How to Clean Garbage Disposals: A Simple Guide

By Luna Regina | Updated
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Like any kitchen appliance, garbage disposals can get really dirty. But it is expected. If you shove food waste down a machine every day, of course there's going to be a buildup of debris. Sooner or later, it’s going to either jam the motor or clog up the sink.

How to a Clean Garbage disposal

But hold your horses if you're thinking of going to the stores and find commercial solutions! That's not how you clean garbage disposals— at least, that's not the best way to do so.

Despite the fact those solutions are effective, they can be corrosive and damage the insides of the machine. Using them once in a while is quite fine, but relying entirely on them won't end well.

It doesn’t mean that we avoid cleaning solutions completely. They're a pretty solid plan B— and God knows sometimes, we DO need them. For plan A, there are other ways we can try first.

Active Cleaning for Garbage Disposals

If you're here because your sink won't drain and/or the grinder doesn't seem to work at all, there are a few things you could try:

Unclog/Unjam The Unit

We need to get the machine running again for the cleaning process to be most efficient. There are different causes that prevent it from working properly. Most of them are simple matters that can be managed in little time with standard tools.

Active Cleaning for Garbage Disposals

Basically, what you have to do is clean out possible obstacles (a coin, rubber band, etc.) that lodge the grind chamber. Try using a plunger to free up the clogs then fish out anything that seems out of place.

Also, most in-sink food disposers have an unjam mechanism that you can try. Read their manual and do as instructed. The process is usually straightforward.

You can read more in our fixing garbage disposals.

Cleanse...

Now that the machine can operate normally, it's time for some deep cleaning!

We're still not using store-bought cleaners just yet. Let's first try to wash the interior of the machine with one or two homemade remedies (we have feedback on its effectiveness and they are super positive). Here are the formulas and steps:

Baking Soda & Water:

  • Put the stopper in place,
  • Fill half the sink with water and mix in 1/4 cup baking soda (or 1/2 if your sink is larger than 30 inches),
  • Turn the disposer on and remove the stopper at the same time.

Baking Soda & Vinegar:

  • ½ cup of baking soda and ½ cup of vinegar down the drain (or 1 cup of vinegar if your disposer is 1 HP or higher),
  • Wait for 30 seconds. Pour a pot of boiling water down the drain,
  • Wait for another 5 minutes. Run cold water and turn on the machine.

Here’s how it looks like:

…and Deodorize The Chamber

If you can still smell unpleasant odor after trying the remedies, you can try grinding cut up peels of citrus fruits— lemon, lime or orange is ideal. The cleansing scent of the peels come from the oils within, which has anti-fungal and anti-bacterial content.

In addition, you can try making and using citrus peels soaked with vinegar. The two ingredients are both natural disinfectants, and their combination proves to be very useful. They're also more environmental-friendly than commercially available cleaners.

Clean garbage disposal with lemon

But if nothing so far has worked for you, it's time for store-bought solutions. Some problems do require a stronger agent. Something that foams up would work best, like the Glisten Disposer Care packets or the Affresh Disposal Cleaner.

Preventive cleaning/ maintenance for garbage disposals

They often say “prevention is better than cure” and it applies here as well. Once or twice every two weeks is usually enough. The trick is don’t wait for the machine to start smelling. Here’s what we recommend for a garbage disposal cleaning routine:

  • (Once a week) grinding cubes of ice or frozen vinegar, perhaps with salt.
  • (Once a week) cleaning with home-made solutions and citrus fruit peels.

Following that will keep your unit nice and fresh for a long time.

Another way to prevent clogs and odors, besides cleaning, is maintenance. With these machines and the drain, there are certain things you should avoid doing in general:

Don’t...

  • pour grease down the drain. Put it in a jar and dispose in the trash.
  • ...use hot water when grinding. It’s OK to pour hot water mid-session, however.
  • ...fill disposer with too big a load of vegetable and/or fruit peels all at once.
  • ...grind large amounts of egg shells or fibrous material.
  • ...turn the machine off too soon when grinding. Let it run an extra 10-20 seconds with running cold water.
Luna Regina

A writer and entrepreneur, Luna’s day doesn’t start at the computer keyboard, but in the kitchen. Half of her working hours are spent on mixing ingredients for her recipes. The other half involve working with the tech team to research and test the tools and appliances that promise to make kitchen work effortless and mess-free. From a kitchen knife or water filter to the Instant Pot, if it can help save time and effort for the home cook, Luna and her team are on it. Luna’s extracurricular pastimes include camping, travel, and photography.

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