How to Clean a Gas Can

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Has your gas can become unsightly on the inside or the outside? If so, you are probably wondering how to clean a gas can. Many homeowners own gas cans, but cleaning becomes a little bit trickier when it comes to gas. Instead of buying a new one, we will go over how to clean a gas can. 

How to Clean a Gas Can: The Outside 

Sometimes, the outside of the gas can will attract dirt, grime, oil, and other things that give it an old, dirty appearance. If you’re trying to put your gas can in a car, you may not want a dirty gas can to sit in your clean vehicle. 

It’s pretty easy to clean the outside of the gas can. We will go over how to do just that! 

Old gas can

Materials 

To clean the outside of a gas can, you will need:

  • Dish soap
  • Soft-bristled brush
  • Water
  • Bucket to hold soap and water (optional)

Preparation

You need to do a couple of things to prepare before you start cleaning the outside of a gas can. It is best to make sure that the gas can is completely empty. If there is gas in the can, either use it up or dispose of it properly. 

Make sure to look up the regulations in your area on how to dispose of gas properly—it is a hazardous material, so this is an important step. 

If you’re looking for what kind of dish soap to use, Dawn is more effective than any other at cutting down grease and oil.

Cleaning Steps

When you’re ready, follow these steps to clean your gas can:

  1. Use warm water and drops of dish soap—no particular ratio is needed
    • If using a bucket, prepare a mixture
    • If using no bucket, place the drops 
  2. Dip your soft-bristled brush in the water if using a bucket
  3. If no bucket is being used, place your soap directly on the soft-bristled brush
  4. Scrub the dirty areas of the gas container
  5. Make sure to rinse and re-wet your brush often
  6. Feel free to turn the can over to reach all of the areas
  7. Rinse with water 

How to Clean a Gas Can: The Inside 

Cleaning the inside of a gas can seems like a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. We’ve rounded up the best methods to clean the inside of a gas can. 

There are more than “100 million plastic gas cans in circulation in the U.S.”. Cleaning them doesn’t have to be a mystery.  

Water bucket to clean gas can

All Methods: Preparation

First, properly dispose of any leftover gas in the gas can as per your local regulations. Most of the time this will be at a hazardous waste disposal site. 

Remove the top of the gas can. This could be a spout or a cap. You can clean that with any of the methods, but we need an open container to clean. 

Another important reminder is to make sure you are not next to an open flame or any sparks while cleaning—we know you probably know that already, but just a quick reminder! 

Method 1: Dish Soap

Just as dish soap can clean the outside of your container, it can work on the inside as well. This is the best method for gas cans that haven’t accumulated a lot of dirt on the inside. For this, you’ll simply need a few materials:

  • Dish soap
  • Access to hot water
  • Agitators such as screws (optional)

To clean a gas can with dish soap, you can follow these steps:

  1. Drip some dish soap in the gas can
  2. Partially fill the gas can with hot water
  3. Cover the top of the can with your hand or the cap
  4. Shake the can vigorously 
  5. Dump the water out
  6. Repeat as needed
  7. If the mess on the inside isn’t cleaned up, add your agitators
  8. Add dish soap and hot water
  9. Shake again
  10. Repeat as needed
  11. Rinse well with water only

The agitators here will help with any particularly stubborn sludge. They help act as a cleaning and scrubbing agent without you having to do any actual scrubbing. 

When you are done, make sure all of the dish soap has been rinsed out well. Let dry in an area that will have plenty of airflows, like an open and clean concrete, and make sure it is completely dry before using it for gasoline. 

Gas container on the side of the road

Method 2: Pine-Sol

For a bit tougher sludge, you can use the ever-famous Pine-Sol to clean your gas can. The method is relatively similar to using dish soap, but it does have a ratio you can follow for the best results. For this method, you will need:

  • Pine-Sol
  • Access to hot water
  • Agitators such as screws (optional)

If you want to know how to clean a gas can with Pine-Sol, follow the steps below:

  1. Create a Pine-Sol to water mixture using a 2:1 ratio
  2. Pour in the gas container
  3. Let soak for a while (depending on the degree of sludge, could be one day to 24 hours)
  4. Add your agitators (optional step)
  5. Shake vigorously
  6. Dump out the mixture
  7. Repeat if needed
  8. Rinse well with water

Like the dish soap method, the agitators help remove any particularly touch sludge. Make sure to rinse well with water only. When you are done, let your newly cleaned gas can dry in the outdoors, your clean Azek decking, or somewhere with good airflow. 

Before using, make sure that you have let dry completely and there is no water leftover before filling with gas. Gas and water don’t go together very well. 

Method 3: Official Fuel Tank Cleaner

If the other methods have failed to remove your gas can sludge or varnish, you can go to an auto company and look for a fuel tank cleaner. There are multiple brands on the market that will work to help you clean your gas can. 

Make sure to do your comparison shopping, and read all instructions before you begin. For most brands, you will still need to make sure that your gas can is fully dry before you use it for gas. 

When Do I Need to Clean a Gas Can?

You may be wondering, why do I need to know how to clean a gas can? They are meant for gas, after all. If I’m only using gas, shouldn’t I just be able to use it again? 

In some ways, yes, and in other ways, no. Let’s discuss when you need to clean a gas can (and why!).  

Man holding clean gas container

1. When You Have Old Gas in the Can

Gas can get old. Generally, if it’s been in storage for longer than you can remember (and you don’t remember putting fuel stabilizer in it), you may want to dispose of it and start over. Why? 

  • Gas can evaporate: There are chemicals that help vaporize gas to make things that need it run better. These chemicals are the first to go when gas starts evaporating. This can cause slow turnover, less power, and worse fuel usage. 
  • Gas can become contaminated: Old gas can either have condensation, rust, bacteria, or more. This happens more often if it was not sealed or stored properly. 

2. When You See Black Coatings

If you see black coatings in your gas can, that’s generally a sign to clean it. This is often sludge or varnish that has accumulated from the gas.

The gas that has been stored in the can may also let out hydrocarbon deposits that will cause black coatings. To best prevent contamination, if you see black coatings, you should start planning to clean that gas can. 

3. When You’re Not Sure What’s In It

Not quite sure that what’s in your gas can is actually gas? Does it seem to be gas, but you can’t quite identify what it is? 

Better safe than sorry here. The best course of action is to take that unknown material to a hazardous waste station (just in case) and follow one of the methods above to clean out your gas can. 

4. When You Get a Used Gas Can

Did you just acquire a gas can from a friend or neighbor or buy some online? If you’re not positive that it was recently used for gas, it’s probably a good idea to clean it before using it for gas. 

The problem you can face here is having some old, build up sludge or varnish that could contaminate your new gas. If acquiring a new-to-you gas can, it’s always best to examine it and make sure it looks clean. If unsure, it’s better to quickly clean it using one of the methods above than to risk contamination. 

Conclusion

There are many reasons you may want to clean a gas can. It can seem intimidating to clean hazardous material, but there are ways you can do this quite easily. Make sure when you are finished to let the can dry completely before you use it for anything else.