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How to Clean Your Garbage Disposal

Beautiful kitchen with a wide farm-style sink
alabn/Shutterstock

If a nasty, foul smell is coming from your garbage disposal, it’s time to do a proper deep cleaning. Here’s how to do that (and how to keep the funk from coming back).

Even though garbage disposals are great for grinding up and disposing of food scraps, junk can get stuck in the blades, grease can harden to the piping, and mold can grow over time. Gross!

Here are some quick ways to remedy the problem, most of them using supplies you probably have in your kitchen.

Clear Any Obstructions

Before you start with the deep clean, make sure the sink and drain area is clear of any objects. If you think a lone fork has fallen into the drain, use pliers or tongs to remove it or any lodged object.

Avoid reaching deep into the drain with your hand. Even if everything is turned off, the disposal blades aren’t quite like the blades in your blender; they’re more like chunky impellers. None the less, you can still scrap yourself on them, and you certainly don’t want your hand in there while the disposal is running.

If you do need to reach in there, first things first: turn off the electricity to the circuit the disposal is on to avoid accidental activation. Then, be sure to use a kitchen glove to avoid scraping yourself on the blades. Use a flashlight to see what’s stuck in there, if needed.

Scrub the Baffle and Disposal Opening

Before you attack the disposal with any of the methods below, you want first to scrub to loosen any caked on material and to clean areas the methods below won’t reach. Primarily, you should be concerned with splash guard/baffle (the black rubber portion that covers the drain hole in the sink) and the neck of the opening.

Even when you use the cleaning methods we’re about to explore, it’s most effective to manually scrub the rubber baffle and the top portion of the drain opening with a stiff dish brush and some dish soap first. This ensures that smelly leftover food and grime isn’t stuck high up in the drain area where other methods may not effectively remove it.

Hot Water and Dish Soap

This is a quick and easy way to clear away regular grime. With the disposal switched off, plug up the sink. Run hot water and add a dash of dish soap. Wait until the water is about four inches deep, then remove the plug, switch on the disposal, and let the soapy water go down the drain.

Make sure to use hot water since it works best to break down stubborn oils and layers of grease. Cold water won’t do much here.

This method is better than only running water through. Flushing through a lot of water at once is best for attacking that build-up of slime.

Baking Soda and Vinegar

This famous cleaning duo is a perfect go-to when battling nasty disposal germs and grime.

Start with the disposal switched off. Shake half a cup of baking soda into the drain, then slowly add in one cup of white vinegar. The mixture will fizzle and bubble like an exciting science experiment. Use a drain stopper to cover the drain and let it sit for about ten minutes. Unplug the drain, turn on the disposal, and pour in a pot of boiling water.

Don’t use this method too often since vinegar is acidic and it could damage the rubber elements inside the disposal. But don’t worry, the occasional deep clean is okay.

Ice Cubes and Salt

Who knew that ice cubes were the answer to cleaning your garbage disposal? They’re hard but easily broken apart by the garbage disposal blades, scraping free debris and food scraps in the process. What a cheap way to get the job done!

Start with the disposal switched off. Pour in two cups of ice cubes, followed by one cup of rock salt. Turn the disposal on while the cold water is running, letting the blades crush the ice and salt combo.

You can also pour white vinegar into an ice cube tray, freezing it for a highly effective cleaning tool.

Bleach

Yes, bleach will kill all that disgusting mold and bacteria. However, using too much can harden grease, making it difficult to get your disposal in tip-top shape. So use sparingly.

We suggest mixing one tablespoon of chlorine bleach into a gallon of hot water. Pour this mixture into the disposal, letting it sit for a couple of minutes. Then turn on the disposal while hot water is running. Open a kitchen window if you can because the smell can be a bit strong.

Borax

This is an effective way to flush out your disposal. Add 3-4 tablespoons to the drain, waiting an hour before flushing it away with a pot of boiling water.

Citrus Peels

If you’re looking to deodorize your disposal, citrus peels are the way to go. Oranges, grapefruit, lemons, limes–they all work!

Just make sure to chop the peels into small chunks before tossing them down the drain. Run cold water while the disposal chops them apart.

Use citrus peels after doing one of the deeper cleans mentioned above since it doesn’t clean as effectively as the other methods.

Prevention and Maintenance

Regularly cleaning your garbage disposal will help it run efficiently, reducing the nasty build-up of slime, grease, and mold. Here are some things you can do between the deeper cleans to maintain your disposal.

  • Hot Water: Run hot water for one minute while the disposal is on to keep gunk from building up. You can do this once a day if you use your disposal a lot. Otherwise, a couple of times a week will do. Do note; this is a cleaning method used infrequently and not every time you use the disposal—for daily use, run cold water.
  • Run 5 Seconds Longer: Most people turn off their garbage disposal once they hear the grinding stop. But it’s helpful to run it at least five seconds longer, letting all the chunks fully disintegrate. Use hot water to keep grease from building up.
  • Avoid Problem Foods: The main culprits for a malfunctioning or smelly garbage disposal are food items that don’t fully break down or turn to a mushy paste, such as celery, potato chunks or peels, bones, grease, coffee grinds, and pasta. Throw these items into the regular trash.
  • Use Ice: Regularly tossing some ice cubes down the drain will break down any build-up of material.

Doing a regular clean for your garbage disposal will help keep everything moving, and thus prevent yucky smells from permeating your kitchen. Just remember to switch off that disposal when poking around, and to keep those tougher veggies heading straight to the trash can. With our tricks, your garbage disposal should remain smell-free, offering you years of easy use.

Jill Chafin Jill Chafin
Jill Chafin is a freelance writer, aerialist, dancer, food enthusiast, outdoor adventurer, and mama, based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Read Full Bio »

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