How to clean a garbage disposal — in 7 easy steps

Is your sink kicking up a stink? Our experts reveal how to clean a garbage disposal and banish smells for good

It's time to learn how to clean a garbage disposal if yours looks like this. Image of sparkling white basin sink with a silver tap and fresh vegetable peels
(Image credit: Canva)

Our experts reveal how to clean a garbage disposal and rid you of a stinky sink. After all, there’s nothing worse than a foul-smelling garbage disposal making your kitchen — or even the entire house — reek. 

There are a few considerations for properly cleaning your garbage disposal and not just giving it a cursory wipe-down. We consulted a panel of cleaning experts to whip your garbage disposal back into terrific shape. 

These tips will help you unclog your garbage disposal and freshen up the system without stress.

How to clean a garbage disposal system

Keeping your garbage disposal clean is essential to avoid maintenance mishaps and the headache of figuring out how to fix your garbage disposal

Leslie Kilgour, professional organizer and cleaning expert, says, “Many people forget they have to clean their garbage disposal, but it needs to be done often or it can become moldy and cause a lot of unwanted odors in your kitchen.” 

Leslie Kilgour
Leslie Kilgour

Leslie Kilgour is a professional organizer and cleaning expert. She works with clients to organize, refresh, and clean their spaces. She also teaches teenagers and young adults cleaning hacks. She is the founder of Get It Straight on Long Island. 

1. Flush out the disposal system

An image of a kitchen sink with a food waste disposal system

(Image credit: Canva)

Use running water to first flush out the system. Leslie says, “Start by running cold water through the disposal while it's in use to help flush out any debris.”

If the system seems like it's coated in a greasy, fatty, or slimy residue, using hot water instead of cold could help to remove some of the build up. 

Tip: To give yourself the best chance of pushing any clogs out, run the tap at the highest pressure. 

2. Clean the blades

Next, focus on the blades of the garbage disposal system. Karina Toner, cleaning expert, says, “Drop a handful of ice cubes and a tablespoon of rock salt into the disposal. Turn it on to break up debris and clean the blades” 

This budget-friendly step should clean the blades, as well as keeping them sharp. After all, a garbage disposal with blunt blades is no good to anyone.

Karina Toner, Operations Manager, Spekless Cleaning
Karina Toner

Karina Toner is a Cleaning Expert and the Operations Manager at Washington D.C.-based Spekless Cleaning. 

3. Deodorize the grinding chamber

An image of a kitchen sink with a food waste disposal system

(Image credit: Canva)

When it comes to bad smells, it's usually the grinding chamber that's the cause. 

To combat the issue, Karina says, “Throw in citrus peels (lemons or oranges work well) to eliminate odors and add a fresh scent.” 

4. Turn off the garbage disposal

Before attempting the following steps, make sure to turn off the garbage disposal to prevent any accidents. 

Sabrina Tretyakova, cleaning expert, says, “Unplug the garbage disposal from the outlet under the sink. Alternatively, turn off the disposal’s circuit breaker in your home’s service panel.”

Sabrina Tretyakova
Sabrina Tretyakova

Sabrina Tretyakova is an ISSA-certified cleaning technician helping more than 1,200 clients including private homeowners and large corporate offices. 

5. Scrub the top of the grinding chamber

An image of a kitchen sink with a food waste disposal system

(Image credit: Getty Images)

With the unit safely turned off, give the outside of the garbage disposal a clean with mild dish soap and a scourer.

Sabrina says, “Squeeze a couple of drops of dishwashing liquid on the abrasive side of the kitchen sponge and then scrub the soapy sponge around the top of the grinding chamber. Rinse it frequently to remove soap residue.”

For easier cleaning, this handheld sponge from Amazon that self-feeds more dish soap is a great option. 

6. Clean the rubber flaps

You'll need to spend some time cleaning the rubber flaps of the garbage disposal too.

Karina says, “Sprinkle baking soda (we recommend this Arm & Hammer baking soda from Amazon) into the disposal, followed by a cup of white vinegar (this Heinz white vinegar from Amazon is ideal). Let it sit for 5-10 minutes as it fizzes away.

“Use an old toothbrush or a specialized disposal brush to clean the rubber flaps, removing any stubborn gunk and debris.”

7. Flush with hot water

An image of a kitchen sink with a food waste disposal system

(Image credit: Getty Images)

To cleanse the system internally easily, pour a kettle of boiled water down the drain.

Sabrina says, “Restore the power to the disposal unit and remove the stopper, allowing the stagnant water to disperse. Flush with hot water while running the garbage disposal. Hot water simplifies your task of removing sludge and eliminating germs simultaneously.”

FAQs

How can you remove bad odors from your garbage disposal?

Leslie says, “To combat unwanted odors, you can place a few citrus peels or ice cubes into the disposal and run it for a minute. 

"Alternatively, make a mixture of baking soda and vinegar, which creates a natural and effective cleaning solution—simply pour half a cup of baking soda followed by a cup of white vinegar down the disposal, let it fizz, and then rinse with cold water. Periodic use of a disposal cleaner or grinding citrus peels helps to maintain a pleasant aroma.”

What can you use to keep your garbage disposal fresh?

Karina says, “Make baking soda bombs by mixing baking soda with water, then freeze in ice cube trays. As often as needed, drop a few down the disposal. Running used coffee grounds through your disposal will help neutralize odors as will a vinegar soak. Simply pour a cup of white vinegar into the disposal and let it sit for an hour before flushing with cold water.”


Cleaning a garbage disposal can be more of a through task than you first assume, what with cleaning it inside and out (remember, safety first).

With these easy-to-follow steps shared by our ever-wise cleaning experts, you should be right on track to whip your garbage disposal into shape, and avoid your small kitchen smelling bad

Beth Mahoney
Staff Writer

Hi! I’m Beth Mahoney and I’m a Staff Writer at Real Homes. I’ve been a journalist for the national press for the past six years, specializing in commerce and trends-related lifestyle articles, from product reviews and listicles to guides and features. With an eye for pretty things (think: quirky wall prints, scalloped edge furniture, and decadent-looking tableware) but a limited budget, I love nothing more than a bargain buy.


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