How to Clean a Garbage Disposal

Cleaning With Baking Soda and Vinegar, Ice, Citrus, & More

Illustration showing how to clean a garbage disposal

The Spruce / Paige McLaughlin

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 20 mins
  • Total Time: 30 mins
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $0-$10

If you notice odors coming from your kitchen sink, they're often due to a smelly garbage disposal. Garbage disposal cleaning might seem daunting or even dangerous. But it's fairly easy to deep clean a garbage disposal that smells if you know the proper methods. There are several options for how to clean a garbage disposal, including with baking soda and vinegar, ice, and lemon peels.

Here are two step-by-step methods for how to clean a garbage disposal, including the drain and trap. Plus, get tips for how to clean a smelly garbage disposal to fully deodorize it—no hazardous chemicals required.

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How to Properly Clean a Garbage Disposal

How Often to Clean the Garbage Disposal

Garbage disposals generally do a good job of cleaning themselves, effectively breaking up food particles and sending them down the drain. So the chamber inside the disposal remains relatively clean.

But over time, a stinky slime builds up over the areas that the disposal's grinding action doesn't scrub. These areas include the underside of the rubber baffle at the drain opening and the smooth, sloped area at the top of the grinding chamber.

Weekly cleaning can keep the garbage disposal clean and free of smells.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Kitchen sponge with an abrasive side
  • Sink stopper
  • Rubber gloves (optional)

Materials

  • Dish soap
  • 1/2 cup baking soda
  • 1 cup vinegar
  • Water
  • Ice cubes
  • 1 cup rock salt

Instructions

materials to clean a garbage disposal
The Spruce / Lacey Johnson 

How to Clean a Garbage Disposal With Soap, Baking Soda, and Vinegar

  1. Turn Off the Power

    Turn off the power to prevent the disposal from accidentally running while you are cleaning, even though your hand shouldn't be near the grinding "teeth" at the bottom of the chamber. Unplug the disposal from the outlet under the sink, or turn off the disposal's breaker in your home's service panel (breaker box).

    person turning off the power switch to the garbage disposal
    The Spruce / Lacey Johnson 
  2. Clean the Baffle

    Put on rubber gloves if you wish. Apply dish soap to an abrasive kitchen sponge. Then, scrub thoroughly under the disposal baffle and around the drain to get into all of the folds and grooves. Rinse the sponge frequently to remove the gunk.

    person inserting a soapy sponge into the garbage disposal
    The Spruce / Lacey Johnson  
  3. Clean the Grinding Chamber

    Use your soapy sponge to scrub around the top of the grinding chamber. Again, rinse the sponge frequently. Repeat until the sponge pulls up no more gunk and the disposal's surfaces feel clean.

    You can stop here if your disposal just needs a light cleaning. But if you want to clean a smelly garbage disposal, drain, and trap—or it's been a while since your last cleaning—continue to the next step.

    person scrubbing the inside of a garbage disposal
    The Spruce / Lacey Johnson  
  4. Add the Baking Soda and Vinegar

    Pour 1/2 cup of baking soda into the garbage disposal. Then, slowly and carefully pour 1 cup of vinegar into the disposal.

    Tip

    As natural cleaning products, baking soda and vinegar won't damage a garbage disposal like harsher chemicals can. However, due to its acidity, excessive vinegar use can wear down the rubber components of a disposal system over time. So this method is best for when your garbage disposal needs a deep cleaning.

    person pouring baking soda down the garbage disposal
    The Spruce / Lacey Johnson 
  5. Cover the Drain

    Place the sink stopper over the drain opening. The mixture of baking soda and vinegar will immediately fizz up, and the stopper will trap that fizzy scrubbing action inside the disposal.

    person covering the drain with a stopper
    The Spruce / Lacey Johnson 
  6. Flush the Disposal

    Wait at least 10 minutes. Then, remove the stopper, and flush the disposal with hot water while running the garbage disposal.

    If the sink has two basins, the cleaner will work best if both sides are cleaned at the same time. Use the same amounts of baking soda and vinegar in the other sink drain. Repeat all steps if needed.

    flushing the garbage disposal with water
    The Spruce / Lacey Johnson 

How to Clean a Garbage Disposal With Ice and Rock Salt or Vinegar

Ice and either rock salt or vinegar are also great for garbage disposal cleaning. The ice helps to scrape the inside of the grinding chamber, dislodging any buildup.

  1. Add Ice

    Fill the disposal with ice cubes.

    adding ice to a garbage disposal
    The Spruce / Lacey Johnson 
  2. Add Salt or Vinegar

    Pour 1 cup of rock salt or vinegar into the disposal.

    pouring vinegar down a garbage disposal
    The Spruce / Lacey Johnson 
  3. Run the Disposal

    Run the disposal for several seconds with the water turned on to grind up the ice.

    Repeat all the steps if necessary if you still notice grime or an odor.

    flushing the garbage disposal with water
    The Spruce / Lacey Johnson 

Tips for Deodorizing a Garbage Disposal

If you need to clean a really smelly garbage disposal—or if you've already tried vinegar and baking soda and still get a foul odor—you can use a diluted bleach solution. It is not OK to pour straight bleach down a garbage disposal, as it's a strong chemical that can eat away at the disposal components.

Instead, make a diluted bleach solution of 2 parts warm water to 1 part bleach. Don't use more than 1/3 cup bleach total. Then, pour the solution down the drain, and run warm water for several seconds to flush the solution through the drain, garbage disposal, and trap. Wear rubber gloves when mixing and pouring the solution.

Cleaning a garbage disposal with lemon and other citrus peels is another popular deodorizing method. Simply put a few peels cut into small pieces into the disposal, and run the disposal with cool water turned on. The citrus oils will add a fresh scent. However, the peels will do little to actually clean the disposal and get rid of any grime or sliminess. You can throw some ice cubes in with the citrus peels for more cleaning action.

pouring citrus peels down a garbage disposal
The Spruce / Lacey Johnson 

Maintenance Tips to Keep Garbage Disposals Clean

To keep your garbage disposal running smoothly, follow these best practices:

  • Don't attempt to grind a lot of food waste at once. 
  • Know what shouldn't go into a garbage disposal, such as large pits, coffee grounds, stringy vegetables, and bones.
  • Avoid pouring cooking grease and oil down the drain, as it can harden and clog the disposal.
  • Run water when using your garbage disposal to thoroughly flush out the food waste.
  • Run the disposal until you no longer hear it breaking up any food—and then keep it running just a few seconds longer to allow it to clear small food particles.