How to Clean a Garbage Disposal to Eliminate Stinky Odors

A few common kitchen ingredients work wonders on this hardworking appliance.

close up of a garbage disposal with water draining
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Even if you're diligent about food scraps and run plenty of water when using your garbage disposal, it's likely to accumulate smelly food particles over time. Cleaning a garbage disposal requires scraping away built-up grime and deodorizing it while paying attention to the disposal chamber, splash guard, and trap.

Although it's often overlooked, the garbage disposal is an essential item on your kitchen cleaning checklist. Make the process easier by utilizing the natural cleaning materials you already use to clean countertops and kitchen appliances. The best way to clean and get smells out of a garbage disposal is a combination of the methods outlined below.

These tips for how to clean a garbage disposal will remove odor and grime while helping to keep the appliance running smoothly.

water running down sink into garbage disposal
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How to Clean a Garbage Disposal

Before cleaning your garbage disposal, turn on cold water and run it to empty the chamber of any debris. If it sounds like something might be stuck, turn off the disposal. For safety, wear rubber gloves and unplug the disposal before putting your hand in the chamber. Then, carefully reach in and pull out any large debris.

What You Need

  • Ice
  • Rock salt
  • Cold water
  • Baking soda
  • Vinegar
  • Dish soap
  • Old toothbrush
  • Sponge
  • Antibacterial cleaner
  • Lemon

Step 1: Clean a Garbage Disposal with Ice

Check out the product manual (often easily downloaded from the manufacturer or retailer website) for cleaning instructions for your disposal model. For example, Insinkerator suggests grinding hard materials, like ice, to scour the chamber.

Place a few cups of ice into the chamber to clean a garbage disposal with ice. Turn on cold water, then the disposal, running both until well after the ice is gone. For additional friction to remove pesky interior crud, add salt (large rock salt is especially effective) to the ice.

Although the popular hack that pairs ice cubes with hot water might seem effective, professionals and product manufacturers don't recommend using hot water while running the disposal.

Step 2: Clean a Garbage Disposal with Baking Soda and Vinegar

Another common cleaning solution is baking soda, which acts as a deodorizer and a scouring agent. For example, KitchenAid recommends stopping the drain and filling the sink with warm water and 1/4 cup baking soda, then removing the stopper while turning on the disposal. Similarly, you can pour both baking soda and distilled white vinegar into the chamber, letting it sit for a few minutes before turning on the tap and disposal to rinse.

Step 3: Reduce Odors

Cleaning a garbage disposal chamber will help remove food residue, but it might not entirely eliminate odors. Scrubbing the splash guard and adding a natural scent freshens any lingering smells.

Step 4: Clean a Garbage Disposal Rubber Flange

The garbage disposal splash guard—the rubber flanges around the drain that prevent food particles from coming back up—can be a significant source of gunk and odor. To clean, apply grease-cutting dish soap to an old toothbrush and scrub under the splash guard, scraping off any residue that clings. For extra protection, use an antibacterial cleaner to help combat smelly bacteria buildup.

Step 5: Clean a Garbage Disposal with Lemon

In addition to the baking soda and vinegar method, lemon can be used to eliminate garbage disposal smells. Grind lemon, lime, or other citrus peelings to remove odors, and grease the grinder blades for a good clean, too. Recommendations for combatting disposal stink vary from fresh or frozen peels to wedges or quarters of lemon. Experiment to find what works best with your disposal and the strength of your grinder.

Step 6: Clean the Garbage Disposal Trap

Cold water helps flush debris in the disposal trap (the S- or P-pipe that connects to the disposal under the sink). However, if it's clogged or draining slowly, it could mean things like coffee grounds or starchy foods are wedged in the trap.

Don't use traditional chemical drain-cleaning products in a garbage disposal. Instead, place a bucket underneath the sink and remove the S-trap or P-trap. Clean out any stuck-on debris using a bottle brush and soapy water. Rinse with clean water before reassembling the disposal trap.

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