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Garbage disposals are a convenient tool for getting rid of small food scraps and debris. For the most part, they do a great job of cleaning themselves by breaking up food particles and sending them down the drain. Out of sight out of mind, right? Well, there are some parts of the disposal that aren't cleaned by the grinding action. And when residue begins to build-up on these areas, you'll know it by the smell.

If you've noticed a rather unpleasant stench coming from your garbage disposal, the good news is that cleaning it out is not such a difficult task. Learn step-by-step how to clean your garbage disposal and keep it smelling fresh.

Kitchen sink with garbage disposal
Photo by Getty Images

What NOT to Put in a Garbage Disposal

Although I'd like to think my garbage disposal could handle anything, it's not invincible. Even if something easily goes down the disposal, that doesn't mean it won't become a plumbing problem later. Avoid putting fibrous materials down the garbage disposal, as the fibers will wrap around the grinder. Some examples include:

  • Onion Skins
  • Corn Husks
  • Celery
  • Artichokes
  • Asparagus

You should also avoid starchy materials like potato peels, as they can turn into a thick paste and gum up your disposal. Expandable foods such as bread, pasta, or rice can also clog your drain. And of course, never put non-food items down the disposal.

What About Egg Shells?

The biggest garbage disposal myth is that egg shells should be put down the disposal as they help sharpen the "blades." The truth is, garbage disposals don't have blades. Although you might picture your garbage disposal as having spinning blades similar to that of a blender, they actually have impellers that grind food waste down. Not only are egg shells not useful for "sharpening," but they also have membranes that can easily get caught in the grinder, making them unfit for the garbage disposal.

How Often Should You Clean a Garbage Disposal?

So long as you adhere to the rules above on what not to put down the disposal, you should be able to go up to two weeks without cleaning your disposal. Try to do a deep clean every other week, and deodorize as needed. The good news is, all of this can be done using kitchen pantry staples.

How to Deep Clean a Garbage Disposal

Here's What You'll Need:

  • Pliers or tongs (optional)
  • Flashlight (optional)
  • Dish soap
  • 2 cups ice cubes
  • 1 cup rock salt or white vinegar ice cubes

Instructions:

  1. Start by turning off the power to prevent the disposal from turning on while you're cleaning. This method won't require your hands to be near the grinder, but it's better to be safe than sorry.
  2. If there are any large objects lodged in the disposal, use a pair of pliers or tongs to remove it. This may require a flashlight.
  3. Flush out the disposal using running water from the sink.
  4. Use a stopper to plug up the garbage disposal. Fill the sink with several inches of hot water. Add dish soap.
  5. Pull the stopper out, and allow the water to flush away any oil and grease build-up in the drain.
  6. Pour 2 cups of ice cubes into the disposal, followed by 1 cup of rock salt. As an alternative to rock salt, you may also fill an ice cube tray with white vinegar and pour those in the disposal.
  7. Turn on the garbage disposal, and allow the ice and salt to be crushed while running cold water into the disposal. This will help to scrape the inside of the grinding chamber, effectively scouring the chamber and dislodging build-up.

How to Deodorize a Garbage Disposal With Citrus

Here's What You'll Need:

  • Citrus fruit peels (orange, lemon, grapefruit, or lime)

Instructions:

  1. Add citrus peels of your choice to the garbage disposal and run cold water into it.
  2. Turn on the garbage disposal. The citric acid will help to break down grime and eliminate odor.

How to Deodorize a Garbage Disposal With Baking Soda and Vinegar

Here's What You'll Need:

  • ½ cup baking soda
  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • Boiling Water

Instructions:

  1. Sprinkle baking soda into the garbage disposal.
  2. Pour white vinegar on top of the baking soda.
  3. Allow the mixture to fizz for 5 to 10 minutes.
  4. Bring a pot of water to a boil.
  5. Rinse down the mixture with boiling water while the disposal is running.