How to Keep Animals Out of Trash Using a Few Household Materials

How-To Guides
by How-To Guides

By Marilyn Syarto

Although baby raccoons can be kinda cute, you don’t necessarily want to find them peering up at you from the bottom of your trash cans. Animals (and insects) that get into your trash cans can create jarring noises in the middle of the night, litter your property with stinky, scattered garbage, and potentially spread disease.

The smell of old food can attract all sorts of animals, and if your outdoor trash cans aren’t secured shut, critters will surely find their way into the cans for a snack. Climbing animals like squirrels and raccoons can even find their way into your trash cans by way of nearby poles, fences, and trees.

Whether you have a few hungry squirrels or there’s news of a black bear roaming your neighborhood, our guide helps you learn how to keep animals out of trash. Here are a few tried-and-true tactics to stop animals from eating garbage. One method may work on its own, or you may want to try a few different methods at one time to see which works best.

trash cans against home and behind wood enclosure

Photo via David McIntosh

Common Animals and Insects that Get Into Trash

There’s a long list of animals and insects ready to dumpster dive for human food (sugar, meat, and fish are big attractions) or for the prey stuck inside the cans (such as cats hunting for mice). The most common garbage-picking offenders include:

  • Ants
  • Bears
  • Bees
  • Birds
  • Cats
  • Cockroaches
  • Dogs
  • Flies/Maggots
  • Mice
  • Wasps
  • Opossums
  • Raccoons
  • Rats
  • Skunks
  • Squirrels

Raccoons, typical garbage-trolling suspects, are super curious and strong, and they like to tip over cans, undo tight lids, and chew through plastic bins and containers. Bugs, such as bees, are interested in sweets, but wasps may be interested in your garbage because of the other smaller insects (like ants) crawling inside. All in all, animals and insects inside your garbage can create an endless cycle of havoc.

Safety Warning

Never approach a raccoon, bear, or other larger animals if you spot them sniffing around or opening your garbage bins, warns Colonial Pest Control. Hungry or threatened animals can attack, bite, and possibly leave you with injuries and diseases.

How to Keep Animals Out of Trash with Homemade Sprays

Making a DIY scented spray is by far the easiest and quickest method to keep animals out of trash. It all comes down to deterring the animals with scents that they don’t like—enough so that they won’t even bother following the smells that they do like inside your garbage can. The key here is to continue reapplying the spray until you’ve seen a significant reduction in animal activity.

Here are ingredients you can use to make homemade sprays that can deter animals:

  • Ammonia spray (or just pour a capful of ammonia into the bin every time you put a new bag in)
  • Vinegar spray
  • Citrus spray (essential oil)
  • Peppermint spray (essential oil)
  • Hot pepper and onion spray (hot pepper flakes or chopped hot peppers, onion flakes, and onion powder)
  • Bleach (use diluted)

Safety Warning

Do not ever mix ammonia and bleach or you will create a toxic, noxious gas. Also, when spraying the solution around your garbage cans, make sure you avoid spraying garden areas or grass with the mixture. Some of the ingredients can burn plants and flowers.

Tools and Materials Needed

  • Large spray bottle
  • Water
  • Choice of ingredient
  • Liquid dishwashing detergent

Step 1: Mix Ingredients

There’s no real ratio to follow regarding any of these ingredients. Sometimes you can use ammonia, vinegar, or oils (peppermint and citrus) straight without water, but it may become costly since you'll need to respray the solution frequently. 

Whether or not you use water in your solution, be sure to mix in a couple of squirts of dishwashing liquid per batch. The dishwashing liquid helps the mixture stick to surfaces better and it also helps to trap and drown insects.

Step 2: Spray Area

Use the spray to saturate the inside of the garbage bins, the outside of bags, on top and under the lid, and all over the area near where the trash cans sit outdoors.

Step 3: Repeat as Needed

Sprays will evaporate in a day or so and wash away after rain. Make it a habit to spray every time you bring your trash outdoors.

How to Secure Trash Can Lids

The best two items to secure garbage can lids are bungee cords and cement blocks (used together). They may not deter a bear, but this method usually works to frustrate persistent raccoons. It’s also a good method to use if you must place your cans right next to your home or on the side of your garage.

Tools and Materials Needed:

Step 1: Install an Eye Hook

To further stabilize cans using bungee cords, install the large eye hook or screw (which will fit the end of your bungee cord) into the siding of your home at the height of your garbage can. 

Step 2: Attach First Bungee Cord

Attach one end of the bungee cord to the screw eye or hook and the other latched over the bin. 

Step 3: Attach Second Bungee Cord

Latch another cord across the lid from side to side to hold it down. 

Step 4: Secure with Cement Block

Place a cement block on top of the cords on top of the lid in the middle.

white-painted wood pallet trash enclosure

Photo via Amanda C, Hometalk Team

More Tips for How to Keep Animals Out of Trash

Here are some more foolproof ways to keep animals out of trash. 

Scatter Mothballs

Mothball usage is a very temporary fix since they are toxic to humans, animals, and it may be considered illegal to use them in your area, according to the Oregon State University’s Extension Office. Check before using mothballs as a pest deterrent. If you do use them, scattering a few mothballs around and inside your cans can deter animals, but do not put them near gardens or grass or anywhere a pet has access to.

Try Different Garbage Bags

Double bagging your garbage to reduce odors, using contractor-quality garbage bags, or trying bags specially formulated with a strong mint smell can sometimes do the trick to minimize animal interest in your trash. Many animals, such as raccoons, do not like the smell of mint.

Wash Food Containers

Though you likely do this already for most recycling, it’s always best to rinse out any type of food container or wrapping it before tossing it in the trash. This also goes for all types of soda and alcohol bottles. Doing so will reduce emanating odors within the garbage can

Keep Trash Bins Clean

Hosing out your trash bins with soapy water, a white vinegar and water rinse, or diluted bleach at least once a month—and more in hot weather—will go a long way to keeping scrap odors down and eliminating flies and maggots from taking up residence.

Fix Holes in Bins

Instead of spending money on new bins, repair holes and cracks in your existing bins for the time being until you can get replacements. You can do that with self-adhesive waterproof patch tape. Press the tape on the inside of the bin to fix the damaged areas. 

Buy Animal-Proof Garbage Cans

Buying animal-proof garbage cans are a quick fix, but it’s also expensive. One of the best garbage cans to deter animals (even bears!) can run between $200 to $300 each.

Install Bright Lights

Installing bright lights around your trash can or dumpster can help ward off critters. There are a few ways to accomplish this tactic:

  • Install a motion sensor light pointed near the trash to startle animals that prefer to do their job in the dark.
  • Add a spotlight to illuminate the trash so animals avoid the area.
  • Build a frame wrapped in Christmas lights kept on at night and keep it near the garbage can area. The lights will startle animals.

Build an Enclosure

Install a solid outdoor enclosure with a locked latch to secure your garbage bins. Animals won’t be able to tackle the cans, odors will be minimized, and the bins will look neater. As a quick and cheap solution, you can frame an enclosure using either chicken wire or wood pallets to keep animals out, but it won’t stop scrap odors and climbing critters might still find their way in. 

Have you used any of the above solutions to stop animals from getting into your garbage? Or do you have an unusual trick to keep out animals? Let us know below!

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