How To Clean Your Garbage Disposal

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on April 07, 2022
4 min read

Trash cans are kind of gross. You keep a container of food waste and plastic wrappers in the kitchen, and it starts to smell. 

Garbage disposals are supposed to alleviate the smelly trash problem. They grind up the food waste to keep your kitchen from smelling like last week's dinner. So, what are you supposed to do when your garbage disposal smells?

Even though garbage disposals are a technological marvel, you don't need special tools or cleaners to get them smelling fresh again. 

When it comes to cleaning almost anything, you have two options: store-bought or homemade cleaners. Many store-bought cleaners won't perfectly clean your garbage disposal. Some can even damage your garbage disposal.

Some store-bought cleaners may only freshen your garbage disposal and not truly clean it. Others may be corrosive and can damage parts of your garbage disposal. When it comes to cleaning your disposal, use items around your home.

You don't need much. You can clean your garbage disposal at home if you have: 

  • Ice to break the stuck-on food
  • Baking soda to kill germs
  • Bleach to kill germs
  • Lemons for freshness

You could use vinegar instead of bleach, but this will change the cleaning steps slightly.

The cleaning you do will depend on how often you use your garbage disposal. Consider cleaning it once a week if you use your disposal every day. 

You don't need to clean as often if you don't use your disposal regularly. You can get by with cleaning your disposal once a month, but regular cleaning can prevent gunk buildup, clogging, and odors

Clean the splash guard. At the top of your garbage disposal, there's a rubber shield that keeps food waste from splashing back up. Of course, this means it gets gross. 

Grab your gloves, water, baking soda, and a scrubber. Pull back the splash guard and scrub underneath the old-fashioned way. If you have a removable shield, you can pull it out to clean it or toss it in the top rack of your dishwasher.

Afterward, fill the sink with hot soapy water, turn on your disposal, and let it drain through to wash away any remaining gunk. 

Clean the interior of the garbage disposal. You can sufficiently clean your disposal with your ice, baking soda, bleach, and lemons. 

  1. Turn your garbage disposal and faucet off. Put six ice cubes in the disposal.
  2. Pour in 1 tablespoon of baking soda.
  3. Add 1 tablespoon of bleach. Steps for using vinegar instead of bleach appear later.
  4. Drop in three lemon wedges. 
  5. Add six extra ice cubes. 
  6. Run the disposal.
  7. When the grinding stops, run cold water for 30 seconds.

If you're using vinegar in place of bleach, follow these instructions instead.

  1. Put six ice cubes in your garbage disposal with the disposal and water off. 
  2. Pour in 1/2 cup of baking soda. 
  3. Add 1 cup of white vinegar. Let the baking soda and vinegar fizz for 10 minutes.
  4. Slowly pour boiling water down the drain.
  5. To eliminate the vinegar smell, grind some lemons in your garbage disposal.

Do you feel like your disposal starts to smell before it's time to clean it? That probably means there is food stuck in your garbage disposal. Practice good garbage disposal care and maintenance to avoid food buildup. 

Run water while you use it. Let your faucet run for a few seconds before turning on your garbage disposal, while you use it, and for a few seconds after. The running water allows food particles to wash down the drain, rather than building up in the disposal.

Occasionally grind some ice. If you're short on time or baking soda, grinding ice will help break apart food buildup. It won't disinfect or freshen your garbage disposal, but it can reduce the need to deep clean it. 

Many garbage disposals can grind almost anything. Some food waste doesn't go down so easily, leading to buildup and eventually odors. 

No fat, grease, or oil should ever go down the drain.Oils congeal in the pipes and cause clogs. Even fatty foods like peanut butter and dairy products can contribute to a grease clog.

Avoid starchy foods. Starch leads to clumps. Think about what happens when you mash potatoes. Putting starchy foods like potatoes or grains in your garbage disposal can cause a clog.

Stringy foods can tangle and clog. Certain foods are stringy or fibrous, like asparagus, celery, and artichokes. Their lack of significant mass can cause them to get tangled up in the garbage disposal rather than processed. No one likes the smell of rotting asparagus in their kitchen!

Coffee grounds and eggshells cause problems in large amounts. These two food wastes are frequent visitors to the garbage disposal. However, they don't break down quickly. They collect in your garbage disposal, leading to an odor of last month's breakfast. 

If you think you have a clog, that's not the end of your garbage disposal. You're unlikely to get a clog with proper use and maintenance. Luckily, removing a clog shouldn't be difficult. 

Turn off the power to your garbage disposal. The easiest way to do this is to turn off the power from the main circuit panel in your home. If you can reach the outlet that the disposal is plugged into, you can unplug it instead. 

Look into the disposal with a flashlight to find the clog. Using a set of tongs, forceps, or pliers, gently remove the clog once you find it. Be careful not to damage the garbage disposal's impellers (the mechanisms that break down food).  

Never put your hand or fingers into the garbage disposal. The impellers aren't sharp, but they could still hurt you.

Restore power and test your garbage disposal. Once you've removed the clog, clean your disposal and practice regular maintenance to prevent future clogs.