EXPLAINER

How to clean your garbage disposal and stave off that gunk for good

It's time to clean up the ultimate clean-up tool

By Camryn Rabideau

Published April 22, 2022 3:25PM (EDT)

 (Rocky Luten / Food52)
(Rocky Luten / Food52)

This story first appeared on Food52, an online community that gives you everything you need for a happier kitchen and home – that means tested recipes, a shop full of beautiful products, a cooking hotline, and everything in between!

Clean Like You Mean It shows you how to tackle the trickiest spots in your home — whether they're just plain gross or need some elbow grease. You'll get the cleaning secrets we've learned from grandma, a guide to our handiest tools and helpers, and so much more. Pull on those rubber gloves and queue up the tunes: It's scour hour!

Speaking as someone who didn't have a garbage disposal until she was 25, these kitchen appliances are honestly the best. Gone are the days when you have to fish little chunks of food out of a drain filter or worry about gunk getting clogged up in your pipes. Instead, all you have to do is flip a little switch, and woosh! There it all goes, shredded into tiny pieces.

Like any kitchen appliance, though, garbage disposals require regular cleaning, and if you skip out on maintenance, you can often end up with a stinky, slimy mess on your hands. After all, the food particles that don't get washed down the drain can quickly rot. The good news, however, is that it's actually very easy to clean a garbage disposal — and that's coming from someone who absolutely hates cleaning. Here's what you should do to keep your disposal pristine and odor-free.

For a quick-and-easy clean

It's a good idea to give your garbage disposal a quick cleaning on a weekly basis, but that doesn't mean you have to take everything apart and scour every inch. For a low-effort cleaning method, start by flipping up the splash guard — the rubber panel that sits around the drain hole — and wiping off any gunk that's accumulated on its underside. (This is often the cause of odors.) Some guards can even be removed and out in the dishwasher for hands-off cleaning.

Once you've taken care of that, toss a few handfuls of ice cubes into the garbage disposal, and turn it on without water. The ice will help break up any food particles that are stuck on the blades. Once you hear the grinding has mostly stopped, turn on the cold water to flush out the disposal and let it run for at least 30 seconds.

To freshen it up

If you want your garbage disposal to smell fresh and clean, there are a few tricks you can use to neutralize any odors and give it a pleasant scent. Start by pouring half a cup of baking soda into the drain. (This doesn't have to be an exact measurement, so feel free to eyeball it.) Then, follow it up with about a cup of white vinegar — the combination will fizz up, breaking down any lingering crud. Let it work its magic for 10 minutes or so, then use hot water to rinse it out.

From here, toss a few citrus peels into the garbage disposal. I like to use lemon, but orange or lime work just as well. Run cold tap water and turn on the disposal to make it smell bright and clean. You can use this trick every few days as needed — personally, I do it any time I have leftover lemon peels.

For a periodic deep clean

Once or twice a year, you may want to deep clean your garbage disposal, especially if it has a lingering odor. To do this, you'll want to unplug the appliance and/or turn off its circuit breaker. Be sure to test the power switch to ensure it's truly off.

Next, put on a pair of rubber gloves — this part can get kind of gross — and use either a sponge or long-handle scrub brush to wipe down the interior of the grinding chamber. The blades in these appliances aren't overly sharp, but you'll still want to work carefully to avoid nicking yourself. Rinse your cleaning tool frequently to get rid of the gunk, and be sure to get the top and underside of the splash guard.

Once the grinding chamber is clean, you can plug the garbage disposal back in and run hot water through it for a few minutes to really flush it out. Feel free to follow up with either of the methods outlined above to freshen it up.

Tips for maintaining a garbage disposal

If you want to keep your garbage disposal in fighting condition, it's important to treat it properly. There are a few important guidelines that people often forget, but these easy steps will ensure your garbage disposal works optimally for years to come.

  • Don't overload your disposal: If you have a large amount of food waste to dispose of, put it down into the disposal a little at a time.
  • Know what can't go down the drain: Garbage disposals can handle a lot, but there are certain foods that can damage or break your appliance. You shouldn't put grease, bones, fruit pits, or pasta down the garbage disposal, and fibrous produce, like celery or onion peels can get stuck as well. Try composting these instead!
  • Flush it out: Odors in your garbage disposal are often caused by pieces of food that don't get washed all the way down the drain. Run water for 20-30 seconds after grinding to thoroughly flush out the grinding chamber and pipes.
  • Avoid harsh cleaning chemicals: You shouldn't use bleach or other harsh chemical cleaners in your garbage disposal, as they can corrode the metal components of the appliance and wreak havoc on your pipes.

Camryn Rabideau

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