How to Clean a Recycling Bin

Keeping your recycling bin clean is an important part of maintaining a sanitary and odor-free home. With regular use, recycling bins can accumulate dirt, grime, and spilled liquids that can lead to unpleasant smells and attract pests. Follow these steps to learn how to thoroughly clean your recycling bin.

Supplies Needed

To clean your recycling bin properly, you will need:

  • Mild detergent or all-purpose cleaner
  • Warm water
  • Clean rags or sponges
  • Old toothbrush or other small brush
  • Garden hose (optional)
  • Protective gloves
  • Face mask (optional)

Empty the Bin

The first step is to empty your recycling bin of all contents. Remove any plastic bottles, cans, paper, cardboard and other items from the bin.

Dispose of any trash or non-recyclable items. Set aside any recyclable materials to rinse or clean separately before putting them back in the bin later.

Rinse with Water

Once empty, use your garden hose to spray down the inside and outside of the recycling bin. The water will help dislodge any loose dirt, debris or sticky spills.

If you don’t have a hose, fill a bucket with warm water and use it to rinse away surface grime. Be sure to rinse all surfaces – the bottom, sides and lid.

Scrub with Detergent

Next, make a cleaning solution by mixing a few tablespoons of mild detergent with warm water in a bucket. Use a sponge or rag dipped in the solution to scrub down the interior and exterior of the bin, including the lid.

Pay close attention to any stained, dirty or smelly areas. Let the bin soak for 5-10 minutes after scrubbing for the best cleaning results.

For tough stains or dirt, use an old toothbrush or other small brush to help dislodge grime in crevices or small spaces.

Rinse Again

Once you’ve thoroughly scrubbed all surfaces, rinse the recycling bin again with clean water to remove any traces of detergent and loosened grime.

Use a clean rag to wipe away excess water and let the bin air dry completely before putting recyclables back in.

Disinfect (Optional)

For a deeper clean, consider disinfecting your recycling bin to kill germs and bacteria. You can use a disinfectant cleaner or create your own natural disinfecting solution.

To make a natural disinfectant, mix together 1 cup white vinegar with 1 gallon of water. Spray or wipe this solution on all surfaces and let sit for 5 minutes before rinsing. The vinegar will help disinfect and deodorize.

Maintain Cleanliness

To keep your recycling bin fresh for longer, be sure to:

  • Empty it regularly before it overflows
  • Rinse recyclables before putting them in the bin
  • Keep the lid closed to deter pests
  • Avoid putting food-soiled items directly in the bin
  • Re-wash the bin as needed, at least every 2-3 months

With proper cleaning and maintenance, your recycling bin can stay clean, sanitary and odor-free!

FAQs About Cleaning Recycling Bins

How often should you clean the recycling bin?

It’s best to give your recycling bin a thorough clean every 2-3 months. Clean more frequently if you notice odors or visible grime buildup.

What is the best way to remove stains?

For tough stains, spray a little diluted detergent directly on the stain and let it soak for 5-10 minutes before scrubbing with a brush. The soak time helps lift and loosen set-in stains.

Should you rinse recyclables before putting them in the bin?

Yes, give recyclables a quick rinse to remove residual dirt, liquids or food that could soil the bin.

How do you get rid of odors in the recycling bin?

Regular cleaning helps eliminate odors, but you can also try sprinkling some baking soda in the bottom of the bin to absorb smells between washes.

Can you use bleach to clean a recycling bin?

Avoid bleach, as it can react with residues and cause noxious fumes. Stick to mild detergents or natural cleaners like vinegar.

What should you not put in your recycling bin?

Do not put soiled food containers, plastic bags, Styrofoam, batteries or electronics in your curbside recycling bin unless specifically allowed in your area.


Keeping your recycling bin clean takes just a few simple steps – emptying, rinsing, scrubbing, disinfecting and drying – but it makes a big difference in odor control and pest prevention. Be sure to wash recycling bins regularly, maintain cleanliness between washes, and only put eligible clean recyclables into the bin. With proper care, your recycling bin can stay fresh and help you maintain an environmentally-friendly home.