How to clean a smelly garbage disposal

Do this before calling a plumber.

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Garbage disposals are a tricky thing to clean. You don’t want to stick your hand down into a dark tube filled with bone-crushing impellers. So what do you do when it starts to smell? Here are a few simple tricks to try before calling in a plumber that might help you get rid of a nasty odor.

But first, how do garbage disposals work?

A garbage disposal is divided into two halves. The top grinds up waste while the bottom pushes it out.

All garbage disposals have an upper and lower hopper chamber. The upper chamber contains a set of shedder rings which grind food waste into a slurry. The lower chamber contains a set of impellers that, with the help of water and gravity, force the ground-up waste down the drain.

Bad odors come from food stuck on the shredder rings or the impeller, or food that gets trapped in the lower chamber.

Garbage disposal safety tips

Before going anywhere near the disposal, make sure to flip the breaker or unplug the unit.

Whenever you’re around a garbage disposal, you should keep safety in mind. First off, never stick your fingers into the drain without disconnecting the disposal from its power supply, either by unplugging it or flipping its breaker. Next, you should avoid pouring any caustic chemicals or hot oils down the drain while the disposal is active, it can splatter back up at you. Finally, don’t put waste in the drain that doesn’t break up into small pieces. Tough objects can cause the motor to burn out.

How to get rid of odors in your garbage disposal

1. Flush some cold water down the drain

Running water down the drain can help flush out trapped waste.

The easiest way to get rid of odors is to simply turn on your disposal while running a cold tap to dislodge any food particles caught in the impeller. You can also try filling your sink up about halfway with water and then pulling the stopper while running the disposal—the added downward pressure will help flush out the lower hopper.

2. Use a non-abrasive cleaner

Using a little vinegar or a baking soda mixture can help kill odor-causing bacteria.

By running the disposal with some diluted vinegar or biodegradable cleaner, you can help kill odor-causing bacteria. We’ve also heard people using a mixture of baking soda and warm water to help eliminate odors. You’ll want to avoid drain cleaners because they are corrosive and will damage the disposal.

3. Throw a few ice cubes down there

A few ice cubes down the disposal can help knock loose food particles.

When you toss a few ice cubes down the disposal, they get broken down into small chunks that can knock food particles off the impeller and shredder rings. Be sure to use only a few at a time, as too many will cause the disposal to jam, causing long-term damage.

4. Drop some citrus peels down the drain

Lemon peels can help get rid of odors.

For more immediate relief from bad smells, you can try using lemon or orange peels. However, use thin slices—think zest instead of the whole fruit. Fibrous waste can destroy a garbage disposal. After, flush some cold water down the drain since you’ll find a lemony-fresh scent is only good in moderation.

5. Prevent the need to clean it in the first place

Prevention is the best way to keep your garbage disposal from smelling.

The best method of warding off bad odors is to just avoid using the disposal for large amounts of food waste. Designed to help keep your drains running, garbage disposals are a secondary measure. So instead of using the disposal for getting rid of food waste, try scraping it off into the trash.

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