Trash Can Smells Bad? Try These 5 Refreshing Tricks

updated Apr 12, 2024
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(Image credit: Minette Hand)

The kitchen garbage is most likely the smelliest thing in your household. (If it’s not, there might be a bigger problem at hand.) And that makes total sense when you think about what’s in there.

“Even something as innocent as leftover veggie trimmings can surprise you with a stench in the morning!” says blogger Becky Rapinchuk (aka Clean Mama). Ideally, you’re taking out the full — or close-to-full — bag every few days for garbage pickup, but smells can still find a way to permeate the air in the days between.

While your garbage is never gonna smell like roses, it doesn’t have to be totally offensive. Here are some cleaning hacks to consider if your trash can smells bad.

1. Divert the worst offenders.

Fish and seafood are by far the stinkiest, so Becca Napelbaum, a cleaning expert at Handy, an on-demand home service app, recommends bagging waste from these dishes separately and taking out that bag as soon as you’ve finished your meal.

Same with any fruits or vegetables that have passed their prime: Bag them up separately and take them out ASAP (or compost them). Both Napelbaum and Rapinchuk agree that your first line of defense is to cut down on the stuff that causes the most stink.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

2. Add baking soda.

If bagging and tossing scraps right away isn’t realistic (I know my big hurdle is having to head down two flights of stairs to get outside to my building’s garbage area!), you can try adding an odor-absorbing material. There’s a laundry list of things that can help — coffee beans, cat litter, charcoal, etc. — but Napelbaum suggests baking soda. Sprinkle it in the bottom of the bin, and it will help prevent and absorb smells.

Rapinchuk makes her own odor-absorbing tablets by mixing 1/2 cup baking soda, 1/3 cup Epsom salt, 1/4 cup water, and ten drops of lemon essential oil. She pours the mixture into ice cube trays to harden and drops one or two tablets into smelly trash cans (between the can and the liner), replacing them when they stop working.

Credit: Kelli Foster

3. Add lemon peels too.

Lemon peels are your friend. Instead of throwing them away, put them between the can and the liner. “They’ll do a good job disguising some or all of the odor,” says Napelbaum, who suggests using the peels in conjunction with the baking soda idea mentioned above.

4. Clean the trash can regularly.

Even with the best intentions, juices and other waste can get between the can and the garbage bag, so you should wipe the inside of the can regularly — about every two weeks, or whenever you notice a spill or smell. Then aim to give the can a proper clean at least a few times a year (of course, no one will be mad at you if you do it more often!).

5. Try essential oils.

Essential oils with lemon, lavender, peppermint, tea tree, eucalyptus, and/or citrus have a clean, refreshing scent. If your trash can smells bad, place a few drops of one of these essential oils (or another one of your favorites) on a cotton ball and toss the fresh-smelling ball at the bottom of your trash can, underneath the bag. The cotton ball will release the nice smell of the essential oil over time, improving the smell of your garbage. Replace the cotton ball every two weeks or as needed.

This post originally ran on the Kitchn.