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How to Get a Urine Smell Out of a Garbage Can

How to Get a Urine Smell Out of a Garbage Can

Posted by Trashcans Unlimited on 28th Oct 2021

Urine can be an unpleasant odor that tends to linger and intensify, especially if left to sit and soak into the surface to dry. If you’ve lost hope for cleaning a stinky trash can and are considering throwing it out, hold off and give this article a read. We’ll see if we can take you through some of the more effective ways to clean a can.

5 tips to eliminate urine odor in garbage cans

Causes of Urine Smell in Trash Cans

The source of the urine smell can be caused by a number of instances:

  • Animals in your trash can
  • Regular disposal of dirty diapers or wipes
  • Recurring disposal of pet waste or used cat litter
  • Repeated use to dispose of waste or chemicals that cause odor, such as ammonia.

If you confirm animal waste (such as rodent urine or droppings) is the source, or has the potential to be the source of the odor, it’s important to take the necessary precautions to prevent the spread of illness by disinfecting and cleaning the garbage can.

Step 1: Clean the Garbage Can to Remove Odors

Cleaning the surface should remove dirt, grime, and urine smells. Always 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, thus removing and preventing odors.

Frequent cleaning of your trash cans with mild soap and water or glass cleaner and a cotton cloth is recommended. Cleaning is easier when you've taken precautions to prevent contamination. 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.

Removing Urine Odor from Indoor Trash Cans

If the urine smell has recently appeared, that could mean it hasn’t had a chance to soak in yet, and can be easily remedied with cleaning. When deodorizing and cleaning stainless steel trash cans, don’t use bleach, polisher, salts, or acids. 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.

To start, give the can a normal cleaning:

  1. Empty the contents and spray the garbage can, inside and outside, with a disinfectant, such as soap and water and let soak for 5 to 15 minutes. When using a commercial disinfectant, following the manufacturer’s instructions on the label for dilution and disinfection time.
  2. An extra mess can be scrubbed with a scouring pad or scrub brush. You can also plan to soak the bottom of the can in warm soapy water for 15 minutes to really make sure everything is clean. Scrub out the entire can with warm soapy water, until the water runs clear.
  3. Dry the surfaces with a clean, soft cloth or allow it to air dry.
  4. Place the open, freshly cleaned trash can in the sun to dry. The sunlight can actually help kill the remaining bacteria.

If the urine smell has been building up over time, it could be more difficult to remove since it has had time to set in, and require extra steps to deodorize.

Removing Urine Odor from Outdoor Trash Cans

Similarly to removing odor from a dumpster, and cleaning a dumpster, outdoor trash cans may require heftier cleaning than indoor trash cans since they themselves are heftier.

  1. Empty the trash can.
  2. Rinse the trash can using a garden hose to remove loose dirt and grime. No hose? No problem! Find out how to clean a trash can without a hose!
  3. Fill the trash can 1/4 – 1/3 full with water.
  4. Add a mild soap such as dish washing detergent. The amount needed will depend on the size of the trash can.
  5. Allow the solution to soak for 30 minutes or more depending on the amount of residue in the trash can.
  6. Use a brush scrub the surfaces and remove any odor–causing residue. Remove as much residue as possible by scraping the sides and bottom. Pay special attention to the corners and crevices where grime can build up.
  7. Follow the same steps to clean the lid and outside of the garbage can.
  8. Dispose of the liquids and dry the surfaces with a clean, soft cloth or allow it to air dry.
  9. Place the open, freshly cleaned trash can in the sun to dry. The sunlight can actually help kill the remaining bacteria.

Use a mild soap and water solution to keep your metal garbage cans clean. Using anything like a muriatic or bleach solution can cause corrosion.

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


  • Storm drains direct runoff to freshwater streams and should never be used to dispose of harmful chemicals.
  • Do not drain the cleaning solutions onto soil. It will affect plants in the immediate area.
  • Orange oils are nontoxic in the house, but may be toxic to plant roots.

Step 2. Deodorizing Trash Cans After Cleaning

If your trash can still smells like urine after it’s been cleaned, it’s indicative that urine has had a chance to penetrate the material. While the trash can is now clean and sanitized, it still needs to be deodorized.

Deodorize your trash cans with fragrant bags, odor-absorbing powders, and cleaning solutions that are designed to eliminate traces of odor.

  • For minor odor: A store bought cleaner like Lysol or Clorox, or homemade disinfectant spray will generally remove odor.
  • For moderate odor: Mix 4 cups of white vinegar, ½ cup of dish soap, and water. Clean with this solution for odor-fighting power.
  • For severe odor: Enzyme-based solution that is made specifically to take care of pet messes. Nature’s Miracle is a popular choice as it uses natural enzymes with no harsh chemicals.

Commercial Odor Removal Products

Spray odor control products are typically bio-enzymatic and will remove odors in the long term. Remember to always follow the product label for proper use. Spray odor remover should be applied every time the trash can is emptied. You do not need to scrub or remove the product after application.

Granule odor control products are typically clay-based and will neutralize odors in the short term. In average-sized trash cans, you will typically need to apply one to two pounds of granule odor remover. Prior to adding granules, the trash can should be emptied of large debris for best results. Granules should be applied each time the trash can is emptied or as needed.

DIY Urine Odor Removal Solutions

If you want to take the DIY approach, there’s several options that you can try to remove that pesky urine odor.

  • Baking soda - Sprinkled on the bottom of the can, this can reduce odor. Just be sure to let it sit a bit before washing it out.
  • Alcohol - A capful of the 91% alcohol mixed with water can be a powerful solution for cleaning out a smelly can.
  • Essential oils - Mix together 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon vinegar, ½ teaspoon orange essential oil and about 5 ounces of hydrogen peroxide. Apply to the area and let dry completely. If the smell of urine still persists, repeat. This mainly covers smells more than it may remove them and odor causing bacteria.
  • Vinegar - A 50:50 mix of water and vinegar is a powerful home cleaner with many uses.
  • Hydrogen peroxide - Mix together 8 fluid ounces of peroxide, 3 tablespoons baking soda and a few drops of dish detergent. Spray the mixture onto the affected area and allow it to sit for 10 to 20 minutes, then rinse and dry.

Cleaning vs. Sanitizing vs. Disinfecting vs. Deodorizing

Many people don’t know the difference between cleaning, sanitizing, deodorizing, and disinfecting. Although they usually go hand-in-hand, it’s important to know the difference and when which one is necessary.

  • Cleaning is the actual process of removing odor, dirt, germs, viruses, and bacteria. Usually, people clean with soap and water. Cleaning might not remove or kill all of the germs, but it greatly reduces the risk.
  • Sanitizing is related to public safety standards, and it refers to removing and lowering the numbers of germs to a safe level.
  • Disinfecting is how you use chemicals to annihilate germs. It doesn’t necessarily mean cleaning, per se (usually cleaning must be performed disinfecting), but the goal of disinfection is to lower the risk of infection from all manner of nasty environmental hazards.
  • Deodorizing means removing or concealing an unpleasant smell. The presence of bad odors can indicate bacteria growth, which is why cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting usually also deodorizes, but not always.

Can ultraviolet light remove urine odor?

Removing and killing the germs and bacteria that cause odors will help eliminate odors, but sometimes they can linger. Some people have reported that a UV light can help remove any lingering odors after the usual cleaning measures have been ineffective.

UV technology is available to sterilize and sanitize surfaces and electronics. While you can use this technology on your trash cans, it’s probably not necessary. Trash cans are naturally prone to germs and bacteria, but the inside of the can is not a surface your hands regularly come into contact with. This means that regular cleaning is recommended, but a UV light isn’t necessary. Though, iit may be helpful for set-in odors.

If you’re having trouble removing urine odor, you could use a UV black light to identify stains to know where to spot clean. But you might as well just clean the entire trash can.

Fortunately, you don't have to purchase UV technology to use UV light to help sanitize your trash can. Just leave it in the sun to dry after cleaning! Leaving a trash can in the sun can bake on gunk and make it smell worse. However, leaving a trash can in the sun to dry after it’s been cleaned can help sanitize it and remove odors.

5 Tips for Maintaining a Clean & Odor-Free Trash Can

Once you’ve got the urine smell out of your trash can, you want to make sure that it’s kept that way, right? 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. Similarly to preventing maggot infestations, preventing the return of urine smell in a trash can is simple.

1. Always Use a Trash Bag

This one goes without saying. Unless only dry things, like paper, are being thrown in the can, a trash bag is a must to keep the nasty stuff out. 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.

2. Rinse Trash Before You Toss It in the Garbage

It may sound funny to some to clean your refuse before tossing it in the garbage, but it’s an effective way to reduce and prevent garbage odors. Don’t throw away foods that are liquid or runny. If you do, contain them in a plastic grocery bag first. The same goes for any moldy or spoiled foods.

3. 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.

4. Clean the Garbage Can Regularly

Regularly cleaning your trash cans with a mild detergent will keep them fresh and clean. Make sure they’re dry before you start using them again. Leftover moisture may lead to mold and mildew growth.

  1. At least once a week: empty contents and wipe/scrub with warm soapy water until water runs clear.
  2. Extra mess can be scrubbed with a scouring pad or scrub brush. You can also plan to soak the bottom of the can in warm soapy water for 15 minutes to really make sure everything is clean.
  3. Wipe dry with a towel and/or leave in the sun to dry.


  • 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 or biweekly, 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 homemade cleanser of 50:50 vinegar to water and wipe it quickly with a paper towel.

5. Get the Right Garbage Cans

If you’re regularly disposing of trash that can cause a urine smell to linger in your garbage can like 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.

To help keep your trash can clean, get designated recycling, compost, or trash bins to help separate the garbage that can make your trash can dirty, like food scraps, recyclables, and yard waste. If you need new trash cans, Trashcans Unlimited is your source for all the cans you might need. Get in touch with us, and let us know how we can help.