Help me trash better.
August 11, 2017 2:10 PM   Subscribe

I have a problem with my kitchen trash. I buy a trash can, everything seems fine, and then after a year or two the can develops a terrible terrible smell that I cannot get rid of. Is this normal? What am I doing wrong?

This happens with all different kinds of cans—cheap, high-end, metal, plastic. (They do all have lids, if that matters.) The smell is, well, hot trash I guess, but it remains intensely present whether or not there is trash in the can. I have tried soaking the whole can in bleach solution, scrubbing it out with steel wool—nothing seems to help. I use normal store-brand trash bags, take the trash out every few days, and I don't put anything unusual in the can, I don't think.

Does this happen to you? Is this just the life cycle of trash cans? Are there cans that don't do this? Cleaning methods that I can try? I'm loathe to keep throwing out my kitchen trash cans every two years if I don't have to.
posted by Mender to Home & Garden (23 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I haven't noticed this, but if there is anything in the can that will spoil, I take it out within a few hours.
posted by she's not there at 2:16 PM on August 11, 2017

I spray Lysol in the can every other time I change the bag.
posted by bq at 2:17 PM on August 11, 2017

I think some of it is the natural life cycle of trash cans, but I've been trying to counteract this by spraying the inside of mine with bleach or ammonia (not at the same time!) when I change the bag. I also have a Simple Human can which is mostly steel. It may make a difference when you started bleaching yours and if it's plastic, could the smell have already permeated the can?
posted by rhizome at 2:17 PM on August 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

Do you compost? The only thing that keeps my trash from smelling is keeping foodstuffs out of it.

Anything that can be composted is put in a compost bin in the freezer (so it won't smell between trips to the trash room).

Any smelly recyclables are rinsed and recycled.

Whatever is left isn't really smelly.

What if you sprinkled baking powder in the bottom of the bag when you change it, so that the smells can't *take hold*?
posted by Dressed to Kill at 2:18 PM on August 11, 2017 [4 favorites]

I use a separate wax lined paperbag used for organic substances/composting.
posted by TrinsicWS at 2:26 PM on August 11, 2017

I also try not to throw out wet organic materials, or put that in separate containers or bags that go down to the dumpster more often. Like, daily.

Can you buy new plastic liner bins to go inside an otherwise functional stainless steel can? Maybe try contacting the manufacturer?
posted by jbenben at 2:37 PM on August 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

A good weekly rinse with a mild cleaner, and a thorough drying. Either leave it alone for a few hours/overnight while you sleep or blast it with the hair dryer. If you're waiting until you can smell it, you are too late.

Steel wool is opening up scratches in the plastics, giving bacteria nice places to harbor. No more steel wool on plastics. Also, give the area where the can sits a good cleaning more frequently. I believe you that the smell is coming from the can, but the lip around the baseboard can get surprisingly gross.

Also consider getting a smaller bin and taking the trash out more regularly/keeping compost out, and definitely keep meat products out of the can. They go immediately outdoors. At the latest it's after the meal, with scraps of bones if you don't freeze those for soup.)
posted by bilabial at 2:41 PM on August 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

This does not happen to me, but I don't put meat in my kitchen trash. Is it possible that either a) something dripped and the smell is from the outside or underside of the can, or b) you have mice dying somewhere in your place once in a blue moon and you think it's the can but it's them?
posted by zippy at 2:46 PM on August 11, 2017

Yes to compost, yes to not putting animal scraps in there (those are for stock).

Anyway, Lysol is ok but my one weird trick for keeping trash cans for several years is to air them out in the sun for 6-8 hours every once in a while.
posted by SaltySalticid at 2:50 PM on August 11, 2017 [6 favorites]

I have kept a lidded trash can (inexpensive, plastic) for a couple of decades, so no it doesn't have to happen. Agree that certain gross stuff needs to be kept out until trash day (melon rinds and meat packaging come to mind), but otherwise, the occasional wipe-out with regular sprays does the job. Are you sure that (a) the trash isn't actually contacting the trash can, i.e., you take it out when full, and (b) there's not some particular place (like under a foot-pedal-gizmo) that something dire can get stuck?

Baking soda sprinkled before the bag never hurts, nor the occasional few hours in hot sun, but honestly, you've got something odd going on over there!
posted by acm at 2:50 PM on August 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

Rinse well with a good cleaner. Air dry outside for a couple days, preferably in the sun. Often we get away with just airing outside for a couple days.

Just got a scent flashback to the nasty rotten ice cream filled cans from my youth jobs. Shudder.
posted by Crystalinne at 3:13 PM on August 11, 2017

I have never experienced this in all my years of trash can ownership, and I'm really unkind to my kitchen trash. The kitchen isn't climate controlled, I've been...less than diligent lately in taking the trash out, and everything goes in the same bin, including dog-related cruft.

The only thing I do not ever do is close the trash lid. The can never gets the chance to marinate in its own juices. If it's in such a state where I'd prefer a closed lid, the trash is beyond the point where it should be taken out.

Stop closing the lid.
posted by phunniemee at 3:21 PM on August 11, 2017 [4 favorites]

I use heavy duty contractor bags so there are (usually) no leaks. If there are, immediate washing with hot water and soap, and hosing down with Lysol is in order.

I've had trash cans last 5 years before something critical broke, but never tossed one because of a smell.
posted by ananci at 4:38 PM on August 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

Regular soaking with bleach & water does it for me. Also I avoid cheap garbage bags that leak like the plague as my hubby will just leave a stream of bin juice from kitchen to the back door otherwise.
posted by wwax at 5:09 PM on August 11, 2017

It may help to empty the kitchen trash every night.
posted by askmehow at 5:14 PM on August 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

No bag leaks and no garbage ever touching the lid seems to do the job for me.
posted by srboisvert at 5:24 PM on August 11, 2017

Mine started doing this when I switched to a can with a lid. It also didn't get taken out every day because it was a crappy design and annoying to get the bag out of. Not sure which factor contributed more. Now I'm back to no-lid and every day or every other day takeout, and it's much better.
posted by bluesky78987 at 6:30 PM on August 11, 2017

Double-bag for a better quality of life. (You don't have to always change the outside bag, maybe change it once every other change-of-bag.)
posted by gemutlichkeit at 6:45 PM on August 11, 2017

This has never happened to me, but I take the trash out daily (and we have a can with a lid). I'd try that first.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:37 PM on August 11, 2017

What seems to work even better than bleach is putting a few inches of hot water and a strong dish detergent into the bottom, letting it soak, letting it dry, and leaving it out for a few hours or overnight. Never had much of a problem, and that's my routine, about once a week after taking the week's trash out.

Also, do you have a disposal in your sink? That really helps, since you can get rid of a lot of food trash that way instead of letting it funk up the garbage.
posted by Miko at 8:08 PM on August 11, 2017

I bought a much smaller bin and take it out every day. I also wash it thoroughly in the sink every week.
posted by kadia_a at 11:14 PM on August 11, 2017

I've never experienced this either - had the same plastic trash can for the last five years. I live in a flat, so take it out fairly often, and if I notice that something has spilled I will bleach and rinse out and let dry completely. Sometimes I run the lid through the dishwasher - I'm quite particular about keeping the lid clean day to day as well, so agree with others that maybe it's the lid getting dirty?
posted by sedimentary_deer at 7:28 AM on August 12, 2017

I double bag and I've never had this problem. I replace the second bag every couple of weeks or so, and spray the inside with a disinfectant spray. (Since I live in England, it's dettol!)
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 9:16 AM on August 12, 2017

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