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The Secret to an Odor-Free Kitchen Is Hiding in Your Garbage

You don’t have to let it linger.

July 31, 2018

So, your kitchen stinks. It’s fine! It happens! We’re all human! We all have trash!

But sometimes that stench refuses to go away—it seems to be coming from the trash can area. It sticks around like that Cranberries song that I can’t seem to get out of my head. You change your trash bag. You change your trash bag with more frequency. You start bringing trash directly out of your house and throwing it away outside. You wonder: Do you have to, do you have to let it linger?

Well, the answer, actually, is no, no you don’t have to let it linger. Not at all.

The secret to a super stinky trash smell isn’t in the trash. But rather in the trash can. Think about it: You’ve got your plastic trash bag which, for the most part, does a good job of keeping hold of all your trash. But sometimes things rips, sometimes things spill. After a while, the bottom of your trash can starts to build up a funky little residue. Ew!

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Whatever. It’s natural. In five minutes alone, however, there’s something you can do. Hear me out. Next time you take out your trash, don’t immediately replace the bin with a new bag. Instead, cart the can to your bathroom, squirt some soap into the bottom (I use Dr. Bronner’s or some dish soap), and fill it with some warm water from your bath or shower faucet. Let that sit for a minute, then swirl it around. Then, give the whole affair a rinse. See, easy!

All aboard the easy train!

Once you’ve let it dry completely, go ahead and return the trash to your kitchen and fill it with a new bag. Proceed as usual. If I’m feeling super precocious, I’ll do this once a week. If I’m feeling less diligent, this’ll end up happening only once a month. The frequency, really, is up to you.

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Top Comment:
“If it's dirty, clean it. Do people really need to be told this?”
— Smaug

I tend to up the ante in the warmer months when the trash smell peaks in pungency. Also, if my cooking has left me with more produce scraps then usual, I find that a garbage can clean is just waiting to happen. If you, unlike me, don't have a bin that can fit in your bath tub or shower—say, something industrial size—an outdoor hose will most definitely do the trick.

Next time you find yourself sniffing something unpleasant in the kitchen, give your trash bin a rinse. You will not regret it.

Do YOU ever do this? If so, share some tips in the comments below.

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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    Annette Abigail Wells
Valerio is a freelance food writer, editor, researcher and cook. He grew up in his parent's Italian restaurants covered in pizza flour and drinking a Shirley Temple a day. Since, he's worked as a cheesemonger in New York City and a paella instructor in Barcelona. He now lives in Berlin, Germany where he's most likely to be found eating shawarma.


Carla September 5, 2020
I clean mine with bleach water. It doesn’t kill the smell immediately, but it speeds the process up and also helps to deep sanitize it
Diane March 19, 2020
I rinse mine after every 'dump' and tend to wash it every 2nd or 3rd dump. Every time I do wipe it out, place a piece of newspaper at the bottom before adding the compostable bag and then add another piece of newspaper inside the bottom of the compostable bag. This helps to absorb moisture and smell.
Michael C. August 13, 2019
Wash something that is dirty????? What a unique idea!!!!! Come on people!!!! Use a little common sense. Did you really need someone to tell you that?
Jill August 13, 2019
I reuse a plastic grocery bag and put all of my potentially super stinky things (packaging for meat, seafood, etc.) in the freezer until I’m really to take out the bag of trash. All of my composting items go in another bag in the refrigerator until I’m ready to take it out to my composting pile.
Annette A. August 13, 2019
Please compost those kitchen produce scraps. Did you know that food waste accounts for nearly 10% pf greenhouse gases? Did you know that the life on our planet depends on the quality of soil? All food comes from soil, so help make rich by composting your scraps. Its simple and easy - and soooo much more chic and au courant than tossing!
April M. August 12, 2019
I compost in a black potting container but you can even compost in a pile. you just need a bit of space and plenty of water to keep it moist. And don't compost any weeds or anything fatty or any meat. I've seen people that said they knew how to compost and really don't have a clue.
Vicki M. March 1, 2019
I keep a few paper towels in the bottom of the trash can and change them regularly.
Keith E. September 20, 2018
I do this frequently, really works. Also, my kitchen trash can is intentionally small so it must be emptied daily. Another odor killing trick is to take a paper towel, pour a half cup or so of baking soda on it, golf it into a flat packet, and put it in the bottom of your plastic trash bin. Then put the bag in. If you're feeling very fancy, add a few drops of essential oil to the baking soda. This works very well if you use a biodegradable paper trash bag.
pete August 4, 2018
Hi I am a little far from you guys, in Hout Bay Cape Town South Africa and enjoy this column. a tablespoon of vanilla essence splashed into the plastic bin eliminates the smell ( having washed it first of course). Make your own compost- a large black plastic bag approx. 50 gallons a few holes punched in it, fill with your leftovers, grass, newspapers. Put outside, have a beer and then later when the need arises do it in the bag. Seal and leave for about 6 weeks. You will have good compost with someone earthworms added in.
Smaug August 4, 2018
To each his own, but I'm glad your compost bag is in a different hemisphere.
Smaug August 4, 2018
If it's dirty, clean it. Do people really need to be told this?
holly M. August 4, 2018
Exactly what I was thinking! Who doesn't know this already??
ann H. March 22, 2021
Oh, bite me. I think your handle contains one too many vowels.
Smaug March 22, 2021
A very generous offer, I'm sure, but one strives to avoid empty calories.
Denise August 3, 2018
Great article. I put it in the yard and hose it down.
Smaug August 4, 2018
The article or your trash bin?
Barbara August 3, 2018
I have one suggestion to add unless I am late to the party. I just ordered reusable produce bags from Amazon - take thesse shopping and use them instead of the flimsy plastic bags to put your broccoli or a few onions in. They are washable and reusable. Great invention.
Gramz August 3, 2018
I compost and recycle (doesn’t everybody these days?🙂) so, along with the occasional trash container clean-up I store about 7-10 new, unused trash bags at the bottom of the can unde the plastic bag liner. Makes it easy to pull out the trash and put a new bag in. When the last bag is gone and the can is ready to be replenished it’s time to clean!
Gretchen F. August 3, 2018
All the additional suggestions sound good - but yet another one I do is, wait for it, use a white kitchen trash container! I love white (appliances too) because I can easily see when they need an additional scrub. I use a lot of Clorox Cleanup also, keeping things white. I too have a 10-year old, white, kitchen trash container under my sink that still looks brand new.
Samantha P. August 3, 2018
Hi L,
I live in a fairly large community in West Alabama. In our area though, we don't have any composting centers or even recycling bins available to us.....
L August 3, 2018
Here in Ottawa, Ontario we are required to compost and it's a huge help for keeping your trash bin clean. It's definitely a challenge to keep the compost bin clean. I regret that I've become so dependent on plastic and non-compostable cleaning methods like wipes. How common is it for other cities to have a compost program?
Jonny August 3, 2018
I wish my village had a compost program. They do provide hardwood mulch as a freebie to villagers. However I think because my village is fairly small finding the acreage needed to effectively compost would be difficult. What I would like to see is the small villages in the region come together and creat a composting program.

As a gardener I would love to have this available to me but also to reduce the amount of waste going into landfills.
Susan August 3, 2018
Hi Jonny. I live on the eastern end of Long Island, NY, where we have a very long growing season. In addition to my small garden in my backyard, I’m a member of a community garden where I rent two large plots each summer. We invested in a large composter , and everyone just dumps their organic stuff. Perhaps you might start your own community/neighborhood compost pile.
I also keep a smaller, rolling composter in my yard. What I compost this summer will be in next year’s garden. Good luck!
Barbara August 3, 2018
Hi Susan - I live on Vancouver Island where the powers that be are considering putting a composting program in place (which means having a composting bin for roadside pickup). I would rather use my own composting for scraps but of course the region would pick up meat scraps as well. I am personally against it - not for the reasons that it would put up the fees which it would but for the reason we have bear and cougar that live in this area and I feel that having meat scraps in the bin attracts them to come right into neighbourhoods. I wonder what will happen when the first child is attacked by the cats.
Susan August 3, 2018
I only compost vegetable scraps, eggshells and coffee grinds. No meat.
I’ve been composting for years, and if the receptacle is well ventilated and well sealed, There won’t be problems with animals. Even the raccoons go elsewhere.
Barbara September 21, 2018
nice for you, but I had the regular garbage can stolen by a bear - I even saw him booting it down the road with the garbage can under his arm!
Claire L. March 3, 2019
In Vancouver food scraps including meat have been part of our greens bin for several years. We wrap meat/fish in newspaper (but you can use plain brown paper bags or flyers) and put it in the freezer until the morning of pick-up. No problems with animals and even in the city, raccoons, coyotes etc that might be tempted.
Jonny August 12, 2019
Hi Susan, thanks. At one time I did keep a compost pile at the base of my yard and it was very effective until I began a battle with field bindweed. UGH!!! I’d stopped using herbicides in my yard but field bindweed absolutely flourished in my compost pile and every organic method I could use just did not work. So my wonderful pile was removed. Still miss it tho.

I never did food scraps because I typically don’t have much. Most of what I have as vegetable trimmings go into my pups bowls and those things that cannot go into freezer for my stock pot.

But shredded leaves, spent perennials (except peony stems) and most other safe greens went into my old pile. But as I get older and I’m adjusting my garden to make it easier to manage (I want to age in place) a community garden plot is not on my radar screen as I’m not sure I can manage it in terms of watering and weeding. I also find I no longer do much in terms of edibles as I am on the road a lot & can’t care for them.
Susan August 3, 2018
Composting organic kitchen scraps also helps. Helps our environment, feeds your garden, and reduces kitchen odors.
Cybele August 2, 2018
If I don't have time to wait for it to dry, I put a paper towel in the bottom to absorb any extra moisture before I put the trash bag in....
Jonny August 2, 2018
Rinse it out at kitchen sink and then send water down kitchen drain. However, when really smelly I add a small amount of bleach. Also wipe down lid. But to keep from creating a mess I tend to put messy smelly stuff in a recycled shopping bag and tie it up nice and tight before I place in bin. No need for a Rachel Ray garbage bowl I usually keep a recycled shopping bag on counter when I'm cooking to get rig of scraps that can't go to compost bin. For super smelly stuff it goes in a different bag & then Into freezer until garbage day.
Sue August 2, 2018
Every time I replace my plastic garbage bag I shake about a 1/4 cup of baking soda into the bag. It's absolutely amazing how much odor the soda absorbs!
Katy M. August 2, 2018
I have a toilet brush I keep for cleaning thing like this. No hands in the gook and chemicals (even organic cleaners are hard on your hands,) reaches the corners, easily cleaned and no rags to wash or paper to toss.