.

    Recycling bin emptied with paper waste materials before cleaning

    The Spruce / Sarah Lee

  2. Wet and Sprinkle With Baking Soda

    Begin by spraying the interior surfaces of the bin with a garden hose or spray bottle filled with water to dampen the plastic. Sprinkle the interior liberally with baking soda. The baking soda helps absorb odors and acts as a mild abrasive to remove stuck-on particles.

    Baking soda sprinkled inside recycling bin

    The Spruce / Sarah Lee

  3. Scrub the Bin

    Use a nylon-bristled scrub brush to clean all of the interior surfaces. If you have a large bin or recycling roll cart, it is easier to use a long-handled scrub brush or mop.

    Once the interior surfaces are clean, repeat the baking soda scrub on the exterior of the bin or cart.

    Nylon-bristled brush scrubbing inside of recycling bin with baking soda

    The Spruce / Sarah Lee

  4. Rinse Well

    Use a garden hose to thoroughly rinse the interior and exterior of the bin. If you can't work outside, a deep utility sink or shower stall works well.

    Recycling bin rinsed outside with garden hose

    The Spruce / Sarah Lee

  5. Dry Completely

    If you have time, allow the sun to do its work to completely dry the bin. Sunlight can also help disinfect the bin some. If not, use absorbent microfiber towels to dry the interior and exterior of the bin.

    Microfiber towel wiping recycling bin dry

    The Spruce / Sarah Lee

  6. Disinfect, If Needed

    If the bin still has a strong odor, spray the interior surfaces with a disinfecting spray to help kill the lingering bacteria that is causing the odor.

    Recycling bin interior covered with disinfecting spray

    The Spruce / Sarah Lee

Recycling Tips to Keep Your Recycling Bin Clean Longer

A little extra effort before you place recyclables in the bin will keep the bin clean much longer. You should also check with your municipality to determine their regulations for recycling. Many places will not accept recyclables that are soiled with food.

  • Rinse bottles, cans, and plastic containers before recycling. You don't need to scrub them to a pristine state but a quick scrape and rinse to remove food particles and sticky residue will keep your recycling bin clean and fresh much longer.
  • Replace lids on plastic bottles to prevent leaking if your area doesn't require the separation of materials or if the lids are the same material as the bottles.
  • Do not allow water or food liquids to accumulate in the bottom of the bin. If the bin is stored outside, be sure it has small drainage holes to allow moisture to escape. If the bin doesn't have holes, use a small drill or awl to create some.
  • Place layers of newspaper in the bottom of the bin to absorb drips. This technique works best if the bin is stored indoors.
  • Add a liner to the bin. A liner will keep the bin cleaner longer but be sure to check that it is made of a material that can be recycled along with the contents of the bin.

Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Overview: Facts and Figures on Materials, Waste, and Recycling. United States Environmental Protection Agency.

  2. Amichai B, Grunwald MH, Davidovici B, Shemer A. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants'*: the efficacy of sun exposure for reducing fungal contamination in used clothes. Isr Med Assoc J., vol. 16, no. 7, pp. 431-433, 2014.

  3. What Can and Can't Be Recycled Curbside. Mecklenburg County Government.