How to Clean a Garbage Disposal (Because, Ew, It Smells)

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You figured that once your garbage disposal was installed, you’d never have to think about it again. Alas, you were wrong: A garbage disposal, like most appliances in your home, will get pretty gross if you don’t clean it from time to time. So while we hate to add another chore to your to-do list, there’s no reason to despair—here’s how to clean a garbage disposal in just a few easy steps using items you likely already have at home.

Why should you clean a garbage disposal?

Garbage disposals make short work of food waste, pulverizing leftovers and scraps into tiny particles that can then be flushed away into the plumbing system. However, some of this food sludge (yuck) can stick to the splash guard of the disposal and get left behind. In fact, it’s inevitable that this will occur to a small degree—and this gunk can accumulate over time. And so, if you never clean your garbage disposal, your handy kitchen helper could attract harmful mold and bacteria and/or begin to smell. But we’re guessing you didn’t just stumble upon this article by chance. So, what’s the solution for a yucky garbage disposal? A deep clean, of course.

How to clean a garbage disposal

The task of deep cleaning a garbage disposal might sound intimidating, but it’s not so bad. Here’s a quick and easy way to clean your garbage disposal, courtesy of the pros at InSinkErator.

What you’ll need:

1. Disconnect the power. For obvious reasons, you don’t want to clean this appliance when the power is connected. Unplug the garbage disposal—or head to the breaker box to cut the power that way, if you prefer—and be sure to check (and then check again) that the garbage disposal isn’t up and running before you get started.

2. Clean the splash guard. The splash guard, also called a sink baffle, is a piece of heavy-duty rubber that sits between the sink drain and the garbage disposal to prevent food particles from flying everywhere when the disposal is in use. If your garbage disposal has started to stink, it’s most certainly because of decaying food stuck to the splash guard. Once the appliance is turned off, remove this piece and start scrubbing it under hot water, using a scouring pad and a generous amount of dish soap.

3. Replace the splash guard. Once the splash guard is squeaky clean, return it to the sinkhole where it belongs. (Congratulations, you can pretty much declare victory at this point.)

4. Reconnect the power. Plug your garbage disposal back in—you’ll need it up and running for the final step of the cleaning process.

5. Freshen the chamber. Now that you’ve tackled the major culprit, the only thing that remains is to freshen up the parts of the garbage disposal that you don’t have easy access to—namely the chamber where all the chopping happens.  Fortunately, there’s no disassembly required here. Simply run a medium stream of cold water, turn on the disposal and dump a combination of ice cubes and lemon wedges down the sinkhole. In most cases, this is all it takes to remove any residue from the rest of the garbage disposal and get it smelling nice and fresh.

That said, if your garbage disposal is in particularly bad shape, you can start by putting one part baking soda, followed by two parts vinegar into it for a chemical reaction with added cleaning power. Let the two ingredients fizz for a few minutes; then turn on the tap and run the disposal to wash them away with hot water. After this, proceed to the ice cube and lemon trick mentioned above for a one-two punch that’s sure to get the job done.

How often should you clean a garbage disposal?

Per the experts at InSinkErator, garbage disposals are fairly low-maintenance appliances—simply running them regularly goes a long way towards flushing out the nasty stuff. Yes, they do need a deep clean occasionally, but there’s no hard and fast rule regarding how often you should do it—namely because when it’s time, your nose will know. The takeaway? Give your garbage disposal a deep clean with this step-by-step process whenever it gets smelly.

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Freelance PureWow Editor

Emma Singer is a freelance contributing editor and writer at PureWow who has over 7 years of professional proofreading, copyediting and writing experience. At PureWow, she covers...