News & Politics

It’s Not Impossible to Keep Rats Out of Your Garbage Can

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Ever since the pandemic forced restaurants to close or scale back their operations, DC’s rats have had to find new places to gorge on garbage. Namely, your garbage can. (Sorry, but that’s life in the US’s fourth-rattiest city.) Now that life is somewhat back to normal, though, they’re not necessarily returning to their old homes in commercial Dumpsters and alleyways, according to rodentologist Bobby Corrigan: “If the garbage is dependable, they stay,” he tells Washingtonian.

But unlike, say, Dan Snyder, rats in your garbage aren’t something you have to just live with because of your Zip code. The solutions are “kindergarten-simple,” Corrigan says: Make sure your lid is on tight, keep your container clean on the inside and outside, and try sprinkling used coffee grounds at the bottom of your garbage bags and in a few subsequent layers as the days go by before you drop them in your bin. (Apparently coffee grounds really annoy rats if they get them stuck in their mouths.)

A ten percent bleach solution is ideal for keeping your can clean, and if you’re feeling extra gung-ho, you can spray some inside your bag for extra rat-discouragement. A galvanized steel trash can with a tight-fitting lid will provide maximum protection, but your high-density plastic supercan is fine as long as the lid is closed and it has no cracks or grease films or spills on its exterior. “If you keep those cans really clean, and you wipe them down with any disinfectant,” Corrigan says, “the rat is not gonna gnaw thorough that plastic.” 

Say you successfully make your garbage cans unappealing to rats, we asked Corrigan. Could that drive them elsewhere, like your house? Possibly, he said, though like most of us mammals, rats usually choose the easiest option when they’re on the prowl. In other words, they’re more likely to become your neighbors’ problem. “Let’s say you have a traditional alleyway in DC,” he says. “I can guarantee that there are other households that are not doing their trash right.”  

The most important question you can ask yourself, Corrigan says, is whether rats can get into your garbage can in the first place.

If the answer is ‘I don’t know,'” he says, “that’s not good enough.”

Senior editor

Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute,, and Washington City Paper. He lives in Del Ray.