How to Clean a Trash Can

Gold trash can surrounded by cleaning materials

The Spruce / Almar Creative

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 10 - 30 mins
  • Total Time: 15 mins - 1 hr
  • Skill Level: Beginner

A trash can is one of the most used items in our home that serves us well but doesn't get much attention or care. Whether the can is made of durable plastic or a decorative material, it has to handle all the things that we toss from soiled tissues to food scraps and coffee grinds to broken toys. Even if you use a plastic liner, a trash will eventually need to be cleaned thoroughly. It's a simple job using just a few supplies. If you check closely, it's probably time for you to get to work.

How Often to Clean a Trash Can

Trash cans should be emptied at least weekly, but most kitchen trash cans need to be emptied more frequently. As part of your routine cleaning, take the time to inspect the can after every emptying to see if it requires a more thorough cleaning to remove liquid residues or sticky messes clinging to the can.

Large rolling garbage carts should also be cleaned regularly (monthly or weekly, depending on the seasonal weather) to remove debris and odors that attract insects and animals.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Garden hose
  • Spray bottle
  • Nylon-bristled scrub brush
  • Sponge
  • Microfiber cloths

Materials

  • All-purpose cleaner
  • Baking soda
  • Disinfectant spray or cleaner
  • Mineral oil
  • Cream of tartar
  • Lemon juice

Instructions

Materials and tools to clean a trash can

The Spruce / Almar Creative

How to Clean Plastic Trash Cans

These steps can be followed when cleaning plastic kitchen, bath, or outdoor trash cans.

  1. Empty the Trash Can

    Remove the plastic liner or empty the trash can of all debris. If you are cleaning an outside garbage can before trash pick-up day, place the garbage on an old tarp or wait until the can is empty.

    Tip

    The best time to clean a garbage can, especially large cans, is on a sunny, breezy day when you can work outdoors and allow it to air dry after properly cleaning it. Sunlight is also a mild disinfectant that can further help clean your can.

    Plastic bag removed from trash can before cleaning

    The Spruce / Almar Creative

  2. Rinse out the Can

    If you are working outdoors, use a garden hose to rinse out the trash can. Indoors, work in a large utility sink or the bathtub. Be sure to place a strainer over indoor drains to catch any debris.

    Trash can rinsed out with garden hose

    The Spruce / Almar Creative

  3. Apply a Cleaner

    For plastic trash cans that are not heavily soiled, sprinkle the freshly rinsed interior with baking soda. The baking soda will act as a mild abrasive to remove any stuck-on debris and help combat odors. Scrub with a nylon-bristled brush.

    If the bottom of the can is sticky, add some warm water and about one teaspoon of an all-purpose cleaner or dishwashing liquid. Allow the can to soak for about 30 minutes and then scrub with the brush.

    Baking soda sprinkled inside trash can

    The Spruce / Almar Creative

  4. Clean the Exterior of the Can

    Use the same cleaning solutions to tackle any grime on the outside of the trash can. For trash cans with removable lids, be sure to clean both the outside and inside of the lid.

    Exterior of trash can cleaned with rag and cleaning solution

    The Spruce / Almar Creative

  5. Rinse Well and Dry

    Rinse the interior of the can well. Allow large garbage carts to air-dry with the lid open. Smaller plastic trash cans can be dried with microfiber towels or air dried.

  6. Disinfect the Trash Can

    To kill microbes that cause odor or spread germs, spray the can with a disinfecting spray once it is cleaned.

    Tip

    Be sure to check the product label before you spray: Some disinfectant sprays can damage acrylic and other plastics.

    Disinfecting spray inserted into trash can

    The Spruce / Almar Creative

  7. Replace the Liner

    If you usually use a liner, place a new liner in your freshly cleaned can.

    Tip

    Store extra plastic bags or liners in the bottom of the trash can to make a quicker replacement.

    Fresh plastic bag inserted into clean trash can

    The Spruce / Almar Creative

How to Clean Metal and Decorative Trash Cans

  1. Stainless Steel Trash Cans

    Most stainless steel trash cans have a plastic liner that should be cleaned following the guidelines for plastic trash cans.

    To clean the exterior (and interior, if needed) of the can, use a mild all-purpose cleaner and a sponge. Always wipe in the direction of the stainless steel grain and work from the top of the can toward the bottom. For stuck-on soil, sprinkle the sponge with a bit of dry baking soda and gently scrub.

    Rinse the can well to remove any soapy residue and dry with a microfiber cloth to prevent water spots and streaks. A few drops of mineral oil on a dry cloth will help buff away any fingerprints or water spots.

    Tip

    Make a paste of cream of tartar and a few drops of lemon juice to remove small rust stains from stainless steel. Apply with a sponge and let it sit for about ten minutes before gently scrubbing and wiping away. Repeat if needed. Once the stains are gone, rinse the area well to prevent the lemon juice from corroding the surface.

    Exterior of gold-colored stainless steel trash can cleaned with all-purpose cleaner and sponge

    The Spruce / Almar Creative

  2. Ceramic Trash Cans

    Decorative ceramic trash cans are most often used in bathrooms and bedrooms. Hand wash them in warm soapy water, rinse, and dry with a microfiber cloth.

    Since they are often the catch-all for tissues and dental floss, use a disinfecting spray after cleaning to kill bacteria.

    Ceramic trash can exterior wiped with microfiber cloth

    The Spruce / Almar Creative

  3. Woven Natural Fiber Trash Cans

    Woven fiber trash cans (rattan) can be cleaned by wiping the interior and exterior with a damp cloth to remove dust and surface soil. Do not submerge them or use excessive amounts of water. Allow to air-dry and always use a plastic liner or bag to keep them clean.

    Woven rattan trash can wiped down with damp cloth

    The Spruce / Almar Creative

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. 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. 2014 Jul;16(7):431-3. PMID: 25167689.