How to Clean and Deodorize a Garbage Disposal

Learn how to clean your garbage disposal using things you already have at home with these expert-endorsed tips.

Of all the appliances and gadgets in your kitchen, the garbage disposal is often the most overlooked when it comes to cleaning and maintenance. After all, the magical waste disposal system takes all your food waste and makes it disappear into thin air, seemingly leaving nothing behind. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case, and food debris can secretly start to build up underneath your sink, which is why it’s important to know how to clean a garbage disposal.

“Garbage disposals need to be cleaned just like any other appliance,” explains Alicia Sokolowski, a cleaning expert with more than 15 years of experience as the president and co-CEO of AspenClean. “If it’s not cleaned regularly, it will become a breeding ground for harmful bacteria and can start giving off a bad smell.”

Luckily, just like learning how to clean a kitchen, how to clean stainless steel, and how to clean a dishwasher, educating yourself on how to clean a garbage disposal is a whole lot easier than you would think—and you probably have all the items you need to clean and deodorize it in your possession already. Now is the time to add garbage disposal cleaning to your cleaning schedule.

How to clean a garbage disposal

The easiest way to get a clean garbage disposal is to regularly run it. That’s especially true when you’re cooking. The steps are simple. First, turn on cold—not hot—water. “Cold water solidifies food and makes it easier to grind,” explains Sokolowski.

Flip the garbage disposal switch to get it going. Keep the garbage disposal on, with cold water running, for about a minute after you hear the grinding sound stop. “That ensures that all the debris has been removed,” she says. “It’s also a good practice to pour a pot of boiling water through the empty disposal once a month to remove any leftover debris.”

That’s it! Super simple—and way easier than cleaning your oven or other kitchen items. That said, if you start to notice a funky smell coming from your garbage disposal, it’s probably time for a deeper clean.

Cleaning supplies

ingredients to clean the garbage disposal TMB Studio

Just as knowing how to clean a refrigerator starts with gathering your cleaning tools, knowing how to clean a garbage disposal starts with understanding the products that get the job done. A variety of items will help clean your garbage disposal, says Doug Wanninger, contractor relations plumbing manager for American Home Shield, a company that offers home warranties that cover things like broken appliances, including garbage disposals. Of course, you won’t need to use all of these products when cleaning your garbage disposal. Choose the items that you have on hand or that you find most effective.

  • Ice cubes
  • Rock salt
  • Baking soda
  • White vinegar
  • Citrus slices
  • Borax
  • Dish soap
  • Toothbrush

Garbage disposal cleaning methods

There is one safety precaution you should take no matter how you clean a garbage disposal. “Remember to use caution when operating your disposal and when using any of these cleaning methods,” says Wanninger. “This includes never putting your hand into the unit for any reason, even if the unit is off.”

1. Ice cubes and cold water

One of the best garbage disposal cleaning methods entails using plain ice cubes from your freezer. “Simply put a few handfuls of ice into the unit, then turn it on and run some cold water while the cubes grind,” Wanninger suggests. “The ice helps loosen debris and food trapped in the unit, and the cold water helps flush it down the drain.”

2. Ice cubes and rock salt

cleaning garbage disposal with iceTMB Studio

For extra scrubbing power, add about a cup of rock salt to some ice cubes. “Remember to always run cold water when you turn the disposal on,” Wanninger says.

3. Baking soda and vinegar

A simple mixture of baking soda and vinegar is another good garbage disposal cleaning method. Sprinkle about a half cup of baking soda into the disposal, followed by a cup of white or apple cider vinegar, Wanninger says. Let the mixture bubble up and sit for five to 10 minutes, then turn on the disposal and run cold water to distribute the mixture and flush it through the unit.

4. Citrus peels

citrus for cleaning garbage disposalTMB Studio

Any type of citrus peel is a good natural disposal deodorizer. “Lime, lemon, orange, tangerine, and grapefruit peels will all help refresh your sink, drains, and disposal system,” Wanninger says. Be sure to cut the peels into small enough pieces for the unit to handle, then turn on the unit and run cold water while the peels grind.

5. Borax

Borax is a natural laundry booster and is used in many household cleaning products. You may be familiar with the stuff as a product used to clean your washing machine. To use it in your garbage disposal, simply sprinkle a few tablespoons of borax into the disposal and run cold water for about 30 seconds, suggests Wanninger.

6. Hot water and dish soap

Here’s how to clean your garbage disposal with nothing but stuff you have within reach of the sink. “This method can be particularly helpful if you have noticed an unpleasant odor coming from your garbage disposal,” says Wanninger.

Using the sink stopper, plug the disposal drain and add a generous squirt of dish detergent to the sink. Run hot water until the sink is at least halfway full. As you release the sink stopper, turn on the disposal and let the contents of the entire sink drain into the unit while it runs.

“This cleaning method helps fill the disposal with soapy water to reach the upper portions of the unit, which often don’t get cleaned by other methods,” Wanninger says. It also helps clean the drain line, which can harbor food residue and odors.

7. Boiling water

Pouring boiling water into the disposal—by itself or after one of the other methods listed here—can help loosen stubborn food particles, Wanninger says. You don’t have to turn on your disposal for this step.

8. Dish soap or baking soda and a brush

Yes, you need to know how to clean a garbage disposal from the inside. That’s what the steps above are for. But you also need to know how to clean a garbage disposal from the outside.

“It’s important to clean the drain crevices around the disposal, as well as the rubber splash guard around the drain,” says Wanninger. “You don’t need anything fancy; you can use dish soap or baking soda with a small brush or toothbrush to scrub underneath the splash guard flaps.” Big word of warning: Make sure the disposal is turned off when you do this.

How often to clean a garbage disposal

using garbage disposalTMB Studio

You should clean your garbage disposal once a week, or at least once every two weeks, according to Sokolowski. “Make it part of your biweekly cleaning routine, at the very least,” she says.

The telltale sign your garbage disposal is in need of cleaning? It has started to smell.

How to freshen up a garbage disposal

If you don’t have time to clean your garbage disposal, you can freshen it up with a few simple tricks. The easiest way to deodorize your garbage disposal is to toss lemon peels down the drain before flushing with water and turning it on, says Sokolowski. The result is a natural citrus scent.

“If you’ve got a bit more time, put some chopped-up lemon in an ice cube tray and fill it with water,” she says. “If you like, you can add some fresh or dried herbs as well, such as mint, rosemary, or thyme.” Freeze the ice cubes. Once they are completely frozen, put a handful of ice cubes into your kitchen drain and turn on the garbage disposal. This will sharpen the blades and leave your drain smelling great. It’s an easy homemade cleaner for natural freshness.

Other garbage disposal cleaning and care tips

There are a few key things you should avoid doing when learning how to clean a garbage disposal.

  • Don’t use your disposal with hot water, unless you’re using one of the hot water cleaning methods above. “Hot water softens food and makes it more difficult to remove,” says Sokolowski.

  • Don’t overload it. “The garbage disposal is meant for scraps only,” notes Sokolowski. Larger items need to be disposed of separately.

  • Don’t forget to run your disposal on a regular basis. This will prevent rusting.

  • Don’t put certain types of food through the garbage disposal. The blades aren’t strong enough to break down items like bones or pits, warns Sokolowski.

  • Don’t put nonfood items, like glass, plastic, metal, paper, cigarette butts, or anything combustible, through the garbage disposal, says Wanninger.

  • Don’t put extremely fibrous material—think corn husks, celery stalks, onion skins, and artichokes—in the garbage disposal. The fibers can tangle and jam the motor.

  • Don’t put foods like rice or pasta, which are expandable, into your garbage disposal.

  • Don’t pour grease, oil, or fat into your garbage disposal, says Wanninger.

  • Do run water when using a garbage disposal.
  • Do let the water continue to run for at least 20 seconds after the disposal’s work is finished. This flushes out any remaining particles, explains Wanninger.

Once you’ve cleaned your garbage disposal, it’s time to tackle the rest of the house. Next, learn how to clean—and deep clean—a mattress.

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Leah Groth
A general lifestyle writer, Leah covers everything from cleaning hacks and consumer products to travel and pets for RD.com. When she isn't working you will find her chasing after her four children (two humans, a Vizsla and a German Shorthaired Pointer) or working on her 100-plus year-old-home outside of Philadelphia.