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How to Clean a Garbage Disposal

Updated Nov 22, 2022

Updated Nov 22, 2022

Home > Maintenance & Renovation > How to Clean a Garbage Disposal

A smelly kitchen sink is off-putting and makes cooking or doing other kitchen tasks less appealing. However, it’s no wonder your kitchen sink smells when you think about your garbage disposal’s environment. It’s moist, cool, and dark — the perfect combination for a moldy, smelly buildup. Some common household pests even thrive in dirty garbage disposals, making cleaning your kitchen garbage disposal an essential task for pest control.

To help ensure your garbage disposal is clean and runs efficiently, consider the following five tips and tricks.

Before Cleaning Your Garbage Disposal

close-up shot of a garbage disposal unit
Image Source: Canva

Always disconnect the garbage disposal from the power source to keep yourself safe while cleaning. If possible, flip the circuit breaker connected to this part of your kitchen off to ensure the garbage disposal is turned off. Double-check that the garbage disposal can’t turn on before you begin cleaning. 

1. Check for Blockages

Before cleaning, shine a flashlight down the drain to ensure no objects are trapped in the disposal grinder. If you find anything, use pliers or tongs to remove the objects before cleaning.

Don’t put your hand down the disposal. If you absolutely must put your hand down the sink drain, triple-check that it’s turned off and wear thick rubber gloves to protect your hands while you remove any objects. Be cautious when grabbing an item if it’s lodged near or in the grinding chambers.

2. Scrub the Disposal & Splash Guard

Most odors coming from your garbage disposal are the result of food. After clearing the garbage disposal of any objects, take an old toothbrush or scrub brush to remove buildup and food particles in the disposal. Flush the disposal with hot water after you’ve finished cleaning and reconnect the disposal.

Many foul odors from the garbage disposal are also a result of food buildup on your disposal’s rubber splash guard. Remove this black rubber panel on top of your sink’s drain hole and scrub it using an old toothbrush and baking soda. Rinse with soapy water, followed by clean, warm water. Depending on the model, you may be able to throw the splash guard on the top rack of the dishwasher.

3. Throw Ice Cubes Down the Garbage Disposal

A quick way to clean your garbage disposal is with 2 cups of ice. Pour 1 cup of rock salt or kosher salt and 2 cups of ice into the disposal and turn it on. Then, turn on the cold water tap and allow the water to run while the ice cubes and salt are ground up.

4. Clean with Lemon Peels

Alternatively, you can throw chopped citrus peels from oranges, limes, lemons, or another citrus down the drain. Remember to remove the white pith before throwing the lemon peels down the disposal to keep the smell fresh, not bitter. Run cold water as you toss the peels down a few strips at a time to keep your grinder from becoming overwhelmed.

5. Use Baking Soda and Vinegar

Take ½ cup of baking soda, pour it down the garbage disposal, and let it sit.

After half an hour, add 1 cup of vinegar. The combination of the white vinegar and baking soda will cause a foamy liquid to bubble up from the bottom of your garbage disposal into your sink. While this bubbles, it will eliminate the buildup and gunk on your disposal. Wait approximately three minutes before rinsing it with hot or boiling water.

What Not To Do

plumber working on a residential garbage disposal
Image Source: Canva

Here are a few things you should never do when cleaning your garbage disposal:

  • Don’t use commercial garbage disposal cleaners. Many of these cleaning products are harsh and potentially corrosive to your drains. Some won’t even clean your disposal thoroughly, making them a complete waste of time and money.
  • Never put chemical drain cleaners, bleach, or lye down your garbage disposal. All these products can seriously harm your pipes’ integrity. 
  • Never stick your hands into the garbage disposal. The blades aren’t sharp enough to slice through an appendage, but they could seriously injure you.
  • Don’t use your garbage disposal like a trash can. Certain things, like oils, coffee grounds, egg shells, or large food waste, will accumulate at the bottom of the disposal, making cleaning it regularly more necessary.
  • Do not hesitate to call a plumber if your disposal is jammed or nonfunctioning. Regular maintenance or calling in a professional plumber for repairs can save you a lot of money and time in the long run.

Closing Thoughts

We hope our DIY hacks for cleaning a garbage disposal help you keep your garbage disposal running optimally without the unpleasant smells of decomposing food scraps. Cleaning your garbage disposal two to three times a month should be enough to keep your kitchen smelling fresh, as long as you’re not throwing large food waste scraps and oil down the disposal regularly, which can clog the drain more quickly.

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