Five ways to keep raccoons out of a garbage can

Aftermath of a nocturnal visit by a raccoon.

It’s a familiar scene that can be a source of great frustration– trash strewn about courtesy of a late-night visit by the local wildlife in search of a meal.  Thanks to a particularly persistent raccoon determined to turn our kitchen scraps into his own personal buffet, I have been looking at a number of possible solutions for pest-proofing our refuse.

Considering that we live next to a large woodlot, so I am surprised that we haven’t more problems with raccoons, especially since the previous owner’s wife used to hand-feed them peanut butter sandwiches. In other words, she encouraged them to come around.  That generation of freeloaders and the several following it never bothered us. But in recent years that truce has been broken.   Every now and then, I am greeted by an overturned container with its entrails spread out.

Escalating Conflict

The raccoon offensive escalated after Christmas this year.  Some time in the wee hours of the morning, a masked intruder had dragged a garage pail off of the porch and rummaged through its contents, despite the fact that we had disposed of the turkey carcass in a Mint X garbage bag, which is supposed to repel raccoons and other pests.  Apparently it was attracted to the turkey more than it was repulsed by the smell of mint.  Mind you, it was a mighty tasty bird, if I do say so myself (and I do say so myself)!

Advertisement

Caught in the act!

The next night, at about 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning, the dogs woke us up, agitated by a disturbance on the porch.  This time, I got brave (or stupid) and opened the door, and used my remote key to turn on the headlights of our car, hoping to scare off the raccoon.  This was the first time I actually caught one of these pests in the act.  It had tipped over the container and got the lid off, but had not yet torn into the tied bag inside.  My tactic was successful.  The raccoon scampered off into the woods.

I am fully aware of the risk I was taking.  I never ventured completely outside, so had the pest shown any signs of aggression, all I had to do was shut the door.

About half an hour later it was back and again I scared it off before it actually gained access to the garbage.  The confrontation repeated itself one or two more times that night.

Caught in the act!

The next night our little friend graced us with a return visit.  This time, I had my cell phone with me, hoping to scare our unwanted company with the flashlight app.  Instead of taking off, it just stood there staring at me.  I took the opportunity to switch to the camera and snap a couple of quick pictures before our visitor slinked off into the woods.  This time, he only waited about five minutes before returning to try again.  After his third attempt, I encircled the 2 garbage cans with our recycle bins, figuring that the bins would prevent the raccoon from tipping over the pail.

That seemed to work, at least in the short term, but it just looks messy.

5 possible solutions for pest-proofing garbage

I have included links to products at Amazon, mainly for illustration.  These are affiliate links. If you make a purchase, I will receive a small commission.

Horizontal shed

One of my neighbors growing up had a horizontal metal shed for storing their garbage cans and protect them from critters, not that we had many critters in our suburban neighborhood.  These days, it appears that this type of shed is only available in vinyl or plastic resin or wood.

Advantages

  • Extra layer of security between the pest and the garbage can.
  • Hides the garbage cans.  Better curb appeal.

Disadvantages

  • Cost:  quality sheds can run several hundred dollars.
  • Quality:  reviews of various sheds online are mixed.  Complaints abound online about panels warping (both wood and plastic), doors popping open allowing, which defeats the purpose, hinges and clasps becoming brittle and breaking and general quality and longevity issues.
  • That extra layer of security becomes an extra layer of hassle for humans that need to access the garbage cans.
  • Trash cans are still vulnerable on collection day when they are removed from the shed for placement at curbside.

Large, Heavy Duty Garbage Cart

Some municipalities require them.  Others recommend them.  These large capacity containers offer benefits for both the homeowner and the trash collector.  The largest containers are virtually pest-proof, assuming that they are too big to knock over, but the smaller containers may still be prone to enemy infiltration.  Check your local big-box store or waste management concern for availability and competitive pricing.

Advantages

  • Large capacity to replace several regular garbage cans.
  • Container has easy mobility for transporting to curbside.
  • Large container is more pest-resistant than smaller containers.
  • Ergonomic for the trash collector who does not have to do any heavy lifting if the collection truck has the automated lifter.  Check with your local waste management.
  • Better curb appeal:  one container replaces several.

Disadvantages

  • May not be available in all areas.
  • Cost:  can be expensive depending on location and availability.

Toter is the brand that seems to be favored by most waste management companies.  Because of the shipping costs involved, it makes more sense to check availability at your local Home Depot or Lowes rather than ordering online as the shipping charge in some cases exceeds the cost of the product.  When comparison shopping, be sure you are comparing same size containers, as these things come in several sizes.

Fenced enclosure

I have contemplated taking a trip to the Home Depot and picking up some lumber to build a fenced enclosure for the trash cans.  It might be enough to prevent the raccoons from toppling the containers and might otherwise make it difficult for them to gain access to them.

Advantages

  • Relatively inexpensive, depending on the lumber or other materials used.
  • Completely customizable to the size and number of trash cans to be enclosed.

Disadvantages

  • DIY projects can be fun, but they are also work.
  • The trash cans are vulnerable when removed from the enclosure and placed at curbside.
  • Cost of the project can escalate if higher end materials are used.

Garbage lid straps

Many homeowners opt for a mechanism that prevents vermin from removing the lid from the garbage pail, usually some sort of strap or bungee cord.  The problem is that the more elaborate the strapping method, the more inconvenient the container becomes for normal use.

There are a number of garbage can lid straps on the market. These typically have hardware that screws to the pail and a strap that secures the lid. The strap will have some sort of quick release mechanism that will not inconvenience humans while keeping animals out.

Mint infused garbage bags

Raccoons and other pests don’t like the smell of mint, or at least that’s the theory behind Mint X garbage bags which claim to repel raccoons and rodents.  According the the Mint X website,  the bags should not be expected to be effective immediately.  It can take a week or more for the animals to learn to stay away from the bags that smell like mint.  Double-bagging is suggested for the first couple of weeks to deter more aggressive pests.  Our early results using Mint X kitchen bags were not promising, as I have already described. However, I am cautiously optimistic that these bags may be effective in the long term.  Most of the negative online reviews of the product come from people who, like me, expected these bags to be immediately effective.

Advantages

  • Effortless solution.  Simply use Mint X in place of regular trash bags.
  • If the science holds up, this is a long-term solution.
  • Cost is at the higher end but these are not the most expensive bags on the market.
  • EPA approved solution that does not harm the animals.

Disadvantages

  • These bags have a very strong smell that some people may find unpleasant.
  • Mixed reviews as to the effectiveness.

Conclusion

One thing that I have learned in researching possible solutions for our raccoon problem is that there is no single guaranteed solution.  The best bet is to combine several strategies– make it difficult for the raccoon to get into the garbage in the first place, and, if it is ultimately successful in breaching the defenses, make the spoils of victory as unpleasant as possible.  For now, we are only using the mint infused garbage bags.  

Update January 11, 2015: We are continuing to use the Mint X kitchen bags and are strategically placing the garbage pails so that the one in current use is difficult for the raccoon to access.  Once a garbage can is full, the liner bag is tied tightly.  We have heard the raccoon on the porch, but he has not disturbed our garbage since the two nights I describe at the beginning of this post.  

Update March 22, 2015:  The raccoon has returned a few times, once removing a Mint X kitchen bag and dragging it over behind the car in the driveway.  The bag had some holes in it, and the raccoon had obviously removed some food, but there was much less mess than in the past.  I’m not 100% sure whether the odor of the bags were a factor or not.  But we have had chicken on several occasions and the garbage has not been disturbed.  Previously, poultry bones in the garbage guaranteed us a nocturnal visit, so I can only guess that the mint odor is stronger than the chicken aroma.  

Since the last update: We have not had any further incidents involving raccoons and our garbage. It seems that the Mint X bags have done their job.

If you know of any other tactics for dealing with raccoons or other pests, share them in the comments below.

5 Comments

    1. Sean Doherty

      Beat idea, but I can assure you that sanitation workers would throw the camp bag into their truck with the trash. Far too much work for them to dump out the bag and then put the bag back in your can.

  1. Thank you for explaining how raccoons can be kept out of garbage cans. It’s good to know that having a large, heavy duty garbage cart can help especially if they are too big to knock over. You mentioned that smaller ones could still be prone to being infiltrated and I’m interested to learn if there are ways to reinforce smaller carts so that they are still good against raccoons.

    1. Thumb and Hammer

      Garbage can lid straps, either the ones I link to in the article or the ones linked to in the comment above would probably be the most effective line of defense. You would of course want something that is easy for the garbage man to deal with. (The product you link to is also interesting and worth considering.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *