14 Clever Ways to Keep Raccoons Out of Your Trash Cans

Raccoons are a study in contrast. They are among the cutest and most charismatic animals that you’ll see, and certainly some of the peskiest. Raccoons are notorious for taking up residence in and around homes, breaking into stored food and, most annoyingly of all, getting into your trash cans.

raccoon behind fence
a raccoon behind fence

Waking up to strewn trash and rotting food all over your driveway and the side of your house when you have somewhere to be is awful. Plus, it tends to spread disease.

Unfortunately, raccoons won’t stop once they know where they can get an easy meal, so you must take steps to keep them out of your trash cans. It’s easier said than done, but I can promise you success if you use some of these clever methods…

Remove Easy Food Sources

I can’t impress this one on you enough, and it always surprises me because of how often people forget about it.

If you feed any animals outside, be it your dog or cat, or even if you put out bird seed of any kind, you’ve got to take away those foods so raccoons aren’t attracted to them.

I know, you already knew that part, but the problem is that when raccoons show up, more tend to follow in a troop. They will wipe out this easily accessible food, and then spread out looking for more, invariably scenting your trash can.

Tightly Tie Off Bags

Raccoons have an amazing sense of smell. And I mean really extraordinary! They rely on their noses to help them find food, and even the slightest whiff of garbage is enough to draw them in from far and wide.

This is especially likely if you put fresh, appealing leftovers in your can right after dinner time. When the sun starts to go down, the raccoons come out, and they will be prowling for their own dinner!

Your first order of business is to ensure you tightly tie off your trash bags to keep as much of the odor contained as possible. Never dump loose scraps of food in your trash can because it makes it that much stinkier and more attractive to raccoons.

Also, consider using a thicker, heavier-duty bag that won’t allow as much odor to seep out. This is especially important if you know raccoons are in the area but you haven’t been targeted yet. You probably want to keep it that way!

Keep It Clean

One of the most effective ways to keep raccoons at bay, and invariably the one that most folks, including me, want to do as little as possible!

Remember what I said above about how raccoons have an excellent sense of smell and use that to home in on an easy dinner? It’s possible that your trash can, itself, just stinks!

This is especially likely if you throw loose food scraps in there or have dealt with torn-open bags previously. The nastier and more rancid your trash can is, the more likely it is to bring in the raccoons.

The next time your trash is collected, leave the can empty, break out some antibacterial cleaner, dish soap, and a long-handled brush, and clean the thing out with your garden hose.

Chances are it’ll never smell like it is factory-new again, but it doesn’t have to. Improvement is usually enough to help ward off these critters.

Tie it Down

No matter what kind of trash can you have, raccoons will figure out a way to open that lid. Don’t even think about those little snapping closures on the side keeping raccoons out.

If they’ve dealt with them before, they’ll remember, and they can pop them open just as quickly and easily as you can, and then snap the lid off. After that, they feast!

If you need a quick and easy deterrent, use bungee cords, rope, paracord, or something else to simply tie the lid down onto the top of the can.

It’s possible that by slowing raccoons down in this way, they’ll make more noise, which can allow you to run them off or simply prompt them to move on to easier food at your neighbor’s house. Sorry, neighbor!

But, don’t be surprised if this method doesn’t work for long: raccoons are quick to adapt, and can untie or just chew through most kinds of cordage to get to food.

Use Heavy Weights on Top

Another quick, improvised method, and one that can be effective for a longer duration if you don’t mind using a little muscle. Placing heavy weights on top of the lid, be it bricks, cinder blocks, or anything else, can prevent those pests from opening it entirely.

Obviously, this is pretty laborious to deal with yourself and not something you want to subject your family to going through if you have one.

Also, there are a few caveats with this one… If you’re dealing with large, strong raccoons, it isn’t out of the question they can push the weights off the side to then open the lid.

There have also been times when these critters might try to chew directly through the side of a plastic can. It’s happened before!

And, if you’re using multiple, smaller items for the requisite weight, like bricks, they might be able to remove them piecemeal.

Consider this a good option if you need a quick solution while you figure out a better bet.

Lock the Lid

If your trash can is designed for it, or if you can rig something up by drilling a few sets of holes in the lid, you shouldn’t hesitate to lock it down.

This will prevent raccoons and their dexterous little paws from untying cord wraps and figuring out other closure mechanisms. Sounds like overkill, but I promise it’s not.

These little critters are actually pretty clever and good at problem-solving! Just ask anyone who has been dealing with their nighttime visits for a while!

Note that you’ll have to use a real lock of some kind. As long as it is sturdy enough to hold the lid shut and easy for you to pop open, you can use whatever you want.

I use a combination shackle lock that has just a few digits in it so it’s really quick and easy for me to open the can. You can use a keyed padlock if you’d prefer to do that. Just don’t forget to take it off on collection day!

Stake the Can Upright

This is a supplementary method for keeping the raccoons out of your can, but an important one, especially if you’re just tying it off or using heavy weights. Make sure the trash can is parked on as level a surface as possible, and use wooden or metal stakes to help hold it upright so it can’t be knocked over.

This is a shockingly common tactic that raccoons around the country employ. They figure out really quickly that tipping the can over makes the food a lot easier to get, especially those traveling in groups. Much of the time, it will also cause stubborn lids to just pop off on their own.

Keep the can from toppling over, and you’ll go a long way to keeping the trash inside for a change.

Buy a Raccoon-Proof Can

In some areas of the country, raccoons are such an unholy menace that a cottage industry selling raccoon- and wildlife-proof cans has popped up. Engineered to be durable, stable, and absolutely impossible to open unless you are a human, you might want to upgrade sooner rather than later if you’re at your wit’s end.

The downside is that they aren’t available everywhere and tend to be pretty pricey, even compared to regular trash cans of the same size. Plus, they aren’t any good if your trash service mandates a specific size and shape of can for pickup. Do your homework before you buy…

Enclose the Trashcan

Sometimes the best defense is the most direct. If you can lock up or store your trash can somewhere that raccoons simply cannot get to it, the battle will be won even if it’s slightly less convenient for you.

Depending on your home, stashing it in the garage is a great idea, especially if you’re committed to already keeping odors down. An outbuilding like a shed or enclosed carport for a lawn tractor is another good bet.

If raccoons in your area are especially rapacious, don’t hesitate to build a simple enclosure just for the trash can. These simple structures look a little bit like a small outhouse, and if built properly, will absolutely keep raccoons out.

Of course, you’ll have to make sure they can’t open the door or latch, too!

Use Bleach

Bleach has surprising utility in your trash can, and not just for disinfecting it when it gets nasty. Turns out, raccoons, and lots of other animals, are severely put off by the aroma of this stuff.

If you’re being raided night after night, you can splash some bleach inside and around your trash can after dusk to hopefully ward off the little pests. This works especially well in conjunction with some of the other, simpler techniques on our list if you need to buy time.

Just remember that bleach breaks down quickly and will lose its effectiveness, and you also need to take care to ensure that you don’t hurt yourself or plants, or let it mix with other chemicals.

Spray Raccoon Repellent

Sometimes going with a proven product really is your best bet. It’s possible to repel raccoons through various DIY methods, but going with a species-specific repellent can make your life even easier, especially if you have pets and other animals running around.

Using a combination of laboratory-formulated ingredients and natural deterrent fragrances like predator urine, these sprays will send raccoons packing. The downside is that they require periodic reapplication, and they can also be fairly expensive.

Install Motion Lighting

Raccoons are predominantly nocturnal, and they tend to be pretty skittish even if they’re used to living around areas of human habitation.

Lighting them up while they are doing their dirty deeds might spook them and send them skittering off into the shadows. It’s definitely worth a try, and motion-activated convenience or security lighting can be just the ticket.

If you’re handy, these are easy enough to install yourself, or you might just have to reposition your existing exterior lighting or add a motion sensor to it.

The downside is that raccoons get used to it and tend to grow bold very quickly, meaning you’ll still have to fall back onto physical defenses to keep your trash totally contained.

Try a Motion-Activated Sprinkler

One of my personal favorite methods for keeping raccoons off of my trash can and out of the area is the use of a motion-activated sprinkler.

Raccoons, like most prey animals, tend to be pretty skittish and the sudden noise accompanying a blast of water will send them running for the hills much of the time.

It’s great because this is a method that you don’t have to babysit, but if you haven’t guessed already, there is a non-zero chance raccoons might get used to it or even grow to like it.

I know; it’s depressing how adaptable they are. Still, definitely worth a try and also a good option because it won’t cause them any real harm…

keeping raccoons out of trashcans

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