How to Clean a Garbage Disposal in 4 Simple Steps

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Design: Emily Henderson ,Photo: Sara Tramp

If you think about what goes down your garbage disposal, it's no surprise it can sometimes invite unappealing odors into your kitchen. It's dark, dank, and breaks down the remnants of your casseroles and produce, so you should expect to clean it frequently to avoid unpleasant odors ruining your appetite while you prep dinner.

Cleaning your garbage disposal will not only keep bad odors away but can also extend the life of your disposal. And while you probably don't give your disposal much thought, as soon as it stops working you remember just how much you need it.

Here's what you need to know to eliminate bad odors and keep your disposal clean.

How Often Should You Clean Your Garbage Disposal?

While some tasks can wait for your annual spring cleaning, this isn't one of them. We recommend cleaning your disposal any time you smell odors leaking from it or at least every two weeks. Any longer and food particles start to build up around the mechanism and can corrode the parts.

If that sounds like a lot, the good news is cleaning a disposal is quick and easy so all you need to do is set a reminder and get to it.

Things You'll Need

  • Ice
  • Salt
  • Baking Soda
  • Vinegar
  • Lemon Peels
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Step 1: Run Cold Water Through First

Before you get started, it's important to clear out anything in your disposal. Run cold water for roughly three to five minutes and ensure nothing sounds like it's stuck in your disposal. If it sounds like you have bits of food stuck inside, carefully take apart your disposal according to instructions before proceeding.

Step 2: Place Ice Cubes and Salt In

Once you've ensured there are no large food pieces stuck, one of the easiest and fastest ways to keep your disposal clean is simply by using ice. This method works best for maintenance cleaning (we recommend doing it at least once every two weeks).

Pour about two cups of ice into your disposal and one cup of coarse salt (think rock salt) and run your disposal. Make sure to keep the cold water running and continue this for about five to 10 seconds or until all of the ice is crushed.

The ice and salt will stick to small particles in your disposal and unlodge any residue that has been lingering.

Step 3: Mix Baking Soda and Vinegar

If you've waited a bit longer to do this chore (no judgment here), you may want to try something with a little more disinfecting power. This method requires a half-a-cup of baking soda and a cup of white or apple cider vinegar. First, pour the baking soda and then the vinegar. Let it bubble and fizz for about five minutes to allow it time to penetrate into the nooks and crannies.

Once it's worked it's way into a fizzy mixture, run the disposal and let cold water flow through for about a minute or so. This will help clear out any lingering particles and disinfect your disposal so you can avoid nasty smells in the future.

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Step 4: Freshen It Up With Citrus

Finished with all of the above but still smell something lingering behind? Reach for a natural deodorizer to freshen your sink and fill your kitchen with a lovely smell.

Next time you use an orange or a lemon, save the peel. Cut up a citrus peel and run it through the disposal. Make sure each piece of peel is small so it doesn't get lodged in your disposal and drop pieces in one at a time while running the disposal. The blades will break up the peel and release the citrus oils to work as a natural deodorizer.

Tips to Keep Your Garbage Disposal Clean Longer

Any spring cleaning procrastinator will tell you, the best cleaning method is one where you don't need to clean it at all. By keeping your disposal clean and debris-free as long as possible, you can get by going longer stretches before doing a deep clean and ensure you don't have any issues in the meantime.

First, make sure you never put items down your disposal that shouldn't go down. Coffee grinds, pasta, rice, bones, and eggshells are just a handful of the items you should never toss down there. To be safe, dump as much food as possible into the trash first to avoid anything getting stuck.

When you do need to get rid of food, always run your disposal for at least 30 seconds. This ensures the machine can grind away all bits and pieces and clear everything away. After you turn the disposal off, run your water for at least 20 seconds to help everything slide through.