How To Clean Your Garbage Disposal

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These are the easy steps to clean your kitchen garbage disposal and keep your sink’s drain unclogged and odor-free.

Closeup of clean garbage disposal in kitchen sink

Cleaning your kitchen sink disposer prevents clogs. A poorly maintained garbage disposal drains slowly, and sometimes it stops draining at all. The result? Your sink backs up with dirty, sludge-filled water. If you have a divided sink, the drain in the side without the garbage disposal may back up, too.

Why You Should Clean Your Garbage Disposal

Over time, greasy food residue can build up inside your garbage disposal unit. That grease collects food particles and other debris, which all sit there rotting. The smell of rotting food is produced by microbes like bacteria, yeast, and mold. So, as that matter builds up in your garbage disposal, it will cause unpleasant kitchen odors telling you — and anyone else who walks into your home — that your garbage disposal needs cleaning.

A Dirty Garbage Disposal Attracts Pests

Dirty disposals breed fruit flies and attract other household pests. So, if you’ve been trying to get rid of fruit flies or haven’t had luck getting rid of cockroaches, this might be why. A bit of up-front deep cleaning and a minute of daily maintenance will help get those pests and kitchen odors under control. Here’s how.

How to Clean Your Garbage Disposal

Time required: 10 minutes

Equipment You’ll Need

  • Needle-nosed pliers
  • Bowl
  • Old toothbrush

Materials You’ll Need

  • Liquid dish soap
  • Ice cubes
  • Table salt
  • Baking soda (bicarbonate)

1. Turn It Off!

Make sure the switch to your garbage disposal is turned off. If you’re starting this task because your kitchen garbage disposal stopped working, the switch may still be on. As soon as you dislodge whatever’s jammed your disposal, it’ll start working — even if your fingers are in there. Don’t let that happen. Turn it off.

2. Remove Lodged Objects

With your disposal off, feel around its inner walls. The blades in your kitchen garbage disposer are very sharp and may not be fully retracted, so be careful to avoid slicing open your finger. Pull out any fish bones, pieces of plastic wrap, or other things you find lodged in the disposer. Use the needle-nosed pliers if the item is difficult to grab with your fingers.

3. Flush and Degrease It

Turn your kitchen faucet to hot and get it going full blast over the disposal. Turn the garbage disposal on and slowly squirt a few drops of dish soap directly into the disposal while the faucet runs. The water will start cleaning and degreasing the blades while they whir. Let the blades run for a full minute, then turn the disposal off. Turn off the water after the disposal blades stop moving.

4. Scour the Blades

With the faucet off, and pour 2 cups of ice cubes down the disposal. Sprinkle in 1/4 cup salt. Now, turn your kitchen faucet to cold and get it going full blast, then start your garbage disposal. The ice will help remove any remaining grease buildup while the salt scours the disposal unit’s blades and walls. Turn off the disposal and wait for the blades to stop running, then turn off the faucet.

5. Clean the Gasket

Using your fingers, lift the black rubber flaps in your kitchen garbage disposal until they stand up. These flaps are known as the gasket. Everything that goes down the drain on this side of your kitchen sink also crosses the gasket, so it gets pretty nasty. Sometimes, grime collects on the underside of the gasket’s flaps, too. And that buildup is where fruit flies like to breed.

So, while you’ve got the flaps pulled up, fill a bowl with hot water and add a squirt of dish soap. Then, using an old toothbrush, scrub the garbage disposal’s rubber gasket with soapy water. Sprinkle on baking soda (bicarbonate) for added scrubbing power if you need it. Once you’re done scrubbing, pour the bowl of soapy water down the disposal to rinse the gasket and press the flaps back into place.

6. Rinse Thoroughly

Start the tap running full blast again and turn on your garbage disposal. Switch between hot and cold water every thirty seconds for two full minutes. The temperature changes will help liquefy and remove any remaining greasy residue. After two minutes are up, turn off your garbage disposal and listen for the blades to stop moving. Then, turn off the tap.

Tips to Keep Your Disposal Clean

To keep your garbage disposal smelling fresh throughout the week, try one or all of the methods below.

  • Use citrus: Add a few skinny strips of lemon or orange peel to the disposal and run it with warm water to eliminate funky kitchen odors.
  • Dump ice in it: Grind a handful of ice cubes to clean the blades and walls. You can freeze strips of citrus peel in the ice cubes to make a combination garbage disposal cleaner and freshener if you want.
  • Use baking soda and vinegar: For stubborn smells, pour 1/2 cup baking soda down the drain, followed by 1 cup of HOT vinegar. The combination will foam away lingering food residue and neutralize odors.

Be Careful What You Put in It

Your kitchen garbage disposal can only handle so much. Although those blades are very sharp, things with fibers can clog the drain holes in your disposer and cause your sink to back up. So, never put fibrous foods down the disposal (e.g., onion skins, apple or potato peels, artichoke leaves) in your garbage disposal or try to grind up things like cigarette butts or paper.

Always Run the Disposal After Doing Dishes

Whether you put anything down the disposal or not, clean it after washing dishes. All this takes is turning the hot water on full-blast first, then turn on the disposal and run it for at least 30 seconds to let the blades grind up anything in the unit. You’ll often hear the sound change when all debris is gone — count out 10 more seconds after that.

Check for Utensils and Hard Objects Before Use

Just about every home has a spoon or two with rough edges from getting caught in the disposal. Fortunately, that doesn’t usually cause injury, but it can — and who wants to keep replacing their utensils? It seems like a common sense thing, but who hasn’t been in a hurry or distracted while doing the dishes? Take a moment before you turn on the disposal and inspect the flanges to make sure nothing’s stuck down there.

Avoid Commercial Disposal Cleaning Products

Although they seem convenient, commercial garbage disposal cleaning products and tablets contain highly corrosive substances. Those will get rid of greasy residue fast, but they’ll also damage your garbage disposal’s rubber gasket and metal parts. Plus, there’s a risk of splash-back leading to serious injury.

How to Unclog a Garbage Disposal

You should unplug your disposal for safety purposes before you begin trying to get rid of the clog. To do this, look in the cabinet below your kitchen sink and locate the cord that connects your disposal to power and pull it out of the socket. (Make sure you don’t confuse it with the one that powers your dishwasher.) If you can’t access the power cord, you can turn off the power to it at the fuse box.

Then, use a kitchen plunger to see if you can dislodge the clog. Insert it into your sink at an angle so it traps air in the cup. Position it over the drain and work the plunger handle up and down several times to force the air bubble through the drain. This pressure may be enough to dislodge whatever was stuck. If so, let the sink finish draining, then follow the steps above to deep-clean your sink’s garbage disposal.

If the plunger method didn’t work, open the cupboard beneath your sink and look at the bottom of your disposal. Find a hex or Allen wrench that fits the hole on the base of your unit. Insert the wrench and wiggle it left and right a few times. This motion manually moves the disposal’s blades, so they’ll grind up whatever is clogging it. Once the sink drains, follow the steps above to give your kitchen garbage disposal a deep cleaning.

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