Wildlife Informer is reader-supported. When you click and buy we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you. Learn more.

How to Keep Wild Animals Out of Trash Cans (9 Helpful Tips)

There’s nothing worse than being woken in the middle of the night by the sound of your trash cans being knocked over. Outdoor garbage bins can be a magnet to wildlife, because they’re full of food and easy to access. Fortunately, keeping animals out of the garbage might be easier than you think. Keep reading for some helpful tips on how to keep wild animals out of trash cans.

How to Keep Wild Animals Out of Trash Cans (9 Helpful Tips)

Keeping wild animals out of your trash cans is challenging. They’re smart, hungry, and they care a lot more about getting to the food they can smell than they do about potentially damaging your property or making a racket.

There are some basic tips you can follow to keep animals out of your trash, and some products you may need to buy if you have a serious problem. Not every solution will work with every animal, either, so be sure that you take an approach that will work for your situation.

1. Move the trash can or dumpster

This may seem overly simple, but if your problem is with smaller animals like squirrels, raccoons, or possums, the first thing you should try. Consider moving the garbage away from walls, fences, trees, or anything else that would help them climb to the top. Trash cans are smooth-sided, so small animals aren’t likely climbing the garbage bin itself, but rather some other structure next to it.

2. Keep the lid on

Keeping the lid on the bin can go a long way towards keeping the smaller animals out. There are two ways this helps; first, it traps most of the smell inside the bin, so the animals are less likely to smell the food inside, and second, it presents a physical barrier that they’ll find hard to remove.

Raccoons may still find a way to get inside, but most other smaller animals will be kept out.

3. Bungie cords

If raccoons are what’s getting into your garbage, just keeping the lid on likely won’t be enough. You may need to go a step further and use some bungie cords to secure the lid down, here are some good bungie cords on Amazon. Raccoons are clever little creatures, and they can figure out how to get the lid open sometimes. Bungie cords should be too much for them to handle, but not always.

4. Keep the trash bin inside

If you’re able, move your trash bin inside the garage or perhaps a storage shed until it’s trash pick-up day. That way, there’s not chance that wild animals will find their way into your trash bins. Admittedly, this only works of your trash bins will fit inside, or if there’s a place you can put them that won’t cause the whole house to smell like garbage.

5. Double bag your trash

Use two heavy-duty bags and tie each bag securely shut, in addition to the other methods on this list. This traps most of the odor in the bag and makes it much less likely that an animal will smell the trash.

You may also like:  How to Keep Mosquitoes Away Without Bug Spray (10 Ways)

6. Lock your trash cans

You can secure the lids on your trash cans with a universal lid lock, here’s a popular lid lock that works on the majority of 32-95 gal outdoor trash cans. The principal is the same as using a bungie cord, but probably provides a bit more security and it’s more durable.

7. Motion activated lights

Install solar-power, motion-activated spotlights aimed at your garbage cans. Raccoons and opossums may be startled by the sudden light, and deterred from coming back. This might work for foxes as well.

Here are some popular and affordable, solar-powered motion detection activated security lights on Amazon. Many reviewers have had success keeping animals at bay.

8. Mothballs

Moths aren’t the only animals that don’t like the smell of mothballs. Raccoons don’t like the smell either, so tossing a few mothballs into the trash can be a good way to keep them at bay. Just be careful, mothballs are toxic if ingested by pets, children, or the very wildlife you are trying to deter. So while some people have varying levels of success with this method, it’s more of a last ditch effort.

9. Get bear-proof products

If you live in bear country, you may need to spend some extra cash to keep them out. Bears are smart, determined, and powerful. Lids, even strapped down with bungie cords or a lid lock, won’t keep them out and they don’t need to climb up anything to get into your trash. Lights won’t deter them, either, and they’re powerful sense of smell makes most odor-trapping solutions useless.

The best thing to do is buy bear-resistant garbage cans or storage bins. These items are not cheap, but they’ll keep bears out and they’ll last a lifetime. You really don’t want a bear to associate your home with easy meals, so it’s absolutely worth investing in these products. If you have bear problems, see below for a couple of the best options on the market.

7 animals that get into outdoor garbage bins

While nearly any animal that’s big enough and clever enough can (and will) get into your garbage bins given the opportunity, there are some animals that are more likely culprits than others. These species may even actively seek out trash cans, and can be drawn to them over and over again.

1. Raccoons

We’re all familiar with raccoons – the masked, hand-washing, trash-raiding criminals of the animal kingdom. No other animal (in North America, at least) is associated with eating garbage as strongly as the raccoon. There’s good reason for that – raccoons are omnivores, so they can eat nearly anything. They’re also fairly intelligent, agile, and have dexterous little hands that enable to easily access your outdoor trash.

2. Squirrels

Most of the other animals on this list are nocturnal, which makes it easier for them to go after our trash. Squirrels are active during the day, but if there are food scraps in your garbage can, you can bet they’ll be attracted to it. While not the most likely culprit on this list, they will certainly get into just about anything.

You may also like:  How to Attract Wildlife to Your Yard (9 Helpful Tips)

3. Opossums

Opossums are unfairly maligned as ugly, disease-ridden vermin. The truth is that they’re actually quite clean, don’t carry rabies (unlike raccoons, who are a very common vector for that virus) and they eat lots of pests that you don’t want around, such as ticks carrying lyme disease. Unfortunately, they also can get into your trash quite easily. While you definitely want these pest-controlling creatures in your yard, you don’t want them in your trash.

4. Foxes

Foxes are far more common in urban settings than many people realize. They’ve adapted remarkable well to city life, largely due to their flexible diet and their nocturnal, stealthy lifestyle. They’re opportunistic feeders who won’t hesitate to snack on your garbage.

5. Stray Cats

Stray cats are always looking for a meal, and once they find a source of food they come back as often as they can. If stray cats find food in your trash, you can bet that a crowd of them will be visiting your house each night. Cats are also very smart and have great memories, if a neighborhood stray discovers a food source you can bet they will not forget about it. They may even tell their friends about it.

image: pixabay.com

6. Feral Dogs

Feral dogs are less common than stray cats, but they’re quite possibly more dangerous, as they’re more likely to turn aggressive, and to hang around your garbage cans during the day. If you notice a feral dog hanging around your house, you’ll need to act quickly to address it.

7. Bears

Unquestionably the most terrifying garbage-raider, bears can be a huge problem for you if they figure out how to access your trash. Bears are omnivores who can eat all the foods that we eat, and if there are food scraps in your trash they’ll sniff it out. Bears have an incredibly keen sense of smell, they’re smarter than they look and they’re strong. Keeping a bear out of your trash is a difficult task.

If you live in one of the states that have Black Bear populations, definitely look into a highly secure trash bin.

Methods That Don’t Work

Everyone has their own theories about the best ways to keep animals out, and while many of these might work, there are some that definitely don’t. Here are the methods you should avoid:

  • Spray vinegar on your trash – This might keep bugs away, but raccoons, possums, foxes, etc won’t care.
  • Poison – Using poison is a bad idea for many reasons, and you’ll have dead animal carcasses to contend with. Just don’t.
  • Traps – If you trap it, then you have to deal with a live, angry, animal in the morning.
  • Loud noises – Yes, a loud, motion activated alarm will scare the animals off. It also wakes up you and all your neighbors.

Can trash be dangerous for wild animals?

Absolutely, yes. First, some of the foods we eat are toxic to animals, but they won’t know that. Onions and garlic, for instance, are poisonous to canines (like foxes). Second, the food in your garbage is in contact with, well, garbage.

You may also like:  What to Do If You See a Black Bear in Your Yard (9 Tips)

It’s contaminated with household waste like cleaning products that can kill wildlife. Some animals will simply eat things in your garbage that smell like food, but aren’t. Anything in there that’s come into contact with food can take on those smells.

Most importantly, animals that come to associate humans with food sources are always in trouble, because they’ll become too comfortable and aggressive around humans. This is why you always here the saying “don’t feed the bears!”. Once a bear associates food with humans that bear often must be killed.


There are plenty of ways to keep wild animals out of your trash, and some of them are as easy as changing where you put the trash can. While bears require serious, and expensive, solutions, most trash-raiding animals can be foiled more easily. Whether you are having bear problems or just raccoon problems, you should find a solution on this list of helpful tips!