Garbage disposals are good at grinding food wastes into pulp. But that also means that they come in direct contact with food wastes and water, which gradually stick on their blades and other moving parts. These food wastes will then start to rot, creating smell and bacteria.
Also, these food wastes dull the disposal blades making them less effective at what they do.
Did I say ‘blades’? My mistake, garbage disposals don’t have blades. They use a fast rotating disc to the food wastes at a stationary grinding ring, and this hammering action is what breaks the food wastes into smaller pieces. Here is a video explaining this process in detail;
Some people suggest the occasional sharpening of garbage disposal blades for their better performance. But practically, it is not possible to sharpen any parts of a garbage disposal’s grinding components. What you can do is clean these components so their grinding action goes unobstructed.
So here are 8 easy ways to clean a garbage disposal (and sharpen their blades, of course).
Grind lots of ice cubes
Grinding ice cubes is an excellent way of cleaning a garbage disposal. I am not talking about grinding one or two cubes of ice, and I mean lots of them.
Here is how it is done;
Take a tub or two full of ice cubes and put them in the sink. Run ‘hot water’ and start the garbage disposal. Within a few minutes, the ice cubes and water in the sink will look like a vortex, and the water will turn murky with all the rust and dirt dislodged from the garbage disposal. This is the most satisfying cleaning method to watch as you can see how effective it is, judging by the amount of dirt in the sink.
Continue running the disposer. The water in the sink will drain slowly, washing away all the dirt and rust. Make sure that you are running the hot water throughout the entire process. Once the sink is drained fully, and all the ice is done grinding, check the disposer. 99% of the time, it will be clean. On the rare occasion that it is not, you can try this method again.
What happens here is that the abrasive action of the ice pieces dislodges any rust and food wastes sticking to the grinding components of the garbage disposal. Grinding ice provides a similar effect as ice blasting. Moreover, any ice that may get stuck in the garbage disposal will eventually get melted, so there is no chance of the ice jamming the disposal.
As you might have noticed, I advised running hot water, not cold water; as normally done when we grind food wastes. The reason is, this hot water will help to melt the grease and oil sticking onto the disposal blades, and doing so quickens the cleaning process. It also helps to melt and remove the ice particles to make the cleaning cleaner!
Some people recommend adding citrus peels along with ice cubes, but I am against it. It is alright to add the peels once the disposer is clear of ice cubes, but doing that along with the bulk amount of ice may jam the disposer as both items have different natures.
Clean with liquid dish soap
Using liquid dish soap, the same one you use to wash your plates is the easiest way to clean a garbage disposal. It is not as effective as using ice cubes, but this method doesn’t take any preparations, so you can easily do this daily.
Here is how to clean a garbage disposal using liquid dish soap;
Turn on the garbage disposal and run some water. I prefer hot water, but cold is also good. Then pour some dish soap into the disposer. You will see it foaming up instantly. Turn off the water but keep the disposal running. Let the foam sit there, dissolving all the fat and grease sticking to the grinding components. After a minute, just some more water to wash away the foam. You can also add more dish soap if required. Just repeat the process until the insides of the garbage disposal are clean and shiny.
This method is effective when done daily. It works against grease and fat, but it won’t remove rust. If you are using a stainless steel disposer like Evolution Excel, its insides won’t rust, and hence this is the only cleaning you need to do.
Coke, it turns out, is not only a party drink but also a good cleaner. You can clean a toilet with it, and even a garbage disposal.
Coke (& Pepsi too) contains phosphoric acid, and it is this acid behind its cleaning power. Phosphoric acid has grease-busting abilities, and it will dissolve any grease it comes in contact with.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a video of this cleaning process. However, the steps are straightforward.
All you have to do is start the garbage disposal and pour some coke into it. Empty half the bottle and turn off the disposer. By this time, the coke must have splashed all over the grinding components of the machine. Let it sit for a few minutes so the coke can dissolve all the grease it comes in contact with. After that, turn on the disposer again and empty the rest of the bottle. Then run some hot water, this will wash away any remains of the coke and food wastes.
While it sounds fun, using coke is not an effective way of cleaning a garbage disposal. If you have a bottle of coke that you need to discard, by all means, feel free to empty it into the disposer. But it won’t remove any rust, and it won’t clean as effectively as dish soap does.
Using Baking soda and Vinegar
Baking soda is a mild abrasive natural substance that can easily dissolve grease and oils in water. It has neutral pH levels even though it is slightly alkaline. What makes it unique is that it can also neutralize odors instead of covering them up. So baking soda is used as a household cleaning agent very often.
Another common green cleaning agent used in all households is vinegar. Vinegar is slightly acidic in nature as it contains Acetic acid. It is often used as an alternative to bleach, which is a chemical.
A combination of vinegar and baking soda (Sodium Bicarbonate) is an effective cleaning agent and a deodorizer. It is the best solution to clean a smelly garbage disposal.
Here is how to use baking soda and vinegar to clean a garbage disposal;
First, pour a cup of baking soda into the garbage disposal. Then add a glass of vinegar. When vinegar meets baking soda, it instantly fizzes up. This is due to a chemical reaction between these two substances, and this chemical reaction releases carbon dioxide. This slight eruption and the pressure created by it help unclog drains, and the slightly abrasive nature of the baking soda removes any stains and food wastes sticking inside the garbage disposal.
Once this is done, add some boiling water into the disposer, and let it sit for some time. This will melt any fat and grease sticking onto the garbage disposal blades. Then turn on your kitchen faucet and run the disposer for a minute or so. This will not only clean the insides of the garbage disposal but also neutralize any smells. And there it is; a clean garbage disposal!
Using dish soap and boiling water
We already saw how to clean a garbage disposal with dishwashing soap. This method is just a modification of that one. Here we add a pot of boiling water into the garbage disposal along with dish soap to remove tougher stains and fats.
The first step here is to add some dish soap into the garbage disposal. Do not run it at this point. Let the soap sit there for a while. Then boil a pot of water, and when it is hot, flood the sink with it while running the garbage disposal. The point is to make sure that the whole garbage disposal is filled with hot water to dissolve all the dirt and sticky food wastes. Once the whole water is drained, run the hot water from the faucet for some more time, so it washes away any remains left in the disposer.
Using citrus peels and fruit pits
Citrus peels are a great way to clean a smelly garbage disposal. You can use citrus peels with any of the cleaning methods above. They are totally safe to grind, and the citric acid in them helps to remove stains and odors. You can also add a fruit pit, like an Avacado pit, into the disposal along with the citrus peels. The fruit pit’s abrasive action will remove rust and food particles from the grinding components inside the garbage disposal’s chamber.
You can also use ice cubes instead of fruit pits. Here is a creative method for cleaning with citrus peels, ice cubes, and vinegar;
The cleaning process is pretty simple. Run your garbage disposal while running lots of cold water. Then add citrus peels into the unit one after another, but do not overload it. The garbage disposal will grind the peels and spread the citric acid in them, dissolving food stains and grease. Then put one Avacado pit or some ice cubes into it to create some abrasive action. This will dislodge most sticky particles and rust. Make sure you run water throughout the cleaning process. When you are done, the disposer will be clean and shiny.
Using a rack of ribs
You can also clean a garbage disposal by grinding a rack of ribs. But make sure to grind them one by one taking plenty of time. Otherwise, this can clog the unit creating a messy situation.
This may look a little unconventional, but it doesn’t work. You can also use chicken bones; they are softer than ribs and are better suited for low power garbage disposals. To start the cleaning, first, insert two or three ribs and run the garbage disposal. You don’t need to run water at this point because we are not washing away any of the ground ribs but instead using them to dislodge any dirt and rust from the garbage disposal. Once the ribs are ground, you can turn on the water and wash away all the debris. A good indicator of whether the ribs are ground or not is the sound coming from the disposer. It will be noisy at first, but when the sound evens out, that is when you know that the bones are ground.
Use a garbage disposal cleaner
There are ready-made garbage disposal cleaners, like Glisten, available in shops with which you can easily clean and deodorize your garbage disposal.
All you have to do is put a sachet of this cleaner into the disposer with a trickle of water running. Once you start the disposer, this will instantly bubble up, creating a beautiful blue foam. Wait till the cleaning foam completely disappears from the disposer; this may take a minute or two. After this, turn off the disposer, and you have a clean and shiny disposer!
How to clean the rubber flange of a garbage disposal
All the methods I mentioned above clean the insides of a garbage disposal, but you also have to clean its splash guard. The splash guard, aka sink baffle, is a rubber flap that sits between the garbage disposals and the sink, and it prevents the contents in the garbage disposal from splashing back into the sink.
It is vital to clean this splash guard because its underside is always full of sticky food particles. These particles will eventually rot and smell, and this is unhygienic.
For some garbage disposal models, the splash guards are removable. So they are pretty easy to clean; all you have to do is remove them from the sinkhole and wash it. You can also put them in a dishwasher. If you have a Waste King or an InSinkErator Evolution series garbage disposal, its splash guard is removable, and so you can clean it this way.
But for some other disposer models, like for a standard InSinkErator garbage disposal, the splash guard is not removable. So what you can do in this case is to lift the flaps of the splash guard and clean its underside using a toothbrush.
Additional reading: are splash guards universal?
You should also clean the sink flange if necessary.
Why clean a garbage disposal?
Garbage disposals are machines that require no or less maintenance. But it is important to keep them clean for their efficient working and longevity. It is also important to use the disposer once in a while because when not used, its moving parts can get rusty, and it may not work when you need it.
There are two main reasons why you need to clean your garbage disposal regularly;
- To remove rust
- To avoid smell and bacteria
The grinding components of garbage disposals are made of metal. These grinding components are made of galvanized steel in budget garbage disposal models, which will rust eventually. This rusting will prevent the free movement of the swivel lugs on the rotor, a main grinding component. Regular cleaning will reduce that kind of rust build-ups.
Even though you run water to wash away all the food debris, some may stick to the walls and the grinding parts of the garbage disposal. This will, after some time, start to smell and create bacteria. It can also attract flies and gnats into the disposal. Cleaning the garbage disposal regularly is the only way to avoid this.
Things you shouldn’t use to clean a garbage disposal
There are certain things and methods which you shouldn’t use to clean a garbage disposal. Here are they;
I have heard this advice from someone that you can sharpen garbage disposal blades using broken glass. That suggestion is not only bogus but also dangerous. A flying shard of glass from the garbage disposal can cause injury.
The point they are making is that since glass is abrasive it can dislodge rust and food wastes from the disposer. But glass particles are sedimentary in nature and so even if you manage to grind the glass pieces without injury they may clog the drains. It is also not possible to entirely wash away glass particles from the disposer.
So grinding broken glass in a garbage disposal is a bad idea. Related reading: How to take broken glass out of garbage disposal?
Coffee grounds and egg shells
Coffee grounds and eggshells are also abrasive in nature so it is possible to remove rust and stains in the garbage disposal using them. And they also do not cause any danger to the operator of the disposer. However, like glass, these items are sedimentary in nature and so they will accumulate in the pipes eventually leading to clogs.
Using chemicals, including bleach, to clean a garbage disposal is a bad idea. These chemicals can easily corrode the grinding chamber of the garbage disposals over time. This will lead to leaks and such problems. So it is not advised to use any harsh chemicals to clean a garbage disposal.