Clean Your Garbage Disposal





Introduction: Clean Your Garbage Disposal

Quick and easy steps to clean your garbage disposal and help it run more effectively.  

Garbage disposals are wonderful built-in kitchen tools. They take almost whatever we give them and make it disappear--down the drain and out of sight.  Despite the heavy work load they take on, they are often neglected when it comes to cleaning and maintenance. Luckily, they are easy and fast to clean as well as maintain which will lead to a more effective and efficient grind when you need it. 

Step 1: Cleaning Tools

You'll be using the following tools to clean your garbage disposal:
  • Kitchen Tongs or Pliers
  • Rock Salt
  • Ice
  • Scrub Brush or Old Toothbrush
  • Dish soap 
  • Citrus Peels
  • White Vinegar
  • Baking Soda
  • Borax (optional)

Step 2: Remove Obstructions

The first step to cleaning your garbage disposal is to remove any obstructions that may have fallen down into the disposal, the most likely culprit being silverware. 

Before sticking anything else into your garbage disposal, turn off the fuse responsible for the power to your disposal. This will prevent your disposal from accidentally turning on while your are working with it. Using needle nose pilers or a set of kitchen tongs, remove any physical obstructions you can find. You should avoid using your hands to remove items from the disposal to avoid injury. If you find that it is absolutely necessary to use your hands, please make sure your fuse and the disposal are OFF. You can easily check this by trying to turn on the disposal. 

Step 3: Sink Side

When cleaning my garbage disposal, I like to work from the outside to the inside, so that all the dirt, grime and germs eventually get flushed down the drain. 

Using your scrub brush or old toothbrush, clean the outer most part of your garbage disposal with a little bit of dish soap. Rinse any remaining residue or soap suds down the disposal with hot tap water. 

Once you have completed your scrubbing, go ahead and turn your fuse for the disposal back on. You'll need to run the disposal for the next couple of cleaning steps. 

Step 4: Grinding Elements

Your grinding elements are the workhorse of the disposal. Consequently, they can easily and quickly get covered in sludge, grease, and grime from the variety of food products they've been breaking up. Just like in the last step, I like to clean the grinding elements first before attacking the drain line so that the grease, grime and dirt from the elements gets flushed when I'm cleaning the drain line. 

Combine 2 cups of ice and 1 cup of rock salt in a bowl or large cup. Pour your mixture into your garbage disposal. Turn on the cold water from your faucet. Run your disposal for 10-15 seconds. The ice and rock salt will act as an abrasive cleaner, knocking off any tough debris clinging to your grinding elements.  

Alternative: Instead of using regular ice, you can freeze vinegar in an ice tray and use those new cubes to clean the grinding elements. If you decide to freeze vinegar, remember to mark it in some way (food coloring?) or mark the ziplock you store it in so you don't end up with vinegar ice cubes in your next glass of water. 

Step 5: Drain

There are two methods in my mind for cleaning and flushing the drain of your disposal. 

Method 1: Plug your sink drain. Fill your sink with hot soapy water up to 4 inches deep--to do this, turn on your tap so that your water is running nice and hot. Squirt a small amount of dish soap into your sink as the water is running. Once you have roughly 4 inches of hot soapy water, pull your drain plug. Turn on your garbage disposal and let your soapy water get pulled through the drain. Hot water is essential in this step as it will help to liquify any grease or oils stuck in the drain, flushing them down and out. 

Method 2: Pour a 1/4 cup of baking soda down into your garbage disposal. Pour a 1/2 cup of white vinegar on top of your baking soda. The two ingredients should start to react foaming and bubbling. Let the reaction run to completion and let it sit for up to 5 minutes. Flush your drain with hot water from your tap. This method will also help eliminate some of the odors coming from the disposal. 

Step 6: Eliminate Odors

To eliminate any remaining odors that may be wafting from your disposal, gather up a handful of citrus peels. I like to use a combination of lemon and orange. You can use any variety of citrus from grapefruits and limes to ugli fruits and tangelos, the key is the citric acid that they contain. 

Place your citrus peels into your garbage disposal. Turn on your cold water from the tap. As the cold water is running, turn on your garbage disposal. Let your disposal run until all of your citrus peels have been broken up. Your disposal and kitchen should be smelling citrus clean and fresh! 

You can also use wedges of slices from your citrus fruits instead of just the peels if you prefer. 

Alternate Deodorizing Agents:
  1. Bleach: Pour a couple of tablespoons of bleach down your garbage disposal and while running your disposal, flush with cold water.
  2. Borax: Pour 1/4 cup of borax down your disposal and let sit for an hour. Flush with cold water while running your disposal. 

Step 7: Future Maintenance Tips

Moving forward, here are some simple steps to help keep your garbage disposal clean and running soothly:
  • Only grind biodegradable food. Your disposal is not a trash can, it cannot process non food items. 
  • Cut the food you are going to grind into small pieces before sending it down the disposal. Smaller items are less likely to get wedged or stuck and clog your disposal or drain. 
  • Avoid sending oils or grease down your disposal. These items can solidify and clog your drain easily. Instead, let them solidify in a disposable container or in your pan and scrape into your trash can. 
  • Avoid expandable foods like pasta, bread, and rice. These items can take on water and expand inside your disposal and drain, leading to clogging and back up. 
  • Run cold water anytime you are running your disposal to help flush particles and bits down the drain. 
  • Run your disposal for up to 10 seconds longer than you normally would, past the grinding noise. This will encourage final bits and pieces to find their way down the drain. 
  • Clean your disposal often, and especially before leaving on an extended trip. When you leave on an extended trip, the food particles left in your disposal can harden and crust on your grinding elements making it harder for them to break down future food. 



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    28 Discussions

    Thanks for sharing.. I'm having this problem now

    Well written 'ible!

    Personally, I have found that citrus peels do _not_ get ground up by the disposal very well. I've had to pull them out when last I tried them.

    I would not recommend limes running inside your disposal. They often don't break up like you would like. Generally you will have to fish them out after they tumble around a bit.

    On the other hand, is to use those little cuties citrus fruit (I think are basically mandarin oranges. Basically toss one inside your disposal whole when it is running. If they ever sit to long in your fridge and you decide to toss them out, instead let your disposal do the trick.

    I have always been told to, and have used ice cubes to sharpen the blades. The first of every month just put down 2 trays of ice cubes.

    It's the rubber piece around the opening that has gotten gross. best way to clean that? The brush...but it just flexes out of the way when I try to scrub it.

    1 reply

    I struggled with that, too. A bottle brush is the best thing I've come up with. Something like The rubber skirt on my disposal (not "my rubber skirt", that is different) will stay up briefly when flipped inside out. Basically I push the brush down through the skirt and then rotate and swirl as I pull it out. Two or three swirlies with some soap or peroxide or whatever you like and it is good as new.

    Thank you for pinpointing fixes for odor and sanitation issues. I do use squeezed-out citrus pieces just for this. Since I began composting (and since now my city takes compost along with yard clippings) I use my disposal lightly. But I do use the unit for most of the stuff that falls in the sink from cooking and washing. I want to maintain the (not so young) unit for as long as possible without calling the plumber!

    this was one of the best and most practical instructables I have found in a long time. Great explanation! Thanks!

    Really helpful 'able. Thanks for writing it up!

    Love that I found this to do right now as this is my first thing on my list tomorrow... My question: every time I try the citrus rind I end up with tiny particles of rotting stinky rind a few days later.. I do the super hot water and Dawn detergent run for a few minutes (until the disposer quiets down) but the rinds never fully go away. Blades not sharp? I clean the disposer one time per week

    4 replies

    areza4, follow up with ice cubes after your citrus. They will help grind up whatever is left in there

    Use more detergent and less water, and when you dump it down, do not try to rinse it through, instead letting the strong detergent solution sit in the disposal to work on the citrus oils for several minutes.

    Hey Areza4! Thats a pickle. I personally haven't had that problem. Maybe try citric acid in powder form or use just the juice from your favorite citrus fruit instead of the rinds and avoid the problem completely?

    Hey Areza4! Thats a pickle. I personally haven't had that problem. Maybe try citric acid in powder form or use just the juice from your favorite citrus fruit instead of the rinds and avoid the problem completely?

    There are surfaces that surround the sink opening that get splashed with food particles. If you can get a scrubber to those parts you will discover slime that is not addressed by any chemical cleaning methods.

    A plumber told me that most in his industry hate disposals. They are the cause of more sink clogs than anything else. Not in the trap, but further down the line. He suggested running hot water for at least a minute after using the disposal to flush the pipes of any remaining debris. It may save a call to have the pipes snaked in the future. I have done this ever since he was here to snake my pipes and have not had a problem since. A very well done instructable BTW.

    cool, but no, this wont sharpen a thing. garbage disposals dont have blades. they have beaters that are blunt weights on pivots. they will never sharpen, nor were they intended to be.

    3 replies

    That's true -- but they force the material against a cheese-grater-like outside -- which may have sharp edges.

    It's not clear whether any of the parts to this will sharpen those... I've heard of everything from egg shells to lightbulb glass being used for that.

    An abrasive will only dull them further. Practically speaking the grating ring is good for the life of the unit, either way the particles are forced through the holes unless they are clogged.

    Egg shells might clean those, but I wouldn't expect it to sharpen them much. Glass would be a really bad idea all around, most likely taking out the rubber seals on the pump. Seen that happen from a small piece off a metal pot scrubber. The customer ended up replacing the sump / motor assy for that one. (the cost between just the pump vs pump with sump assy was one dollar... I couldn't believe it at the time). Replacing the entire sump assy actually saved her a few dollars as it cut about 15 minutes labor. She felt really bad, but I told her how was she to have known. It was a freak thing.