Knowing how to clean a garbage disposal is a basic task that takes just a few seconds after doing the dinner dishes, plus another minute or two during weekly kitchen cleanings.
A poorly-maintained garbage disposal drains slowly, and sometimes it stops draining at all. The result? Your sink will back up with dirty, sludge-filled water and, even if you can get the drain flowing, debris in the disposal will begin to smell. That’s particularly embarrassing if you’ve got guests at the time!
How to Clean a Garbage Disposal
Run the disposal after doing the dishes. Use hot water and keep the disposal running for 20-30 seconds, so the blades have a chance to 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 the disposal for utensils before running it. 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?
Don’t try to grind things that can damage it. Never put fibrous foods down the disposal (e.g., onion skins, artichoke leaves, potato skins) or cigarette butts in the unit since they’ll likely just clog your drain.
Turn it off: You’d think this would be obvious, but I’ve actually seen otherwise intelligent people start reaching into the disposal while it’s running. Haven’t we all seen that movie where the disposal attacks the woman? Don’t be her!
Remove lodged objects: Even with consistent use, things like plastic wrap and bits of bone often accumulate in the disposal. Fish around in there with your fingers — see step one! — and pull that gunk out.
Flush with soapy water: Run the tap on the hottest possible setting to flush the disposal. Turn the disposal on and slowly pour a little liquid dish soap down the drain. The water will start cleaning the blades while they whir.
Add some ice and salt: Turn the disposal off and pour 2 cups of ice cubes down it. Sprinkle in 1/4 cup salt (table salt works just fine). Now, turn the cold water on and run the disposal to scour the blades.
Clean the gasket: With the disposal off, scrub the rubber gasket using an old toothbrush and hot, soapy water. Be sure to pull the gasket flanges out and clean their undersides, too. It’s amazing how much gunk builds up there!
Rinse, rinse, rinse: Once the gasket is clean, run the disposal again while switching between hot and cold water to liquify then remove any remaining greasy residue.
Use citrus: Add a few strips of lemon or orange peel to the disposal and run it with warm water to eliminate funky kitchen odors.
Use baking soda and vinegar: For particularly 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.
Cared for properly, your garbage disposal can last over a decade. Treat it poorly, and it’s practically guaranteed to break down on a holiday weekend right in the middle of doing the dishes. You’ve been warned.