Clean Like You Mean It

How to Clean Your Garbage Disposal & Stave Off the Gunk for Good

It's time to clean up the ultimate clean-up tool.

March  9, 2022
Photo by Rocky Luten

Clean Like You Mean It shows you how to tackle the trickiest spots in your home—whether they’re just plain gross or need some elbow grease. You’ll get the cleaning secrets we’ve learned from grandma, a guide to our handiest tools and helpers, and so much more. Pull on those rubber gloves and queue up the tunes: It’s scour hour!

Speaking as someone who didn’t have a garbage disposal until she was 25, these kitchen appliances are honestly the best. Gone are the days when you have to fish little chunks of food out of a drain filter or worry about gunk getting clogged up in your pipes. Instead, all you have to do is flip a little switch, and woosh! There it all goes, shredded into tiny pieces.

Like any kitchen appliance, though, garbage disposals require regular cleaning, and if you skip out on maintenance, you can often end up with a stinky, slimy mess on your hands. After all, the food particles that don’t get washed down the drain can quickly rot. The good news, however, is that it’s actually very easy to clean a garbage disposal—and that’s coming from someone who absolutely hates cleaning. Here’s what you should do to keep your disposal pristine and odor-free.

For A Quick-And-Easy Clean

It’s a good idea to give your garbage disposal a quick cleaning on a weekly basis, but that doesn’t mean you have to take everything apart and scour every inch. For a low-effort cleaning method, start by flipping up the splash guard—the rubber panel that sits around the drain hole—and wiping off any gunk that’s accumulated on its underside. (This is often the cause of odors.) Some guards can even be removed and out in the dishwasher for hands-off cleaning.

Once you’ve taken care of that, toss a few handfuls of ice cubes into the garbage disposal, and turn it on without water. The ice will help break up any food particles that are stuck on the blades. Once you hear the grinding has mostly stopped, turn on the cold water to flush out the disposal and let it run for at least 30 seconds.

To Freshen It Up

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

From here, toss a few citrus peels into the garbage disposal. I like to use lemon, but orange or lime work just as well. Run cold tap water and turn on the disposal to make it smell bright and clean. You can use this trick every few days as needed—personally, I do it any time I have leftover lemon peels.

For A Periodic Deep Clean

Once or twice a year, you may want to deep clean your garbage disposal, especially if it has a lingering odor. To do this, you’ll want to unplug the appliance and/or turn off its circuit breaker. Be sure to test the power switch to ensure it’s truly off.

Next, put on a pair of rubber gloves—this part can get kind of gross—and use either a sponge or long-handle scrub brush to wipe down the interior of the grinding chamber. The blades in these appliances aren’t overly sharp, but you’ll still want to work carefully to avoid nicking yourself. Rinse your cleaning tool frequently to get rid of the gunk, and be sure to get the top and underside 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 really flush it out. Feel free to follow up with either of the methods outlined above to freshen it up.

Tips for Maintaining a Garbage Disposal

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

  • Don’t overload your disposal: If you have a large amount of food waste to dispose of, put it down into the disposal a little at a time.
  • Know what can’t go down the drain: Garbage disposals can handle a lot, but there are certain foods that can damage or break your appliance. You shouldn't put grease, bones, fruit pits, or pasta down the garbage disposal, and fibrous produce, like celery or onion peels can get stuck as well. Try composting these instead!
  • Flush it out: Odors in your garbage disposal are often caused by pieces of food that don’t get washed all the way down the drain. Run water for 20-30 seconds after grinding to thoroughly flush out the grinding chamber and pipes.
  • Avoid harsh cleaning chemicals: You shouldn’t use bleach or other harsh chemical cleaners in your garbage disposal, as they can corrode the metal components of the appliance and wreak havoc on your pipes.

How do you clean your garbage disposal? Share your tips below!

Photo by Ty Mecham. Design by Angelyn Cabrales

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Olivia Burton
    Olivia Burton
  • Jmandevi@me
  • DebbieG
  • Smaug
  • Negative Nellie
    Negative Nellie
Freelance writer, product tester & baking enthusiast.


Olivia B. December 19, 2022
Hey! Thank you for sharing these helpful tips.
Let me add just one thing. Some plumbers say that egg shells help sharpen and clean the garbage disposal and the coffee grounds help eliminate odors. While this may be true, it is also true that egg shell membranes and coffee grounds can clog your drains and pipes, especially if you have a septic tank. So it’s best to avoid putting eggshells and coffee grounds in the disposal; however, a small amount every once in a while should be perfectly fine.
Olivia B. December 19, 2022
I read about it here:
Jmandevi@me April 2, 2022
Garbage disposals are not the environmental catastrophe that some seem to think. One is better off prudently using this device than merely throwing everything in the garbage, which only adds to America’s landfill issues (and is actually banned in some places). Also, not everyone has the ability to easily compost either - think of space deprived apartment and condo dwellers in high density urban areas).

With regard to the recommendation of pulling lemon or Orange peels down a disposal… don’t. The ice recommendation is a good one, but if you want the fresh smell of lemons, just slowly pour straight lemon juice down your drain - get the smell without creating the issues the peel could contribute to.
Smaug April 2, 2022
Apart from the issue of fats in the sewer line, which is a major one, when you do this you are, instead of having your garbage hauled away (assuming your area doesn't have a compost program, which nearly all do), what you are doing is grinding up your garbage (burning energy), mixing it with water (a scarce resource in some places, more to come) and pumping it an unknown distance (more energy) to a sewage treatment plant to be dealt with there- an awfully inefficient way to dispose of it.
Jmandevi@me April 2, 2022
Yes, just about everything we do requires energy - even the EV you may drive requires it (albeit the real benefit of these is shifting from non-point source polluting to point source). Unfortunately, most of the U.S. does not have formalized composting or mandated composting programs. I live in the fairly green state of CA and where I live in LA County there is a Jan 1, 2022 mandated requirement of no longer throwing food items in our trash, but the complex I live in does not have a composting program and if I composted in my kitchen I’d need to figure out someplace to take it - I’d have to drive my combustion engine a ways to do this.

Landfills across the country are approx 60% filled with food waste and it takes energy to get that stuff to the landfill, it typically requires people use more plastic trash bags if they toss their food, and then once in the landfill it takes decades for the organic matter to decompose and when it does finally breakdown it emits higher amounts of methane than non organic matter. Not trying to argue the point, but rather trying to demonstrate that like most things in life the choice of using or not using a garbage disposal for food does not have a simple black or white answer.
Smaug April 2, 2022
It's now law in California that food scraps must be separated from trash, but the rollout is spread out over a few years- as a rule food scraps are put in green cans with garden waste. If your complex doesn't have green recycling, they need to get it, just ask for a bin. In LA, you could also look into Composting LA and LA Compost, a couple of 0rganizations looking to bridge the gap in collections. Yes, trucking garbage uses a certain amount of energy, but nothing like what you use by grinding it, mixing it with water, pumping it and processing it. There is an assumption that organic matter in landfills will eventually rot anaerobically releasing methane, but the science is dubious; buried materials don't necessarily decompose anaerobically. There is a great deal of methane produced in sewer lines, where decomposition is generally anaerobic- they are always thoroughly vented to avoid gas buildup.
DebbieG March 12, 2022
Not every comment has to incite controversy! If you don't care for disposals, fine, but just move on. I use mine daily, clean it frequently, using baking soda and vinegar and I don't put lime peel down it. So what? A little graciousness in daily life could go a long way for many! Geez!
Smaug March 12, 2022
Geez, well that was certainly gracious and non controversial. It's not so much a matter of "Don't care for" as that they're socially irresponsible-we all depend on those sewer lines-and please don't promulgate common myths.
Smaug March 9, 2022
These devices should really be avoided entirely- you're inevitably washing fats down the drain where they cause all sorts of mischief. The myth that a combination of vinegar and baking soda is an effective cleaner seemingly won't die, but they just neutralize each other; either one separately is a better choice. Garbage disposals don't have blades; they have impellers.
Negative N. March 9, 2022
"If you have a large amount of food waste to dispose of", throw it in the trash or the compost! What's so hard about that? Why do people insist on throwing stuff in a mechanical device that will eventually breakdown(yes it will, and at the worst time), instead of using the trash for trash and the disposal for cleaning plates?