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Published Sep. 9, 2021

No matter who you are, no matter where you come from, and no matter what you do in life, we all have one thing in common: garbage. Human beings are exceptionally good at producing it but not especially great at getting rid of it. The average American consumer is said to produce about five pounds of trash every day, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. And while there’s no data on how much of that garbage specifically ends up in our cars, we’ve all probably known people for whom the answer is “A lot.”

This is why an in-car trash can may be a great solution for keeping your car from looking like a rolling landfill. Having a central place for all those used tissues, loose pieces of paper, discarded food wrappers, and more can go a long way toward keeping your car clean—and from keeping all that trash from ending up on the road instead. 

Here, we’ll walk you through some of the best and most effective car trash cans we’ve assessed. Whether you need one for quick errands, long trips, or both, here are some go-to options you can install in a pinch.

Best Car Trash Cans Reviews & Recommendations

Easy to clean, affordable, and designed to blend in with the gray/black cloth upholstery that most cars have, HOTOR’s car trash can has received top marks from owners for obvious reasons. With its collapsible design and adjustable straps, it can be placed on the floor, on your gear shifter (although we strongly advise against this for safety reasons) or hung from one of the seats. Its nylon body is easy to clean, and best of all, it has a waterproof interior liner like a lunch box, so if it’s sanitary inside you can use it as an in-car cooler — although for obvious reasons, we recommend either cooler duty or trash-can duty, but not both. Due to its low cost and very high user marks across more than 14,000 reviews, we’re naming this our best overall choice.

Specs
  • Brand HOTOR
  • Model A000138BL
  • Capacity 2 gallons
PROS

Low cost

Adjustable strap and options for placement

Waterproof liner also allows for cooler function

CONS

Not very sturdy

May have defective magnetic buttons

We all know it’s no fun to drive when you have the sniffles. Ideally, you shouldn’t do that at all, but sometimes it’s a necessity. When you do, you may find yourself reaching for a box of tissues, but how do you do that safely? One solution is to package your tissue box with an in-car trash can, and that’s exactly what QUARKACE’s pick does here. Across more than 1,500 assessments, owners ranked it highly for being easily within reach (it hangs off the back of the front passenger seat), for not taking up too much space, and for having a hole up top for easy placement of used tissues — and other garbage, of course. Some owners did, however, knock it for the quality of its straps and clips, but most assessments were overwhelmingly positive.

Specs
  • Brand QUARKACE
  • Model QKS-CTC03
  • Capacity 2 gallons
PROS

Low cost

Contains a tissue box holder

Hole up top to hide the garbage

CONS

Low-quality straps

Side clips may not stay on

The Compact Option

How often do you actually carry stuff in your cup holders? And how often are they just empty old bottles you’ve been meaning to throw out anyway? HOTOR comes with a compact option to cut down on smaller trash in your car, and it fits right into your vehicle’s cupholders. These cases are designed to fit into center console cup holders and door cup holders in most cars, trucks, vans, SUVs, and even other types of vehicles like boats.

They’re made of a tough polymer, open at the touch of a button, are leakproof, and are designed to work with 30 small bags included with purchase. Just note they don’t have the capacity of other options and are better for smaller bits of trash like pieces of paper or cigarette butts. Nearly 1,300 assessments we surveyed indicate owners are pretty pleased with their purchase, but some critics took points off over the small size.

Specs
  • Brand HOTOR
  • Model B08N11G8V2
  • Quantity two containers
PROS

Compact and affordable

Fits in almost every cup holder

Ideal for smaller amounts of garbage

CONS

Small capacity vs. larger options at a similar price

Hinge may fail in some cases

What do you do when your car is full of trash, but you want to show passengers that you are still a person of class and taste? A more premium in-car trash can may be a good option, and this box from KINGBERWI is worth considering. Okay, first and foremost, it’s faux leather, not the real stuff — but at this price point, that should not be surprising. It is still remarkably capable and discrete, able to fit in a variety of spaces like your passenger footwell or center console, and it doubles as a storage unit if it’s clean. Note that it does not include straps so it’s not something that can be affixed to your seats, but it’s small enough to be still quite portable.

Specs
  • Brand KINGBERWI
  • Model B07GKSG4HJ
  • Weight 0.75 pounds
PROS

Multipurpose and portable

Fits in a variety of spaces

Faux leather is easy to clean

CONS

May be too small for larger trash

Unable to secure to seats like some options

This selection is a little different than our other options, but it’s an interesting one for anyone who loves to camp or grill often. This is a collapsible 30-gallon can that’s easily transported in a car and can be deployed anywhere you need it outside the vehicle. And being under two pounds in weight, it’s easy for anyone to move and use. When in use, the zippered top lid keeps odors and trash off the ground, and it comes in a variety of sizes and colors too.

More than 15,000 owner assessments we investigated reported a very positive experience. Owners say the product is great for campsites, is easy to collapse and transport, and is durable but also lightweight. It also includes bottom straps with rivet holes for staking to the ground, so it can be kept secure outside the car too.

Specs
  • Brand Coghlan's
  • Model B092RGNMVK
  • Weight 1.6 pounds
PROS

Portable, durable and easy to clean

Zipper locks in odors

Easy to secure outside of the car

CONS

No recycling logo if that’s what you use it for

Flimsy unless filled with trash

Super Portable

Here’s an option we find interesting because it can fit almost anywhere, and can be placed out of sight when you don’t need it: Luckindom’s collapsible, portable trash receptacle. Normally flat, it can be propped up into can form to accommodate all of your waste. It also includes an elastic strap loop so it can be easily attached to your car headrest or somewhere else that’s convenient. When you don’t need it, fold it up and put it in your glove compartment or center console.

Across nearly 100 user assessments, this item scored very high marks. Owners say it takes up very little space, comes with lots of trash bags in different colors, has a quality feel to it, and won’t compromise legroom when placed on the floor. The biggest downside is size — it’s said to be smaller than a coffee can but bigger than a soda can, so it can get some trash but won’t fit tons of waste.

Specs
  • Brand Luckindom
  • Model N/A
  • Weight ‎9.6 ounces
PROS

Collapsible, pop-out design

Extra portable when in use, and when not in use

Comes with plenty of trash bags in many colors

CONS

Smaller than similarly priced options

Not as premium as some choices

How We Selected the Products

Our product selections, rankings, and awards for this story are based on research. While we haven’t conducted real-world testing on all of these products yet, we’ve looked at consumer testimonials and data, tutorials, and general discussions on social media and in forums. We also consider price and specification in the context of the segment. And, of course, we rely on our institutional knowledge of the automotive landscape to weed out weak products.

In this case, we combed through tens of thousands of product assessments from actual owners and weighed those against price points, product quality, and overall versatility. We used our decades of experience behind the wheel to recommend the safest products as well, the ones designed not to get in the way during driving, or interfere with critical functions like gear shifter operation. We didn’t recommend anything we wouldn’t use in our own cars.  

Do You Need a Car Trash Can?

If you like to keep your car organized, then a trash can may be a good solution. Since most are waterproof and have sealable lids, you can store all kinds of clutter without worrying about dripping fluids. Not to mention that it’s quite difficult for anyone to litter in your vehicle with a trash can in sight. 

Also, the clutter can be a distraction while you drive. You don’t want to be in a scenario where a soda can is stuck under your gas or brake pedal. 

  • It helps to keep your floor mat and car seats clean. 
  • It will keep you from littering when you snack through a long road trip. 
  • When cleaning out your vehicle, it’s convenient to have a car trash can on hand for some of the trash you may find.
  • You can empty it only once a week. 

Best Car Trash Cans Buying Guide & FAQs

If you spend a lot of time in your car, you will likely end up with a lot of trash and clutter piled up. It can get worse on road trips when everyone in your vehicle is having a snack with no place to put the trash. Car trash cans help to prevent a scenario where packets of chips or crushed soda cans get stuck in the narrow gaps between or under your car seat. 

The last thing you want is trash flying all over the cabin when you drive with the windows down. A good automotive trash can should stay in place no matter how fast you drive, or if you decide to take a sharp corner and/or drive at the absolute limit. 

Do You Need a Car Trash Can?

If you like to keep your cabin organized, then a car trash can is a must-have item. Since most are waterproof and have sealable lids, you can store all kinds of clutter without worrying about dripping fluids. Not to mention that it’s quite difficult for anyone to litter in your vehicle with a trash can readily available. 

Having a lot of trash in your car can be risky when you’re driving as well. You don’t want to be in a scenario where a soda can is stuck under your gas or brake pedal. Here are the benefits: 

  • It helps to keep your floor mat and car seats clean. 
  • It will keep you from littering when you snack through a long road trip. 
  • When cleaning out your vehicle, it’s convenient to have a car trash can on hand for some of the trash you may find. 

Different Kinds of Car Trash Cans

Where do you want to put the trash can? That’s up to you, but keep ease of access in mind first and foremost. You don’t want something that spills your trash once you open the door or makes it almost impossible for rear-seat passengers to sit comfortably. With this in mind, here are some of the most common types of car trash cans. 

Floor Trash Can

A floor trash can, as the name heavily implies, sits on the floor of your vehicle. Most have a rubberized bottom to help keep the bin steady on the floor, but it can tip over if you drive too fast or when you negotiate a turn. A few models come with mounts that allow you to attach it to the center console. 

This type can take up a lot of legroom, and you risk spilling the trash in case it tips over. Also, prioritize models that come with a lid to avoid emptying it every other day instead of once a week. 

Cup Holder Trash Can 

A cup holder trash can is a bit smaller than most auto trash cans, and can also fit in the pocket of your door or your infant’s booster seat. It’s an important accessory since you can use it to discard smaller items that gradually create a mess in your car. This can be cigarette butts, fruit peels, or chewing gum. 

However, you would probably have to compliment it with a larger trash can for disposing of your empty soda cans, bottles, and other larger trash items. 

Hanging Trash Can 

Most in-car trash cans are of this type. They come with hooks or straps and can be hung at the back of the driver’s or passenger’s headrest. This is more convenient since the trash can is within reach for everyone in the car and doesn’t eat up the legroom. Since the trash can is closer to your nose (or your passenger’s nose), it’s prudent to go for one that masks the odor from the trash, uses a plastic liner, and has a lid.

However, you should avoid attaching one to your gear selector. You don’t want the extra weight pulling the car into gear by accident. Then trash would be the least of your problems.

Features to Look for in a Car Trash Can

There are a few features or qualities that would make one trash can more desirable than the other. When buying a trash can, it’s important to prioritize models that have most of the features highlighted below to make sure you end up with the right product without breaking your bank. 

Quality Construction

When it comes to the construction of an auto trash can, look at the durability of the material. Oxford fabric, plastic, and polyester are the best materials since they form a sturdy construction. Look at the quality of the stitching at the seams, edges, and ensure that the straps are sturdy. Above all, you should ensure that the material is eco-friendly and non-allergenic. 

Also, some trash cans are collapsible while others are lined with plastic, cardboard, or any other harder material to make it stiff. You can easily fold and store a collapsible model, but it can get hard for the driver to throw the trash inside it, especially when it’s empty. We recommend using a stiff model since it allows for easy one-handed operation. 

Capacity 

If you frequently go on long trips, like to ride with your friends, have a large family, or would like to go for an extended period without emptying the trash can, then choose one with a large carrying capacity of about two gallons. However, it shouldn’t be too bulky that it compromises legroom or makes your passengers sit uncomfortably.

You also have the option of choosing smaller trash cans that may be less than a gallon so that you can place each one at a strategic position in your vehicle. You can have one behind each headrest and another one behind the center console.

Waterproof Design 

Dripping fluids from the trash can are not only disgusting, but can also create a bad odor in your cabin. Therefore, select a trash can with a waterproof or leak-proof design to keep the fluids contained in case you don’t have a plastic liner. It will buy you some time until you can get home and throw it in the washer. 

On the same note, determine whether you need a reusable or disposable liner. Reusable liners can be waterproof but you’d have to empty it once it gets wet—water can penetrate the fabric if you let it stay for too long. On the other hand, you can wait until the end of the week to throw out a plastic bag without worrying about leaks. 

Adjustable Straps 

Most people prefer placing their trash cans slightly behind the center console or in front of the passenger’s seat. This can be convenient when the driver is alone in the vehicle, but you may need to make slight adjustments to make more room for your passengers. This is why you need a trash can with straps so that you can hang it on the headrest. That way, it will be within reach when you need it and won’t eat up a lot of space in the vehicle. 

Tips for Buying and Using a Car Trash Can 

If you are looking to save money, buy a trash can with reusable liners so that you don’t spend more buying disposable trash bags. You only need warm water and liquid dish soap to clean it. You can also disinfect it occasionally to kill bacteria that cause a bad odor. 

A few additional tips:

  • Consider where you want to put the trash can before buying one. 
  • Sprinkle a little baking soda in the trash can to help absorb bad odors. 
  • Consider cleaning your trash can whenever you empty it. 
  • Choose a color that blends in with your vehicle’s upholstery.

Best Car Trash Cans FAQ

Buying the best trash can isn’t as simple as it seems. Getting the wrong one means that you may end up with bad odors in your cabin, having limited legroom, or creating more of a mess.  Therefore, we understand that you may have a few questions so that you don’t get it wrong when you are buying one. For this part, we will answer a few of those questions.

Q. How do you replace a car trash can?

If the trash can is full, unhook it from the headrest and carefully remove the plastic liner. You can do this outside the car if you are afraid of spilling the trash. Dump it in a bin and line the trash can with a new plastic bag.

Q. Does it have a lid or does it close at the top?

Most cylindrical trash cans come with a lid that you put over the trash can. Other options have a flap that closes with a Velcro strap.

Q. Is it worth getting a car trash can?

It’s absolutely worth it. It helps to keep your car clean, well-organized, and free of unpleasant odors. You can also use it to store some of your stuff.

About the Author

Patrick George is Editorial Director over Recurrent Ventures’ automotive and military publications. He oversees The Drive, Car Bibles, The War Zone, and Task & Purpose. Previously Editor-in-Chief of the car website Jalopnik, he’s a longtime reporter and editor and a lifelong car enthusiast and amateur mechanic. He’s based in upstate New York. He also produces a lot of trash. 

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