How To Clean A Garbage Disposal Quickly In 8 Easy Steps

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Garbage disposal is a handy appliance to have in your kitchen as it effectively gets rid of food scraps in a fast and sanitary way. Debris can be left behind during use and cause the unit to have foul odors and even malfunction.

Here is how to clean a garbage disposal in 8 steps:

1. Physically dislodge stuck objects

If a large item is stuck in your garbage disposal, you’ll want to remove it to make the cleaning process more manageable. Before you begin dislodging, make sure that you turn off the power to prevent the garbage disposal from being accidentally turned on while you’re cleaning. Please turn off the fuse that supplies power to the garbage disposal unit or unplug it from the outlet located under the sink.

Use tongs or pliers to reach into the disposal and remove the food scraps that may be stuck in the grinder (you may need to shine a flashlight into the disposal to see what needs to be removed), taking care not to damage it. Never put your hands down the garbage disposal – even when the disposal blades aren’t in motion, they are still sharp and can potentially injure you.

2. Flush with water

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Flush your garbage disposal with water to remove any lingering dirt or grime. For this method, plug the disposal drain using the sink stopper and then add a generous squirt of dish soap to the sink. Allow hot water to run until 2-4 inches is sitting in the sink. 

Release the sink stopper and turn on your disposal to drain the sink contents into the disposal while it runs. This cleaning method effectively fills the garbage disposal with soapy water to reach the upper portions of the appliance, which can often be missed when cleaning using other methods. It also helps clean the disposal drain line, which tends to harbor odors and food residue.

3. Use ice cubes and rock salt

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An excellent technique for removing grime and debris lodged to the grinding elements of garbage disposal involves grinding ice cubes and rock salt. Pour a few handfuls of ice into your garbage disposal, followed by a cup of rock salt for some extra scrubbing power. Torn the appliance on, run some cold water, and let the ice and salt grind. In addition to cleaning your garbage disposal, grinding ice also sharpens the blades without harming them.

4. Clean with a scrub brush or an abrasive sponge

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Use a scrub brush or abrasive kitchen sponge to clean the baffle (also known as the splash guard or gasket) and the top of the grinding chamber. The baffle has many crevices and grooves, which likely have a lot of tiny food particles and grease trapped underneath it. To clean it, pull it out of the drain and use a scrubbing brush or sponge and a generous amount of dish soap to clean it thoroughly. Pay particular attention to the underside to remove any slime or debris.

To clean the top of the grinding chamber, swipe around it with an abrasive sponge soaked in soapy water, remembering to rinse the sponge frequently. Repeat until there’s no more gunk on the sponge.

5. Use baking soda and vinegar

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A simple mixture of white vinegar and baking soda makes an effective combo for cleaning garbage disposal and removing unpleasant smells. For this method, sprinkle around half a cup of baking soda into the disposal drain, followed by a cup of white vinegar. Allow the mixture to fizzle and sit for about 10-15 minutes, then turn on the garbage disposal and let cold water from the kitchen faucet run to distribute the mixture and flush through the unit. The acidity of white vinegar kills bacteria, including E.coli and salmonella, while the baking soda absorbs any offending odors.

6. Use borax

Borax is a natural laundry booster and is also used in various household cleaning products. Sprinkle 3-4 tablespoons of this powdery white substance into the garbage disposal and allow it to sit for about an hour. Flush it down the drain by allowing cold water to run from the faucet. 

7. Clean with bleach

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Bleach is a household agent that can be used to kill germs and freshen up your drain. However, you don’t want to use it excessively as it can harden any grease lingering in the disposal unit, making it all the more difficult to get rid of. 

To use bleach, dilute a tablespoon of the household agent in a gallon of water and slowly pour it into your disposal. Allow the bleach solution to sit for about five minutes, then turn on the faucet and allow water to run for several minutes to flush away the solution.

8. Freshen up with citrus fruit peels

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Any citrus peel is an effective natural deodorizer, which means you can use lime, orange, lemon, grapefruit, or tangerine peels to freshen your garbage disposal. Remember to cut the peels beforehand into small pieces that the unit can handle. After placing the chopped citrus fruit peels down the drain, turn on the garbage disposal, and run cold water while grinding.

Tips for the proper use and care of your garbage disposal

1. Avoid putting non-biodegradable food items in the garbage disposal

One of the most important rules for maintaining your garbage disposal is to avoid placing anything that isn’t biodegradable in it. Remember that despite its name, a garbage disposal is not a trash can, and using it to get rid of anything other than food waste is a recipe for disaster. To reduce the risk of damage and cut down on cleaning time after use, use your disposal unit only for biodegradable food items. That said, you should avoid putting the following food waste down a disposal:

  • Fibrous materials such as artichokes, celery stalks, onion skins, and corn husks. These can get caught in the motor and cause clogs
  • Starchy materials like potato peels
  • Pasta, rice, and bread. These foods expand when they absorb water and can therefore cause serious clogging.
  • Coffee grinds. Made up of densely packed particles, coffee grinds tend to build up and form a sludge that can block your garbage disposal.
  • Pits from fruits like avocados, peaches, and mangoes can damage the disposal’s blades.

2. Run cold water as soon as you turn the disposal on

Before you put food scraps down your garbage disposal, turn the unit on and allow cold water from your kitchen faucet to flow into it. Leave the tap running for about a minute to lubricate the disposal blades. Hot water is unsuitable for this function as it can melt the food that may be lodged at your disposal, allowing it to cling to the sides. On the contrary, cold water hardens food, making it easier for the garbage disposal to pulverize it and push it out the drain pipe.

3. Run your disposal regularly

Make a point of running your garbage disposal regularly. Even if there’s nothing to grind up, turn on the water and allow the disposal to run every couple of days to move the parts around. Otherwise, your unit can rust or corrode, and any leftover food lingering inside can harden, resulting in clogs and unpleasant odors.

4. Leave the disposal running for about a minute after you finish putting food in

Keep it on for an extra minute after your disposal unit has finished grinding up food scraps. This is to ensure that all the food has been ground up. If you skip this step, there may be debris left lingering in the blades, potentially causing it to jam up the next time you need to use it.

5. Turn the garbage disposal off, but allow the water to keep running for about 15 more seconds

Flip the disposal switch to turn it off, but allow cold water from your sink to keep running for a bit longer. That way, any remaining food scraps that might be stuck in the disposal will be flushed down the drain. Always use cold water to flush down scraps, even when your disposal is off, so that you don’t melt any fat or grease stuck on the blades. 

6. Put bite-sized scraps down the disposal

To prevent large pieces of food from becoming lodged in the blades of your disposal unit, make sure to chop them up into smaller pieces before putting them down the appliance. You’ll also want to put in only a few pieces at a time. Otherwise, you’ll end up overworking the disposal and clogging or jamming it.

7. Avoid pouring grease down your drain

Never pour any oil, fat, or grease into your garbage disposal. The grease will accumulate in the unit, slow down the motor, and eventually cause the drain to clog. Ne sure to wipe off as much grease as possible from roasting tins and pans before rinsing.

8. Clean your disposal regularly

Make a point of cleaning your garbage disposal at least every week. Use any cleaning above and deodorizing methods to keep your unit in good condition.

Fixing common garbage disposal problems

Due to daily wear and tear, your garbage disposal may need to be repaired from time to time. Here are some common issues you may encounter and how you can fix them:

1. The garbage disposal won’t turn on

If your disposal unit doesn’t turn on when you flip the switch, and there’s no humming sound coming from the motor, you may have an electrical problem on your hands. Here are some tips on how to pinpoint the issue and fix it:

  • Make sure that your disposal is plugged in. 
  • If the unit is plugged in, try pressing the reset button which is located on the bottom of the unit. This button triggers a built-in circuit breaker function. 
  • If pushing the reset button back in place doesn’t do the trick, check the main service panel of the disposal unit to see if the circuit breaker has tripped. If this is the case, reset the circuit breaker’s lever.
  • If neither the circuit breaker nor the reset button is the issue, then there might be a wiring problem with the switch controlling the garbage disposal, or that the unit itself is faulty.
  • First, you’ll need to find the switch that powers your garbage disposal. It may be on the wall or under the sink.
  • Turn off the circuit breaker at the main service panel.
  • To inspect the wire connections, you’ll need to disassemble the switch that controls the disposal. If a loose connection is the problem, all you’ll need to do is tighten it.
  • If the wire connections are all in place, the switch itself might be the issue, which means you’ll need to replace it.
  • Turn the disposal back on at the service panel and check if it’s operating normally.

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2. There’s a humming sound

If there’s a humming sound coming from the garbage disposal, it typically means that there’s power going to the disposal, but the motor cannot turn the blades to chop scraps before they go down the drain. Some of the causes for this issue include:

  • Overheating

Garbage disposal blades tend to shut off if the unit becomes overheated. Overheating occurs due to constant overuse.

  • Clogged grinder

The grinder may become clogged with waste.

  • Worn-out grinder

With continued use, the grinder will wear down and won’t be as effective

If your disposal overheats, allow the blades and motor time to cool down by turning off the unit. You could also try pressing the reset button.

Related article: How Can I Disinfect My Apartment?

3. There’s leaking

Garbage disposal leaks can occur in several places on a unit. Common sources include the hose that connects the dishwasher to the disposal, the sink flange where the disposal is connected to the bottom of the sink, and the hose that discharges food scraps from the disposal to the plumbing system.

To fix this issue, you’ll first need to find the source of the leak. If there’s a leak at the sink flange, try tightening the bolts. Epoxy can also seal off any gaps that may be present. If the leak source is at the discharge drainpipe, the first thing you should do is check the bolts to make sure that they’re tight. If this doesn’t solve the problem, try removing the bolts and the pipe to replace the gasket seal between the pipe and the disposal. If the leak is at the dishwasher connection, try tightening the hose clamp on the dishwasher hose.

Related article: 10 Simple Way to Get Rid of Cooking Smells from Your Apartment

Final thoughts

On the bright side, you don’t need to buy expensive products to clean your garbage disposal. Your unit can be effectively cleaned using common household items that you probably already have handy. To keep your disposal unit in good shape, clean it regularly, and take the necessary steps to maintain it.

Zoltan Szatmari

Zoltan is a test and industrial engineer from Europe who loves learning anything new and working on small projects. When he is not working, he is usually hiking or going to the cinema.

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