Informational Guide

How To Clean A Garbage Disposal

Read our step by step guide for cleaning a garbage disposal. These tips will help you safely & easily clear your home food disposer.

by Holly Curell

Anyone who owns a garbage disposal knows what a useful tool it is for any kitchen. We recently introduced you to some of the best garbage disposals on the market, and you can see how many features that manufacturers are building into their products these days.

However, once you have a garbage disposal, you need to make sure you take care of it properly. This means knowing how to clean it quickly and safely. 

A garbage disposal unit is designed to help your home deal with waste effortlessly, meaning less strain on your plumbing. Unfortunately, if you don't take proper care of your garbage disposal, it can become a real hazard.

Without proper maintenance, your garbage disposal can quickly become blocked, meaning it will use more water and not work effectively. After some time, there will be a buildup of waste within it, which can lead to a bad smell in your home. Bacteria can easily develop if waste isn't flushing clean, making your whole kitchen unhygienic. This is a real risk in a space where you prepare food for you and your family.

How to Clean Garbage Disposal

All good plumbers advise that you regularly look after your garbage disposal because preventing the issues is easier than dealing with them afterward. For the best results, you should be cleaning your garbage disposal regularly.

Frequency of Cleaning

Daily Maintenance

How often you clean your garbage disposal will be influenced by how often you use it; however, regular cleaning is essential. You should look to use warm, soapy water (specialized antibacterial spray is best) and run it through the system. This should help you remove any waste and keep it smelling clean.

Weekly Maintenance

Your weekly maintenance is absolutely crucial to maintaining your garbage disposal. You should look to take an old toothbrush and scrub around and inside your garbage disposal. You can also throw in some ice to help clear out the system. To deal with a foul-smelling garbage disposal, try putting some orange or lemon peel into the unit.

Monthly Maintenance

Every month you should be doing a deep clean of your garbage disposal to keep it in the best condition and stop any bad odors. On top of your weekly scrub, you should look to use a mix of baking soda and vinegar. This will bubble up within the garbage disposal, and the acidic properties will help dissolve any blockages and remove bacteria. After about 5 minutes, follow this up with plenty of hot water and thoroughly rinse it out.

There are a lot of great guides to cleaning your garbage disposal out there if you need any further tips.

How to Clean Garbage Disposal in 10 Easy Steps

  • 1
    Turn off the switch
    This is an obvious step, but important for making sure you don't injure yourself. You can usually go under the sink and turn it off, however for older models you'll need to go to your fuse box and entirely cut off the power. Test it before you put your fingers in to avoid any accidental injuries.
  • 2
    Remove lodged objects physically
    By examining the disposal, you should be able to see if there are any obvious blockages. If you're reaching into the garbage disposal, then make sure you're wearing safety gloves so you don't injure yourself on the blades.
  • 3
    Flush with water
    Once the blockage is clear, you should run some clean water through it. Start with cold to rinse out the system and then run some hot or boiling water through to remove any grease that may have built up over time. Make sure you don't use hot water while the system is running as this can damage the mechanism.
  • 4
    Scrub your disposal
    A bit of elbow grease goes a long way, and you will want to scrub your garbage disposal first to get rid of any light dirt or grease. Plumbers and homeowners recommend using dish soap and scrubber, but an old toothbrush will also work well.
  • 5
    Use citrus fruit
    Experts recommend using citrus fruit to deal with the bad smell. You can put lemon peels or orange peels straight into the disposal, or you can mix it with baking soda (see point below) and leave it in for 5 minutes.
  • 6
    Use baking soda and vinegar
    Plumbers top tip for cleaning your garbage disposal is to use baking soda and vinegar. The chemical reaction between the baking soda and vinegar helps remove any buildup in your plumbing. Plus the vinegar is antibacterial and helps remove any odors. It's a cheap but effective solution.
  • 7
    Use bleach to rinse
    Bleach can be your best friend in the kitchen because it helps remove all bacteria. Pour some household bleach into the disposal and let it settle for up to 5 minutes before rinsing clean. Make sure you've rinsed the disposal out thoroughly, or it could stain the device.
  • 8
    Use borax
    Using borax can help to clean your garbage disposal quickly. Borax is a special deodorizer which will help clear out your garbage disposal and pipes. You should use 2 or 3 tablespoons of borax, or 4-5 if your disposal is smelling particularly bad. Leave for 40-50 minutes and then flush clean. 
  • 9
    Clean removable baffle
    The baffle is the filter in between your sink and the garbage disposal (sometimes called a splash guard). You should remove the baffle and clean the underside completely by soaking it in warm soapy water and then scrubbing it clean. Sometimes baffles will be damaged or uncleanable after a lot of use. Fortunately, they aren't difficult to replace, and you can find a complete guide on how to do it here.
  • 10
    Glisten disposal
    This is a foam-based cleaner you can find in most stores which helps remove grease and protect the disposal from buildups in the future. You should apply it directly to the unit and rinse it off afterward. This is an alternative to using citrus peels and gives a fresh smell to your garbage disposal.

Safety Precautions

There are countless tales online of people who have injured themselves using or cleaning their garbage disposal system. Before you do anything, make sure the power is entirely off. There is usually a switch under the sink, but you should also flick the fuse to be sure. Before putting anything into the disposal test it to make sure it isn't going to come on while you're cleaning.

You’ll be using bleach, or an acidic compound like vinegar when cleaning, so make sure you wear safety gloves. This will also protect you from the sharp blades and any harmful bacteria that could have built up in the disposal.

Once you've finished cleaning, make sure everything is completely removed from the garbage disposal before reconnecting the power. Always do a thorough check before switching it back on again. You should also make sure you thoroughly wash your hands afterward.

Removing Garbage Disposal Odor

Your garbage disposal will start to smell over time if it isn't cleaned properly. The best solution is always preventative, so start to get yourself into a routine of cleaning your disposal every week if possible. If you do have a bad odor coming from your disposal, then there are some key products which can help.

Citrus peels should be your first port of call. They are inexpensive, and all you need to do is feed them into the disposal and switch it on. This should instantly help reduce the odor and get your garbage disposal smelling fresh.

Lemon Fresh

Liquid-Plumr is a popular solution to bad smelling drains. It's a bleach alternative that you can pour right into your disposal, and it should have everything smelling fresh in minutes. 

Plumbers often choose Glisten disposer care to clean garbage disposals. It helps remove blockages and grease to leave the whole unit smelling clean and working well. 

You can always use some baking soda and vinegar and pour it into the disposal. This should remove the smell very quickly at a minimal cost.


With a garbage disposal, like any home product, you get out what you put in. If you put in the time to maintain it, then a good garbage disposal will continue to work well for years and prove to be a valuable asset to the home.

If you don't, then you may find it is more trouble than it's worth. Try to get into the habit of cleaning it daily, weekly, and monthly (for a deep clean), and you should see the lifespan of the unit increase.

Holly Curell is the editor extraordinaire for Plumbing Lab. Having grown up in Michigan, Holly has spent time living in New York, Virginia, & currently North Carolina, where she lives with her husband & family. Holly loves DIY & has years of experience with at-home plumbing problems that arise from having 3 kids & living in colder climates. When she's not writing about her plumbing knowledge, Holly enjoys reading, hiking & relaxing with family.