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How To Clean and Care for Commercial Trash Cans

How To Clean and Care for Commercial Trash Cans

Posted by Trashcans Unlimited on 15th Apr 2015

If you own, manage or maintain a commercial property, your trash cans aren't just trash cans. In addition to giving your guests and staff a hygienic way to dispose of their waste, trash cans are also an integral part of your professional reputation. They affect everything from your customers' opinions to your ability to pass health inspections. If your business serves food, provides medical services, or receives a high volume of foot traffic every day, it's especially important to stay on top of your trash can cleaning regimen.

Before we get started, if you’re looking to find professional cleaning, rather than organize an effort yourself, here are some excellent resources for doing so. Cleaning a dumpster may seem like a difficult task, but it’s not too different from cleaning a trash can, and can be done by yourself. Even cleaning a trash can without a hose is a doable feat!

Why Garbage Receptacle Maintenance is Important

Most people don't associate trash cans with cleanliness. After all, they're receptacles that are designed to hold all your dirtiest, grossest, and most hazardous waste. However, it's both possible and important to keep them as clean as possible at all times. People see, touch, and smell the external parts of your trash cans every day, but the insides are far more contaminated, and it's just as important to clean those too.

If you neglect your trash can maintenance, you'll invite the following risks into your business:

  • Bad odors that permeate the surrounding area
  • Viruses and infections that spread more quickly
  • Pests (such as rats, fruit flies, and cockroaches) that are attracted to odors and spills
  • Additional costs of replacing damaged trash cans

Of course, all of these also lead to the biggest risk of all: making a poor impression on your customers and visitors. If people spot unsightly messes, smell disgusting odors, or notice pest infestations, they won't trust your ability to maintain other areas of your business, and your reputation will suffer.

Set a Schedule & Clean Regularly

When you maintain a frequent and thorough cleaning schedule for outdoor and indoor trash cans on your commercial property, you ensure that your facility is safe, clean, and welcoming. With proper maintenance, your trash cans will maintain their luster and appearance for many years. Keep your customers and guests coming back to your business by taking pride in your building’s safety and cleanliness.

There’s nothing worse or more off putting than a terrible trash can smell, especially in well-trafficked areas. Well, here’s some tips for that. Depending on what caused the odor, there are different ways to approach the problem and prevent it from happening again.

Have you created a maintenance schedule? If you haven’t, it’s a must for any commercial operation. A schedule and map of how often, when, and where cans should be emptied, maintained, and cleaned is important. And, making sure that you have employee buy-in is essential, so make sure to do training and/or a meeting to give people a good idea of what your expectations are.

When it comes to plastic trash cans, at least once a week:

  • Empty the contents and wipe/scrub with warm soapy water until the water runs clear.
  • For heavier dirt and stains, use a nylon scrubbie, a mild detergent, and hot water.
  • To remove really tough dirt and stains, make a paste of baking soda mixed with liquid dish soap and scrub with a nylon scrubbie or an old toothbrush.
  • If some stains remain, use undiluted vinegar, again scrubbing gently with a soft brush.

Regularly cleaning your trash cans with a mild detergent will keep them fresh and clean. Caring for stainless steel trash cans follows the same steps as cleaning a plastic trash can, but requires a little extra care to keep them in top condition. 

After washing trash cans, make sure they're bone-dry before replacing the liner and bag. Leftover moisture may lead to mold and mildew growth, and plastic bags create a greenhouse effect that traps water particles and prevents evaporation.


  • Wipe down spills immediately so that they don’t have time to get sticky and gummy. A dampened microfiber cloth or paper towel is the perfect tool for this.
  • If you clean your trash can weekly, sprinkle baking soda in the bottom to neutralize odors. Don’t use baking soda if you go longer between garbage can cleaning because it can clump up and make a bigger mess.
  • Every time you change the liner, wipe with a spray of cleanser or solution of 50:50 vinegar and water and wipe it with a towel.

Eliminate Stains & Spills

Even if your commercial property doesn't sell or serve food, there's a good chance that someone will use your trash cans to dispose of their loose drinks and snacks. Inspect your commercial trash cans frequently for spills, splashes, and crumbs.

It’s best to check them often so that the substances don't have a chance to permanently stain your trash, attract pests, or cause foul buildup. Periodic power washing is the most effective way to remove buildup, but spot cleaning is sufficient if you notice problems right away.

Another common issue is pest and animal problems, especially if you dispose of a lot of food waste. Keeping animals away, like rats, raccoons, and maggots, is a huge part of keeping things clean and tidy.

Fight Germs

Every single item in a commercial trash can contains germs from the person who threw it away, but pests and wind carry new germs that may stick to porous surfaces. Employee sick days cost money, and regular customers will stay home if they get sick, so stop germs in their tracks instead of incurring these additional costs.

Regularly use antibacterial soap to scrub the outside and inside of each trash can, in order to stop the spread of diseases and prevent fungus and bacteria from multiplying inside it.

Investing in other sanitation and hygiene efforts, for instance, sanitized wipe dispensers, can help in the fighting of germs and other problems.

Remove Odors

Deodorize your trash cans with fragrant bags, odor-absorbing powders, and cleaning solutions that are designed to eliminate traces of odor. If your trash cans are made of porous materials like plastic or acrylic, scrub the outside as thoroughly as possible to loosen any odorous particles. If you have found a lingering odor in your dumpster, or a urine smell in any of your trash receptacles, you may need to take a couple extra steps to address the causes.

Always Use Trash Bags and Liners

Always Use Trash Bags & Liners

This one goes without saying. Unless the can is seeing only dry things, a trash bag is a must to keep the nasty stuff out. Trash can liners add an extra layer of clean support and they are more replaceable than the cans, extending the life of the receptacle itself. Make sure your bin liner always fits snugly around the edges of your trash can. If it falls inside and you don’t realize it, you’re in for some major trash cleanup. Also, always make sure to carry full trash bags to your outdoor container as soon as you can, rather than packing trash down. Make sure they’re dry before you start using them again. Leftover moisture may lead to mold and mildew growth.

Tips for Caring for Outdoor Trash Cans

"Outdoors" can mean many different things, so narrow down your outdoor conditions to make sure your receptacles can handle them. The following factors are important:

  • Overhead coverings — Will a roof or awning protect your trash can from outdoor conditions? Then you probably have the most leeway for the type of item you get in terms of materials and finish.
  • Exposure to wind and projectiles — Will your trash can be in the middle of an open space, or can you depend on trees and buildings to block gusts of wind? If your item will experience severe inclement weather then you'll need to find a trash can with the right kind of lid to get the job done.
  • Local climate — How hot, cold, humid and/or windy does it get throughout the year? You'll need to find an outdoor trash can that is tough enough to stand up to the weather in your local area, whatever that might be.
  • Nearby fences — Can you depend on a security fence to keep your cans secure? If not then you'll need to get an item that is difficult to vandalize and/or move or just an item that you can secure fairly easily. Don’t forget about animal proofing either. Both urban and rural areas may need to be concerned about rats, cats, dogs, or raccoons getting into their trash. In certain situations you may just need to purchase an item you can feel comfortable replacing periodically.
  • Air quality — Will it be exposed to salty or polluted air? Humid, salty, and polluted air causes metals to corrode and rust faster than air with less salt, humidity, and pollution.

Once you’ve determined your outdoor situation, there’s a few other important steps for both indoor and outdoor cans. What are the cans for? Knowing what the different types of cans you have is important for setting up a maintenance schedule. These include but are not limited to:

Prevent Future Problems

Frequent cleaning of your trash cans with mild soap and water or glass cleaner and a cotton cloth is recommended. To insure that your trash cans stay clean and functional for the long haul, the following is a list of common conditions that cause corrosion or discoloration of steel and should be avoided:

  • Chloride containing cleansers – this includes bleach and any bleach containing cleaners
  • Muriatic acid (hydrochloric acid) – commonly used to clean up after tile/concrete installation
  • Concentrated soap residue – chemical additives will cause discoloration and some dried soaps actually look like rust
  • Water with high iron content – can leave a rusty residue, especially if allowed to drip continuously
  • Contact with iron materials – including steel wool, machining chips, and iron residue/dust from installation or cleaning of other steel products
  • Trapped moisture between the product and another object – rubber mats, metal cans of soaps or cleansers
  • Salts – contain chlorides

Keep Garbage Cans Sealed

Keep trash cans sealed for two reasons: to keep them dry and keep pests out. Wet environments are perfect for mold and other bacterial and fungal growths. Outdoor trash cans are particularly vulnerable to pests, precipitation, and other contaminants, but indoor trash cans need to be kept dry and animal-proof too. Make sure outdoor trash cans are covered at all times — either by an attached lid or overhead shelter — but don't lower your standards for indoor bins.

Get the Right Garbage Cans

If you’re regularly disposing of trash that can cause an odor to linger in your garbage can like food, dirty diapers, or cat litter you should consider getting multiple containers dedicated to disposing of them, or heavy duty trash cans that can handle them.

Trashcans Unlimited is committed to providing you with the best trash cans as well as the best advice on cleaning, maintenance, and other issues. If it’s time to dispose of your old trash cans, lids, or liners, and replace them with new ones, we can help you find the right outdoor trash cans or how to choose the right indoor trash cans. Get in touch with us or start browsing today!.