How to Clean Your Garbage Disposal

There is a right way to clean your smelly garbage disposal.

If there's a horrible stench in your kitchen, chances are it's coming from the sink—or, the garbage disposal to put it more accurately. It's no secret that the garbage disposal is an indispensable kitchen appliance. Not only does it shred food scraps into tiny pieces to keep your drains and pipes clear, but it's also useful for washing away crumbs, juices, and sauces in the sink. Despite its benefit in getting rid of food waste, collecting all those food particles, bacteria, and debris comes at a dangerously smelly cost. Green cleaning Leslie Reichert has simple tips to keep your garbage disposal working well and staying fresh.

Sponge in Kitchen Sink

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How Often to Clean Your Garbage Disposal

Although a garbage disposal is a pain to clean, it's important to clean the splash guard monthly and do a quicker freshening clean every week to keep the drain working properly and your home smelling fresh. Keeping up with this easy chore and knowing that your home will never be unexpectedly overtaken by a stinky sink is a relief.

Considerations Before Getting Started

Please—never put your hand in the garbage disposal. If you need to get something out, use tongs.

And whatever you do, do not use bleach or abrasive cleaners. To avoid damaging your septic tank (if applicable), pipes, and disposal impellers, it's best to use natural alternatives instead of corrosive cleaning agents like ammonia or bleach.

What You Need:

* Rubber gloves

* Small brush

* Baking Soda

* Vinegar

* Ice cubes

* Salt

* Bottle brush (optional)

How to Clean Your Garbage Disposal with Baking Soda and Vinegar

Before you get to the disposal itself, start with cleaning the splash guard monthly. This rubber guard that separates the sink from the drain is "sometimes the culprit for foul odors," explains Reichert. Put on your rubber gloves, and if the splash guard is removable, take it out. Brace yourself: you might see some nasty gunk. Scrub the splash guard clean with your brush and hot, soapy water. If the splash guard isn't removable, Reichert says to pull up each rubber flap and clean underneath with the scrub brush and hot, soapy water.

  1. To clean the disposal, make a "volcano," Reichert says. The volcano method (yes, the same one you used in science class) involves using baking soda and vinegar to deodorize the garbage disposal. Reichert says to pour a half cup of baking soda into the drain while adding a cup of hot white distilled vinegar. (You can safely heat the vinegar in the microwave.) From there, watch the foaming, bubbling magic happen. "Let it sit for a few minutes, then pour a quart of boiling water down the disposal to flush everything down the drain," Reichert says. "That will leave the chopping part of the disposal lovely and fresh."
  2. Next, put 2 cups of ice cubes and a cup of salt down the drain, turn on the cold water and run the disposal. The ice and salt make a great cleaning and deodorizing combination, says Reichert.
  3. If your disposal hasn't been cleaned in a while, you can also add in a scrub with a bottle brush and soapy water. To be safe, turn off the disposal before cleaning it with the brush.

Keep Your Garbage Disposal Cleaner Longer

The garbage disposal is a big help in the kitchen and can handle just about any and everything you toss its way. But to keep it humming along in tip-top shape, clean it regularly and don't put the wrong scraps and liquids down the drain.

Besides regular cleaning, the easiest and smartest way to keep your garbage disposal fresh is to avoid putting problematic foods down the drain. Experts say to find another way to dispose of meat, egg shells, bones, stringy vegetables and fruits (the fibers from celery, corn husks, banana peels, and similar items can tangle in the blades, getting stuck and causing odor or even breaking the disposal). Oil and fats are the biggest culprits when it comes to foul odors and clogs. Oil can easily coagulate as it cools, gumming up the works and turning rancid. Not good. Another tip: Reichert says cutting food into smaller pieces before putting it in the disposal helps keep the mechanism from getting overwhelmed.

How to Prevent Smells in Your Garbage Disposal

To combat odors, use the power of citrus, says Reichert. The next time you have leftover citrus peels, whether they be lemon, grapefruit, orange, or lime peels, toss a few pieces of the peel in your garbage disposal, while simultaneously turning on the disposal and running cold water down the drain. Why? The rough texture of the peel will clean the blades, and the oils from the citrus fruit will serve as a natural freshener and help to remove excess buildup.

To build up an on-hand supply, next time you eat or cook with citrus, put a few peels in the freezer.

According to Reichert, if you don't have a stash of orange or grapefruit peels, use a tray of ice cubes and a half cup of baking soda to keep unpleasant smells away.

When to Call a Professional

If your garbage disposal gets jammed, or if your odor problems aren't solved by home remedies, it's time to call a pro.

Now that your garbage disposal is smelling fresh, here's how to get rid of another common stinky issue: mildewy, musty odors in clothing.

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