How to Clean a Garbage Disposal

Kitchen sink drain with disposal

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Cleaning your garbage disposal can help prevent and remove foul odors, and some cleaning methods can also help keep the kitchen drains clear. When the kitchen sink starts giving off bad smells, it’s a sure sign that the garbage disposal and drains could use some cleaning. Weekly cleaning can keep the garbage disposal clean and free of smells.

The Dirtiest—And Best—Method 

Garbage disposals generally do a great job of cleaning themselves, effectively breaking up the food particles and sending them down the drain, so the chamber inside the disposal remains relatively clean. But over time, a stinky slime tends to build up on the areas that don't get scrubbed by the grinding action of the disposal. These are the undersides of the rubber baffle at the drain opening and the smooth, sloped area at the top of the grinding chamber.

Using a soapy kitchen sponge, preferably the kind with an abrasive side, scrub under the baffle—thoroughly—to get all into all of the folds and creases. Then, swipe around the top of the grinding chamber. Of course, take all necessary precautions to prevent the disposal from being turned accidentally on while your hand is down there, even though your hand shouldn't be near the grinding "teeth" at the bottom of the chamber.

If you do nothing other than clean these two key areas, you'll probably be in great shape. But if you want to take one more step, and perhaps clean out the drain pipes a bit while you're at it, then try one of the following cleaning tricks.

Baking Soda and Vinegar

Homemade disposal and drain cleaner made with baking soda and vinegar can help to clean the chamber of the garbage disposal. Pour 1/2 cup of baking soda into the garbage disposal, then slowly and carefully pour 1/2 cup of vinegar into the disposal. The mixture will fizz up like a kids' science class volcano (it's the same "lava" mixture). Use the sink stopper to trap the fizzing baking soda inside the disposal.

After a few minutes, when the fizzing has stopped, 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.

Ice and Vinegar or Rock Salt

Ice and either rock salt or vinegar are also great for cleaning a garbage disposal. Fill the disposal with ice cubes, then pour a cup of salt or vinegar into the disposal and run it for a few seconds with the water turned on. The ice helps to scrape the inside of the grinding chamber, dislodging any buildup.

Citrus Peels

Using citrus peels is a popular way to freshen up a smelly garbage disposal. The citrus oils in the peels certainly add some fragrance to the air, but the fact is, the peels do little to clean the disposal, and they do nothing to get rid of those slimy areas (which you've hopefully already cleaned with a sponge).

To give your disposal a little spritz, grind a small handful of citrus peels (cut into small pieces) in the disposal with cool water. If desired, you can also add a few ice cubes. The citrus oil can give the disposal, and the sink drains a pleasant smell that lasts a little while. Keep in mind that this freshening method works best on a relatively clean disposal.