How to clean your garbage disposal and avoid that gunk for good

Clean as you mean it shows you how to tackle the trickiest places in your home, whether they’re just gross or in need of some elbow grease. You’ll get the cleaning secrets we learned from grandma, a guide to our handiest tools and helpers, and so much more. Put on those rubber gloves and line up to listen to the music: it’s scrubbing time!

As someone who didn’t have a garbage disposal until the age of 25, these kitchen appliances are honestly the best. Gone are the days of having to fish little bits of food out of a drain strainer or worry about gunk clogging up your pipes. Instead, all you have to do is flip a little switch, and woosh! It’s all there, shredded into small pieces.

Like any kitchen appliance, however, trash cans require regular cleaning, and if you skip the maintenance, you can often end up with a stinky, slimy mess on your hands. After all, food particles that are not washed down the drain can quickly rot. The good news, however, is that it’s actually really easy to clean a trash can – and that’s coming from someone who absolutely hates cleaning. Here’s what you need to do to keep your elimination spotless and odor-free.

For quick and easy cleaning

It’s a good idea to give your garbage disposal a quick clean once a week, but that doesn’t mean you have to take everything apart and scrub every inch of it. For a low-effort cleaning method, start by raising the splash guard — the rubber panel that sits around the drain hole — and wipe away any grime that has collected on its underside. (This is often the cause of odors.) Some guards can even be removed and put in the dishwasher for hands-off cleaning.

Once you’ve taken care of it, throw a few handfuls of ice cubes in the trash can and turn it on without water. The ice will help break up any food particles stuck to the blades. Once you hear that the grind has almost stopped, turn on the cold water to rinse the grinder and let it run for at least 30 seconds.

To refresh it

If you want your garbage disposal to smell fresh and clean, there are a few tricks you can use to neutralize odors and give it a pleasant scent. Start by pouring half a cup of baking soda down the drain. (It doesn’t have to be an exact measurement, so be sure to look it up.) Then follow up with about a cup of white vinegar – the combination will fizz, breaking down any lingering grime. Let it work its magic for about 10 minutes, then use warm water to rinse it off.

From there, toss a few citrus peels in the trash. I like to use lemon, but orange or lime work just as well. Run cold tap water and turn on the grinder to give it a crisp, clean smell. You can use this tip every few days if needed – personally I do this whenever I have lemon zest left.

For periodic deep cleaning

Once or twice a year you may want to give your garbage disposal a thorough cleaning, especially if it has a lingering odor. To do this, you will need to unplug the device and/or turn off its circuit breaker. Be sure to test the power switch to make sure it’s really off.

Next, put on a pair of rubber gloves—this part can get quite rough—and use a sponge or long-handled scrub brush to wipe down the inside of the grinding chamber. The blades on these devices aren’t too sharp, but you’ll still need to work carefully to avoid nicking yourself. Rinse your cleaning tool frequently to get rid of grime and make sure you get the top and bottom of the splash guard.

Once the grinding chamber is clean, you can plug the garbage disposal back in and run hot water through it for a few minutes to rinse it well. Feel free to follow any of the methods described above to refresh it.

Tips for maintaining a garbage disposal

If you want to keep your garbage disposal in good condition, it’s important to treat it properly. There are a few important guidelines that people often overlook, but these easy steps will ensure your waste disposal is running optimally for years to come.

  • Don’t overload your layout: If you have a lot of food scraps to dispose of, toss them in the trash a little at a time.
  • Know what can’t go wrong: Disposers can handle a lot, but some foods can damage or break your device. You shouldn’t put fat, bones, fruit pits or pasta in the trash, and fibrous products, like celery or onion skins can also get stuck. Try composting them instead!
  • Rinse it: Odors in your garbage disposal are often caused by bits of food that aren’t washed down the drain. Run the water for 20-30 seconds after grinding to thoroughly flush the grinding chamber and pipes.
  • Avoid harsh cleaning chemicals: You should not use bleach or other harsh chemical cleaners in your garbage disposal, as they can corrode the metal components of the device and wreak havoc on your pipes.