How to Clean a Garbage Disposal

Cleaning your garbage disposal is a quick and easy way to help keep your kitchen smelling fresh and your sink drain working properly. Although well-maintained garbage disposals that are used correctly should generally clean themselves, the following tips will help keep your garbage disposal in tip-top shape.

1. Cleaning the Garbage Disposal

Most garbage disposals are made of a metal cylinder equipped with rotating impellers. Many newer units include a series of grinders on the sides or bottom of the metal cylinder that grind down the contents of the garbage disposal. In either case, the insides of a disposal can quickly become covered with sludge and debris. No matter how hard you try to protect your disposal, items unsuitable for disposing will find their way down your drain. Glass, metal, rubber objects or highly fibrous food materials like cornhusks, shrimp shells, peach pits, artichoke leaves or large bones will need to be physically removed from the disposal. In all cases, items that become lodged or left within your disposal will breed odor-causing bacteria and compromise the performance of your garbage disposal and drain. There are a few ways to clean sludge and debris:

Clearing Items Out of the Garbage Disposal

Safety is important when clearing your garbage disposal. Before you start, be sure to turn off the fuse that regulates power to your garbage disposal to ensure there is no chance for the unit to turn on while you're clearing it. Using tongs or pliers, you may be able to remove any non-disposable items stuck inside your garbage disposal. You should try to avoid sticking your hands inside of the disposer, but if it becomes necessary to use your hands, be sure that the power to the unit is disabled.

Cleaning the Grinding Elements Using Ice and Rock Salt

You can combine two cups of ice cubes and a cup of rock salt to make a great cure for malodorous garbage disposals. Fill the garbage disposal with the ice cubes and then pour the salt over the ice cubes. Run cold water and turn on the garbage disposal for approximately 5-10 seconds. The combination of ice and rock salt will help knock sludge and debris off of the grinding elements so that they can make their way down the drain. If you don't happen to have rock salt, substituting a cup of vinegar will also work.

2. Clearing the Drain Line

Good general garbage disposer maintenance includes a periodic purging of the drain line leading from the garbage disposal. You should also purge the line after removing sludge and debris because it ensures that all dislodged items make their way down the drain. This can be accomplished by plugging your drain, filling your sink with 2-4 inches of water and then removing the drain plug and turning on the garbage disposal. Then all of the collected water gets pulled through the line. In addition to being a part of good maintenance, you should also clear your drain line each time after you dispose of particularly fibrous foods. It will help ensure that all of the food particles make their way down the drain.

3. Freshening up your Garbage Disposal Using Citrus Peels

After you've cleared and cleaned your garbage disposal, you can use citrus peels (oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruit) to help freshen up your sink. Put a handful of citrus peels into your garbage disposal, run the cold water and turn on the disposal. The citric acid will help deodorize your disposer and leave your kitchen smelling fresh.

It's especially a good idea to clean your garbage disposal before you leave your house for a few days. Having food, sludge and debris sitting in a moist garbage disposal that isn't being used is a sure fire recipe for breeding odor-causing bacteria. Following these easy steps will help keep your garbage disposal working properly and your kitchen sink smelling clean.