It’s a Dirty Job, But It Helped This Teenager Make $100 in One Afternoon

Trash can cleaning

Whether you’re a college student trying to pay tuition, a young professional working on paying down student loans or a teenager hoping to stretch your allowance, unusual side jobs can help you make a little extra cash.

When I was 14, I wanted to take dance classes, but I needed to pay for them myself.

I wanted a job I could do every once in a while, and I knew it would help to find a niche.

That’s when I decided to try trash can cleaning.

No, washing garbage cans wasn’t a glamorous job. In fact, it was a downright dirty job. But I made more than $100 in one afternoon… and I could have made even more.

Why Trash Can Cleaning is an Awesome Side Gig

I cornered this little market in high school.

Picture me: a scrawny, prissy, little blonde girl climbing into giant trash cans with a hose. (Well, OK, they were standard-size trash cans… I was just a freakishly tiny 14-year-old.)

While you can earn extra money with many classic odd jobs, I chose this one because there was no competition.

All my friends were jockeying for lawns to mow, houses to clean or dogs to walk. None of my peers had even thought about washing garbage cans.

I won’t lie: It’s a nasty job.

Most people don’t think cleaning their trash cans is necessary. They just set them out on the curb, let them bake in the sun and pretend the foul smell is coming from their neighbors’ driveways.

But let’s face it, the stink does get to everyone eventually.

So when a young, able-bodied neighbor comes along and offers to relieve them of that dirty job for a few bucks, they’ll probably jump at the chance.

How to Make Money With a Dirty Job

Here are three ways to ensure you’ll make as much money as possible doing this dirty job.

1. Target Your Customers

Technology always seems like the best way to get your information out into the universe.

Just this once, though, you may want to consider going old-school. I’m talking about flyers.

To get the word out, I taped flyers to my neighbors’ front doors with the necessary information: the job I would do for them, the amount I charged, and the day and time to drop off their cans at my house.

Distribute your flyers Friday evening and have people drop off their trash cans Sunday morning. Living with Mom and Dad meant I had access to free paper and ink, so the flyers didn’t cost me a thing.

Cleaning garbage cans is kind of a weird offer to make, so briefly explain on the flyer why you’re in the business.

While a number of people brought me their garbage cans, looking back, I could have made more money if I had mentioned on my flyers that I was a teen trying to afford dance classes.

2. Decide What to Charge

I charged $20 per trash can. My neighbors were happy to pay this price, and a few of them gave me $5 tips.

People hate performing this job so much that they would probably pay more. If you think you can do a thorough job in a timely manner, charge $25 per can.

If you have a car, advertise that you’ll make appointments to drive to people’s houses to do the job in their driveways. Since they won’t have to bother with dropping off or picking up their trash cans, charge a little extra for the convenience. (You can also do this if you have a bike or don’t mind walking.)

If you live in a neighborhood where people have garbage and recycling cans they wheel out to the street, try offering a combo deal. For example, charge $25 per can or $40 for both.

3. Be Organized!

When people leave their trash cans with you, get their names and phone numbers. Don’t forget to write everything down!

Know your time estimate for your job so you can tell them when to pick up their clean can.

Would You Try Cleaning Trash Cans?

I recommend this job to any teenager or college student who needs cash in a hurry. If my post-grad job didn’t require me to work on weekends, I would probably still try to swing this gig every once in a while!

Most people avoid cleaning their trash cans because they’re grossed out by the smell and the word “garbage.” If you can overcome these minor turnoffs, you’ll realize there are no other downsides to the job — and it’s worth a stinky afternoon.

Your turn: Would you ever clean garbage cans to make extra money on the side?

Laura Grace Tarpley is a 23-year-old who worked multiple jobs through college to pay for school and her travels. Currently, she is working as much as possible to travel to Scandinavia with her fiancé.