Knowing how to clean garbage disposal and get rid of clogs will keep you from calling the plumber to fix something you can easily do yourself.
Regularly cleaning your garbage disposal will also reduce kitchen odors and household pests. It’s a simple task that takes just a few seconds after doing the dinner dishes, plus another minute or two during weekly kitchen cleanings.
Yes, You Need to Clean Garbage Disposals
Cleaning Prevents Clogs
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. If you have a divided sink, even the other side may back up and stop working due to the garbage disposal clog.
Dirty Garbage Disposals Smell
Over time, greasy residue can build up inside your garbage disposal unit. That grease will collect food particles and other debris, which all sits 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
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 a Garbage Disposal
Garbage Disposal Deep-Cleaning Steps
If your sink is backing up, scroll down to the bottom for how to clean out a clogged garbage disposal. Then give your garbage disposal a thorough cleaning to eliminate odors and buildup following the steps below.
Turn It Off!
You’d think this would be obvious, but I’ve seen otherwise intelligent people start reaching into the disposal while it’s running. Hasn’t everyone 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 — first 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 faucet to cold, start the disposal, and run both at the same time. The ice will help congeal any grease buildup while the salt scours the blades and walls of the disposal unit.
Clean the Rubber Gasket
Turn the garbage disposal off and turn the faucet to hot. Fill a bowl with warm water and add a few squirts of liquid dish soap. Then, using an old toothbrush, scrub the garbage disposal’s rubber gasket (those black flaps at the opening).
Be sure to lift the gasket flanges and clean their undersides, too. It’s amazing how much gunk builds up there!
Once the gasket is clean, press the flaps back into place. Start the tap running again and turn on the garbage disposal. Spend a minute switching between hot and cold water with the disposal running. This will help liquify and remove any remaining greasy residue.
Daily Cleaning and Use
Always Run the Disposal After Doing 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 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?
Be Careful What You Put in It
Never put fibrous foods down the disposal (e.g., onion skins, artichoke leaves, potato skins) or cigarette butts in your garbage disposal. Such materials will wrap around the blades, keeping them from working properly. They can also clog the drain at the bottom of your disposal.
How to Unclog a Garbage Disposal
Garbage disposals will clog and backup if there’s too much residue buildup or if you’ve tried grinding the wrong things in the unit. When that happens, turn off the faucet and follow the steps below to clean out a clogged garbage disposal.
- Turn it off!
- Use a kitchen plunger to see if you can dislodge the clog that way. If successful, wait for the sink to drain then give your garbage disposal a deep-cleaning.
- 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. Move the wrench left and right a few times to manually grind up whatever has clogged the disposal.
Once you’ve unclogged the disposal, give it a deep-cleaning to prevent further problems.
How to Deodorize a Smelly Garbage Disposal
A thorough cleaning will eliminate odors caused by build-up. To keep your garbage disposal smelling fresh throughout the week, try one or all of the methods below.
- 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.
- Dump ice in it: Grind a handful of ice cubes, or even the remaining ice in your glass of lemonade, in your garbage disposal to easily clean the blades and walls.
- 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.
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