How to Clean Your Garbage Disposal & Keep It Running Efficiently

Garbage disposals are a modern convenience we all take for granted right up until the moment they smell bad, back up or break down. By definition, you’d think that garbage disposals are self-cleaning appliances. Technically, they are, but even so, they will need some occasional TLC to stay clean, fresh, and efficient. 

Over time, disposals tend to get slower, and grease and food particles can build up on the grinding blades and in the drain. Garbage disposals can also start emitting foul odors, get jammed, or worse, plugged up with nasty gunk or things you really don’t want to put your hand into to try to fix it. So, there’s a lot that could go wrong.

Ideally, a garbage disposal should be cleaned every week or two, but most people will only do it when it’s absolutely, positively necessary. We get it. Of course, with a little regular cleaning and maintenance, you can avoid a lot of unpleasant plumbing disasters and potentially costly repairs or replacements. 

Here are some garbage disposal maintenance tips, plus a few on how to clean your garbage disposal, and even how to clean a smelly garbage disposal.

Turn OFF the power BEFORE you go digging into the disposal. Something is stuck in the disposal? STOP. Turn the power OFF. Yes, we mean completely, totally, no way your hand can get eaten by the blades type of OFF. Pull the plug, or shut the power off at the breaker to prevent any potentially gory horror movie moments.

Clean the baffle and the grinding chamber. Sounds slightly ominous, doesn’t it? You’re going to want some rubber gloves for this one, too. It’s a good thing the power is off, because this method requires using an abrasive sponge or scrub brush to clean all the gunk off the top and bottom of the baffle (the rubber insert) and sweeping the sponge or brush around the inside of the top of the grinding chamber until it comes back clean. Rinse the sponge or brush frequently. When you’re done, turn the power back on and run water to flush the drain.

Add ice and rock salt to the grinding chamber. Yes, this sounds like the start of a margarita, which would probably complement the act of cleaning the garbage disposal very nicely. Fill the garbage disposal unit with ice cubes, and then add a cup or so of coarse rock salt. Run the disposal for 30 to 60 seconds, or until it’s a lot less LOUD. The ice and salt will help remove any food or build up stuck in the impeller blades or inside the chamber. Now run cold water for a few seconds to flush everything through. Repeat if necessary.

Clean with baking soda and vinegar. Tip: distilled white vinegar is a great choice, and a cheap way to clean all sorts of things. Pour ½ cup of baking soda down the disposal, and then add a cup of heated vinegar. Wait, baking soda and vinegar?! Yes, you’re going to make a volcano in the sink! Isn’t adulting fun? Pour it in, let it foam up. Less fun? Use the stopper so everything happens inside the disposal chamber. Let everything sit for a few minutes. To finish the job, pour in some boiling water to wash everything away. Have a two-sided sink? Don’t forget to clean the drain on the other side of the disposal as they share a common drainpipe.

Simply add citrus peels, then turn on the disposal. Run some fresh or frozen citrus peels through the disposal. Grapefruit, orange, lemon or lime peels can all be used, but try to avoid anything with seeds. The oils from the citrus peels act like an astringent, cutting through grease build-up and leaving behind a fresh, clean scent. Flush with cold water, and you’re done!

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