How to Clean a Garbage Disposal

Most kitchens have garbage disposals, but it needs maintenance to run smoothly. Here’s how to clean a garbage disposal properly, care for it, and troubleshoot common problems.

how to clean a garbage disposal running water to flush

Garbage disposals are extremely helpful in the kitchen. They cut down on trash and make cleaning up after meals much quicker.

Like any kitchen appliance, your garbage disposal needs cleaning to keep running smoothly and free of odors. Let’s talk about the proper daily care of garbage disposals and how to keep yours clean. 

How to Properly Operate a Garbage Disposal

putting food down the garbage disposal

Do you know that there is a proper way to operate your garbage disposal? Here are the steps to operate it to ensure that it will last longer and not get clogged:

  • Run cold water into the sink from the faucet.
  • Turn the disposal on.
  • Gradually add food to the disposal with a wooden spoon or spatula, never your fingers. Keep the utensils you are using out of your disposal. Just use it to push the food. 
  • When you hear that the disposal has ground all the food, turn it off. 
  • Let the water run for a little longer to clear the pipes. 

Never run a dry disposal. Water helps soften the food and move it out of the garbage disposal. 

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Weekly Garbage Disposal Cleaning

It is important to clean your garbage disposal weekly to keep it operating in great shape. Here’s how to clean your garbage disposal each week using vinegar and baking soda.

Yes, it is okay to put baking soda in a garbage disposal. Baking soda is gentle yet powerful and won’t harm the disposal. 

  • Pour ½ cup baking soda into the disposal.
  • Pour 1 cup vinegar into the disposal. 
  • Let it sit for 10 minutes. 
  • Turn the disposal on.
  • Run hot water for a few minutes to rinse.

To freshen up the disposal between cleanings, throw some lemon or orange peels into the disposal and run it for a pleasant scent. You can also buy garbage disposal tablets to freshen up the disposal. 

Deep Cleaning a Garbage Disposal

Deep cleaning is more intensive than weekly cleaning and should be done once a month or when the disposal is not working optimally. Use the following steps when deep cleaning the garbage disposal:

1. Turn the Power to the Disposal Off

It isn’t safe to deep clean the disposal when the power is on. To ensure your safety while deep cleaning, cut power at the breaker box.

Taking the extra steps to turn off the power will keep you safe from potential injury. 

2. Clear the Drain

Once the power is off, it’s time to clear the drain. Grab a flashlight for proper lighting, and use your hand to move aside any protective flaps in the drain above the garbage disposal. 

While shining the flashlight into the drain and holding back the flaps, use a set of tongs or needle nose pliers to pull out any food particles you see. If you must use your hands, wear protective gloves to avoid bacterial contamination. 

3. Clean the Disposal

Once the preparation steps are complete, you can begin the deep clean. Use the following steps to clean the empty, powered-off disposal:

  • Run some warm water into the disposal, then turn off the water.
  • Scrub out the inside of the disposal with a damp sponge or a scrub brush with a long handle. 
  • Remove the scrubber tools, tongs, or pliers, and your hand, and turn the power back on to the disposal. 
  • Run some warm water and dish soap through the disposal to help clean out the pipes. 
  • Throw in a handful of ice cubes, and optional rock salt, and run the disposal with the water running to help clean the blades.

Now you have a super clean garbage disposal. If you begin weekly cleanings after the deep cleaning, you’ll maintain a clean, well-operating disposal. 

How to Clean the Garbage Disposal to Eliminate Foul Odors

cutting lemon peel to put into the garbage disposal to get rid of odor

Foul odors are a sign it is time to clean your garbage disposal. If you are cleaning specifically to remove odors, try the following:

  • Grind up lemons or oranges or just the peels. 
  • Use garbage disposal tablets.
  • Pour ½ cup baking soda into the disposal. Let it sit for 10 minutes.
  • Pour 1 cup vinegar into the disposal and let it sit for 10 minutes with the baking soda. 
  • Rinse and run the disposal. 

Unclogging a Garbage Disposal

Even a well-maintained garbage disposal can develop clogs from food particles left behind.

If you are experiencing frequent clogging, you may need to clear it out manually. Try the following steps to unclog the disposal:

  • Use a toilet plunger, and with the disposal and water running, apply pressure from the plunger just as you would with a clogged toilet. 
  • Clear the disposal manually using the deep cleaning method: power off, then use tongs or pliers to remove particles.
  • Use the baking soda and vinegar mixture mentioned above and allow it to sit for 20 minutes to help break up the clog. 
  • Try a powerful clog remover designed for drains.

If none of these methods work, the clog could be further down in the pipes. In that case, it might be time to call in a professional. 

When to Call a Professional

When DIY home maintenance isn’t enough, you may need to call in a professional. Here’s when to call a professional to fix your garbage disposal:

  • You can’t remove the clog after trying everything.
  • The disposal won’t turn on.
  • You must replace an old disposal or install one for the first time.
  • The disposal is leaking under the sink. 

Call a professional plumber to step in whenever you have exhausted all your options or aren’t comfortable cleaning, unclogging, or repairing the disposal on your own.

Helpful Products

We tried a few products to make cleaning out the garbage disposal easier. Let’s take a look at the results:

1. Garbage Disposal Tablets

Active Citrus Scent Disposal Cleaner is a winner. The foaming action works much like baking soda and vinegar to clean the disposal. They are gentle enough to use infrequently to freshen up the disposal or cut foul odors. 

Bastion Garbage Disposal Tablets are nice to use when the disposal is emitting an unpleasant odor. They have a citrus lemon scent, but the Active Disposal Cleaner has better cleaning potential. 

2. Scrub Brushes

Scrub brushes are great to avoid sticking your hand in the disposal to clean it. This Universal Cleaning Brush is a great solution, and the unique head makes it perfect for garbage disposal cleaning. 

3. Cleaning Gloves

The leftover food particles in garbage disposals create bacteria. Wearing cleaning gloves is your best protection like these reusable cleaning gloves that come in various colors. 

4. Drain Clog Remover

Chemical drain cleaners/clog removers help to unclog drains such as CLR Drain Cleaner. Use it when you can’t see what is clogging the disposal. Don’t use drain cleaner too frequently since it can cause damage if used too often. 

The household name Drano Clog Remover is an excellent choice when you need help removing a clog from the garbage disposal. 


how to clean a garbage disposal and troubleshoot when it's not working properly

Foul Odors Coming From the Disposal?

Small food particles that get stuck or left behind eventually mold and smell bad. Plus, think of all that goes through the disposal each day. Eventually, it’s going to smell. 

Does It Keep Clogging?

A clog now and then is normal, but if it is clogging every day, there may be a bigger underlying issue. Give the disposal a deep cleaning to remove any food particles that might be causing the clog. 

Is It Under Performing?

Do you notice the disposal is slowing down or not chopping up the food well? If so, that’s low performance, and a cleaning might do the trick. 

Hearing Unusual Sounds When It Runs?

Most garbage disposals make some noise when they run, but what should you do if it starts making an unusual sound? Try a deep cleaning to see if it helps. 

The cleaning may not solve the problem if it’s a pipe or motor issue. Still, it’s the most straightforward place to start. 

Small appliances like garbage disposals last longer and run more efficiently when well cared for. This requires regular and deep cleanings and quick removal of any clogs.

Remember to clean your disposal weekly, then give it a deep cleaning once a month. Cleaning regularly and maintaining your disposal will save you from a costly replacement.

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Anika Gandhi is on a mission to declutter and organize all the things around her and is here to inspire and encourage you to do the same!

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