How to Clean a Garbage Disposal

Jennifer L. Betts
Under the sink garbage disposal unit

Your garbage disposal isn't something that you tend to think about unless it is making a funny noise or smells. Make sure it doesn't do either by cleaning your garbage disposal weekly and making sure nothing goes down the disposal that shouldn't. Explore natural methods and cleaners you can use to keep your garbage disposal clean.

Natural Ways to Clean Your Disposal

Cleaning your garbage disposal isn't going to be the highlight of your week. But just like cleaning the toilet, it's one of those things that needs to be done. Also, since the sludge can be a bit gag worthy, gloves are recommended. The full list of materials that you'll need to conjure up include:

  • Gloves
  • Rock salt, although table salt can work in a pinch
  • Ice cubes, fresh from the freezer
  • Fresh lemons or lemon juice
  • Baking soda
  • White vinegar
  • Dish soap (Dawn works great)
  • Toothbrush
  • Tongs

Make Sure Disposal Is Off for Safety

Prior to getting your body parts anywhere near your disposal, you'll want to make sure that it is unplugged or the power source is turned off.

Ice, Rock Salt and Lemons

You might not realize this, but many modern garbage disposals don't have a huge blade ready to suck your hand or tie in like in the movies. While it is a great cinematic affect, they actually have a grinding ring that works more like a cheese grater than a swirling ring of death. Therefore, when you throw ice down there, it hardens the grime, making it easier to remove. To clean your disposal with this method, simply:

  1. Cut up a fresh lemon into wedges.
  2. With the water running, throw them into the disposal and turn it on to deodorize.
  3. Cut the water and turn off the disposal.
  4. Fill the disposal canister full of ice.
  5. Pour in about ½ a cup of salt.
  6. Let it sit for about 25-30 minutes.
  7. Turn on the water and run the disposal until everything is gone.

If you don't have lemons, you can use lemon juice instead. Just add about a ¼ cup to the ice and salt and let it sit.

Water down the drain

Baking Soda and Vinegar

The ice and lemons might be all you need to get your disposal sparkling again. But if you are still dealing with the mucky, muck, it is time to move to round 2. Grab your baking soda, toothbrush and vinegar and follow these steps.

  1. Pour about ½ to ¾ cup of baking soda into the disposal without it running.
  2. Follow quickly with a cup of vinegar.
  3. Let the foaming action work to decimate those germs and eat that grime for about 20 minutes.
  4. Dip your toothbrush in the baking soda and scrub all the surfaces that you can see. Also hit any rubber removal parts that your disposal might have.
  5. Once it looks gleaming, turn on the water and disposal and give it a good rinse.
Eco-Friendly Natural Cleaners

Dish Soap and Lemons

Nothing has the grease action of Dawn, but you can use any dish soap for this method. Not only will this method work great to clean your garbage disposal, it is great for deodorizing. Getting to clean requires following these steps:

  1. Cut the lemon into small slices.
  2. Use the tongs to place them right in the disposal.
  3. Let them sit for a minute or so.
  4. Turn on the disposal.
  5. Add a cup of liquid dish soap.
  6. Run icy cold water while continuing to let the disposal run for about a minute.
  7. Shut it off and enjoy that sweet citrusy smell.

Commercial Cleaners

Maybe the natural method just isn't hacking it or you're looking for a more engineered clean. Whatever the case, there are several different companies out there ready to meet your garbage disposal cleaning needs.

  • Glisten: This powerful cleaner offered by Summit Brands uses foaming action and bleach alternative to clean and deodorize your garbage disposal.
  • Plink: Also available through Summit Brands, Plink is a freshener and cleaner that comes in multiple smells. Just throw it in and let it dissolve.
  • Green Gobbler Refresh: Designed to clean your drain and disposal, Refresh is a liquid cleaner that literally eats grease and food clogs. Just pour in the recommended amount and say goodbye to the nasty.
  • Grab Green Garbage Disposal Freshener and Cleaning Pods: Looking for something a bit more natural? These use essential oils and various cleaners to refresh and loosen grime in your disposal.

How Often Should You Clean Your Disposal?

While there isn't a hard and fast rule for cleaning your disposal, you don't want to let it go for too long. Most of the time, you'll want to schedule a cleaning about once a week with normal use. If your child is going through a growing spurt or you have family over for the holidays, you might find that it needs to be cleaned more often.

Tips to Keeping Your Disposal Clean

Keeping your disposal clean isn't rocket science. But there are a few things that you can do to keep your garbage disposal smelling fresh and grime free.

  • Use plenty of water. Cold water is best but even after everything is all ground up, let the water run for another 30 seconds to give everything a nice fresh bath.
  • Only use the disposal for easy-to-grind foods. Avoid putting bones or fats in the disposal. Not only can this damage it, but it can make it smell bad.
  • Grind up oranges or grapefruit. Feeding your disposal a little citrus every day or two can keep everything smelling fresh.
  • Smaller is better. Break things up before letting them go into the disposal. This not only saves time but makes your disposal happy.
Romaine Lettuce Thrown Away
  • Avoid harsh drain cleaners. These chemicals can be very corrosive and damage your parts.
  • Never use your hand to retrieve anything that's dropped. When something falls in to the disposal that shouldn't be, turn off the power source and use pliers to retrieve it.
  • Add cleaning the disposal to your weekly chore list. Don't wait until the odor reminds you.

A Clean Garbage Disposal Is a Happy Disposal

Garbage disposals are handy for chopping up that excess food that might litter your plate or extra from cooking dinner. Don't let your little happy grinder get sad but filling it with smelly germs and gunk. Instead, use natural or commercial cleaners to keep it fresh and odor free.

How to Clean a Garbage Disposal