How to Clean a Garbage Disposal

person pouring citrus peels into a garbage disposal

The Spruce / Lacey Johnson

Overview
  • Total Time: 20 mins
  • Skill Level: Beginner

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

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How to Properly Clean a Garbage Disposal

How Often to Clean the Garbage Disposal

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.

Over time a stinky slime builds up over the areas that don't get scrubbed by the disposal's grinding action. These are the undersides 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

  • Sink stopper
  • Rubber gloves (optional)

Materials

  • Kitchen sponge with an abrasive side
  • Dish soap
  • 1/2 cup baking soda (optional)
  • 1/2 to 1 cup vinegar (optional)
  • Ice (optional)
  • 1 cup rock salt (optional)
  • 1/3 cup bleach solution (optional)
  • Citrus peels (optional)

Instructions

materials to clean a garbage disposal
The Spruce / Lacey Johnson 

How to Clean a Disposal With a Soapy Sponge

  1. Turn off the Power

    Turn off the power to prevent the disposal from being turned accidentally on 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

    Apply dish soap to an abrasive kitchen sponge and scrub thoroughly under the baffle to get all into all of the folds and creases. Rinse the sponge frequently to remove all the gunk.

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

    Swipe 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.

    If you do nothing other than clean these two key areas, your sink will probably be in great shape. But if you want to freshen the disposal and drainpipe while you're at it, then continue to the next step of adding in baking soda and vinegar (or read on for the ice, and either rock salt, or vinegar technique).

    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 1/2 cup of vinegar into the disposal.

    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 fizz up like a kids' science class volcano (it's the same "lava" mixture). The sink stopper traps the fizzing baking soda inside the disposal.

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

    Wait a few 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 Disposal With Ice and Vinegar or Rock Salt

Ice, and either rock salt, or vinegar are also great for cleaning a garbage disposal. 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 salt or vinegar into the disposal.

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

    Run the disposal for several seconds with the water turned on to grind up the ice. Repeat all the steps if necessary.

    flushing the garbage disposal with water
    The Spruce / Lacey Johnson 

Tips for Deodorizing a Garbage Disposal

If the disposal is really smelly, or you have tried other cleaners and still get a foul odor, you can use a diluted bleach solution of two parts warm water and one part bleach. Don't use more than 1/3 cup of bleach, and wear gloves when pouring into the drain. After pouring the bleach solution into the drain, run warm (not hot) water down the drain for several seconds.

Using citrus peels is another 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 are hopefully already sponged clean).

To give your disposal a little spritz of fragrance, 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 a pleasant smell that lasts a little while. Keep in mind that this freshening method works best on a relatively clean disposal.

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