If you’ve got a garbage disposal unit in your sink, you might notice that it sometimes smells. Or maybe it’s making a loud grinding noise, or just not working as efficiently. Cleaning and maintaining your garbage disposal is important to keep it working properly. A properly cleaned garbage disposal can last for years! Follow these tips from our cleaning Pros to get the most out of your garbage disposal.
How to clean a garbage disposal
If you’ve never considered cleaning your garbage disposal, you’re not alone. After all, it’s in your sink. Doesn’t it get washed every day? But how clean your garbage disposal depends on what you put down it. Your garbage disposal’s name is a little misleading. You can’t throw just anything down the sink. Some foods could clog the machine, while others can cause damage to the pipes and wastewater. Here are some common things you can and can’t put down a garbage disposal.
CAN GO DOWN GARBAGE DISPOSAL
DON’T PUT DOWN GARBAGE DISPOSAL
Most fruit, peel, and rind
Grease or oil
Vegetable scraps, corn cobs
Cooked meat (small amounts)
Large amounts of peel or rind
Small bones (poultry, fish)
Corn husks, potato or banana peel
It’s a good idea to clean your garbage disposal each week as part of your regular routine, no matter what you use it for. An easy way to do this is to use a stopper or plug to block the garbage disposal. Then fill your sink with hot, soapy water. Regular dish soap is fine. Pull the plug and run the garbage disposal to flush it with the hot water.
How to clean garbage disposal with ice
Another quick way of cleaning your garbage disposal is to use ice. The cold freezes and traps any debris or grease inside the disposal. It then gets ground up and flushed out like anything else you put down there!
Step 1: Run cold water down the sink and turn on the disposal
Step 2: Tip 2 trays of ice cubes into the disposal — it will be loud, don’t worry!
Step 3: When the sound of ice grinding stops, keep running the water and disposal for another minute
If you want to supercharge the power of ice, add rock salt or sea salt. This helps scour the blades clean.
Step 1: Fill the garbage disposal with 2 cups of ice
Step 2: Pour over 1 cup of salt
Step 3: Run cold water and turn on the garbage disposal
Step 4: Keep running the cold water and disposal for a minute after you stop hearing the ice grinding
Pro Tip: Got other problem appliances in your kitchen? Learn how to clean a smelly dishwasher now!
How to clean a garbage disposal smell
Sometimes garbage disposal units can start to give off an unpleasant odor. If you need to clean a smelly garbage disposal, you can add a few slices of lemon or lime to the above water or ice methods. The disposal blade can handle the rinds, and you’ll get a pleasant burst of citrus too. You can even use just the fruit to help you clean your garbage disposal.
How to clean a garbage disposal with lemon
Lemons are great for cleaning. The acidity of lemon juice can cut through grease and grime, and lemon juice even has antibacterial properties. That means it can fight the bacteria that cause drain smells!
- Take a lemon and cut it into wedges
- Run cold water and start the garbage disposal
- Put the wedges into the disposal, one piece at a time
- Run the disposal for another minute after you hear the grinding stop
Putting citrus fruit into your garbage disposal is loud, and might sound like something is breaking. It’s okay. The rind is tough and it can take a couple of minutes for the disposal to break up each rind. But as long as all you hear is a loud grinding sound, the disposal is working as it should. The extra work of the blades going through the rind will even help clean them, leaving your garbage disposal smelling fresh and lemony clean.
How to clean a garbage disposal with baking soda and vinegar
Baking soda and white vinegar are other favorite cleaning hacks that our Pros use! They can be used to clean so many things, and your garbage disposal is no exception. And it couldn’t be easier.
- Pour ½ cup baking soda into the garbage disposal
- Follow with 1 cup white vinegar
- Let sit for 10-15 minutes. It may fizz up, that’s okay!
- Run cold water and turn on the garbage disposal for 1-2 minutes
The mixture not only dislodges trapped dirt and grease, but the baking soda will scour the disposal blades while the vinegar neutralizes any unpleasant odors. You can also switch the vinegar with hydrogen peroxide for the same effect — but don’t mix vinegar and hydrogen peroxide together.
Can you clean a garbage disposal with bleach?
If your garbage disposal is very smelly, you can use bleach as a cleaning solution. However, you should only do this sparingly. High amounts of bleach can actually harden grease, making it harder to remove. This can make your garbage disposal problems worse, not better.
Bleach doesn’t unclog drains. It should only be used as a disinfectant for odor and bacteria.
Step 1: Add 1 tablespoon bleach to 1-gallon cold water
Step 2: Slowly pour the water into the garbage disposal, taking care not to splash it
Step 3: Let sit for 1-2 minutes
Step 4: Run cold water and turn on the garbage disposal
Step 5: Run the disposal for 4-5 minutes
Garbage disposal maintenance
The best way to properly look after your garbage disposal unit is to stay on top of routine maintenance. This will keep your machine fresh and clean for years to come.
The most important thing to consider is what you put down your garbage disposal. It’s not just about what the blades can process, but what happens in your drain too. Starchy foods like pasta and rice can swell up and block the drain. Stringy foods like corn husks and banana peel can get tangled in the machinery. And non-food items like fruit stickers or tissues should never be flushed down a drain.
Some other foods can also cause problems for your garbage disposal. Coffee grounds are hard to completely clear out, and they can end up causing blockages in the unit. Eggshell membranes can have the same effect. While you can put these foods down a garbage disposal, plumbers recommend only doing so sparingly.
More garbage disposal dos and don’ts
- DO use cold water
Cold water is important because it keeps any fat or grease in the food solid. This prevents it from sticking to the garbage disposal or pipes.
- DO use occasional de-greaser treatments
Always use treatments designed for use with garbage disposal units. Even with the best care, there will be some small amounts of grease in the food you throw away, so it’s a good idea to run a treatment every 4-6 months.
- DO run the disposal every few days, even if you’re not grinding food
Your garbage disposal can seize or rust if you don’t run it regularly. It won’t hurt to turn on the water and run it for a minute without anything inside.
- DO run the disposal for an additional minute after each use
Just because you don’t hear grinding anymore, doesn’t mean all the food waste has completely gone. Let the disposal run for another minute to thoroughly flush waste away.
- DO keep the water running for 15-20 seconds after turning the disposal off
If you can still hear the blades turning, your water should be running. Those extra few seconds protect the garbage disposal from unnecessary wear.
- DO use a strong flow of water
The purpose of the water is to lubricate the inside of the disposal and flush food waste away. It can’t do that if you’re only running a trickle, so turn the faucet up!
- DON’T use hot water
Hot water will melt the fat solids in food and make them more likely to cause blockages in your pipes.
- DON’T overfill the disposal
If you’re disposing of lots of food waste, put it down the garbage disposal a bit at a time to prevent blockages.
- DON’T use harsh cleaners
Some cleaners contain toxic chemicals that can corrode the inside of the garbage disposal unit. They could also splash out of the unit when it’s turned on. Stick to natural cleaners and those designed for garbage disposal units.
- DON’T put non-food waste down a garbage disposal
It’s important that you stick to this, even with small things like fruit stickers. If it isn’t food waste, it doesn’t belong in your garbage disposal or down your kitchen drain.
Keeping your garbage disposal cleaned and maintained is a simple job, but often gets overlooked. By adding cleaning your unit to your regular cleaning routine, you can ensure your garbage disposal is always working properly. It can also stop the accumulation of waste and bacteria that lead to bad odors. However, if it’s been a while since your garbage disposal was cleaned, don’t panic. It’s still a quick and easy job to freshen your garbage disposal and get it running — and smelling — like new.