Inside: A smelly garbage disposal is the worst; but what do you do when it starts to smell and clog? Find out what steps you need to take to properly clean out a garbage disposal to keep it running and smelling fresh.
Since the invention of an in-sink kitchen garbage disposal, clean up while cooking and getting rid of food that no one’s going to eat has never been easier. There’s nothing better than shoving some food particles down the sinkhole, flipping a switch, and listening to the food being chewed up and swallowed by the garbage disposal.
During cleanup, there are times items fall into the disposal, such as plastic utensils or flatware. These garbage disposal mishaps can make a lovely evening turn into a 7-hour visit at the local emergency department, as well as, causing the blades to get dull.
If a blade is dull, it won’t effectively grind up the food you put down the disposal, causing some chunks to remain in the disposal. The residual food particles are what cause the smell to emit from the garbage disposal.
The right way and the wrong way to use a garbage disposal
Not everyone knows the proper way to use a garbage disposal. Heck, I was doing it wrong for over 30-years. Before we move on to learning how to clean it, it would be kinda interesting to see if you’re using your garbage disposal correctly.
Things to avoid putting down your garbage disposal
Don’t feel bad if you’ve put any of the items listed below in your garbage disposal. If you did, you’re in good company. I’ve done it all; learned the hard way, and won’t ever do it again.
Asparagus, celery & corn husks – Although you would think these would be pretty safe to shove down the garbage disposal, all of the items mentioned have stringy fibers that can get caught between the blades, causing your garbage disposal to stop working.
Bones & pits – Avoid placing any type of bone (fish, chicken, meat, etc..) down your disposal. It’s too hard and will damage your blades. The same thing goes for pits, such as avocado, peach, and even apple pits. As a general rule, if the item is hard, throw it in the trash can.
Eggshells – When an eggshell is ground up, the membranes turn into a sand-like substance that can adhere to the blades, causing your garbage disposal to clog.
Grease – When you’re draining out the grease from your hamburger meat into a glass jar or whatever you store grease in before throwing it out, there are times grease seems to miss the jars opening and slither down the drain. If that happens there’s no need to be overly concerned, but if you pour an entire saute pan of grease down the garbage disposal, you’re looking for a lot of trouble.
If grease does make its way down your drain, immediately run cold water. The cold water will harden the grease allowing it to be ground down into small chunks and be taken away from the disposal. If you use hot water, the grease will stick to the blades of the disposal, which will almost always eventually require you to take the disposal apart or to call a plumber.
Pasta & Rice – Avoid putting cooked rice or pasta down your garbage disposal. This is something I recently learned the hard way. Rice and pasta are starch-based foods. Although you cooked both, they’re still starchy. When you grind up rice or pasta in your garbage disposal the starch can turn into a yucky mess creating a thick paste that may cause your garbage disposal to stop working.
Potato peels – Potato peels fall into the same category as pasta and rice. Although it’s not impossible, by far, trying to unclog a garbage disposal that was clogged with potato peels is something you’d want to avoid, especially if you don’t have a double kitchen sink.
How to use a garbage disposal
- Run a steady stream of cool water into the sink before turning the garbage disposal on.
- Turn the garbage disposal on first before adding your food. (This is the one thing most of us do wrong). The reason for turning on the garbage disposal first is to prevent the food from getting lodged in or around a blade, which can cause the disposal to clog before it begins to work.
- Slowly drop small amounts of food into the garbage disposable.
- Once you no longer hear food being ground, let the water run for an additional 15-to-20 seconds to flush whatever items are sitting in the drain pipe.
How to reset a garbage disposal if it’s not working
If your garbage disposal overheats or shuts down due to overuse, you’ll need to reset it.
Peachy safety tip: Before unclogging a garbage disposal, always make sure the disposal switch is turned in the off position. As another line of physical safety, take it a step further and remove the plug from the outlet. Never put your hands in a garbage disposal, regardless if it’s turned off.
- Make sure the garbage disposal switch is turned off.
- Check to see if the overload protector has tripped. That’s the red button on the base of the garbage disposal unit. If the button is raised, press the button. Once you press it, the button should retract, but if it doesn’t wait a few minutes and try again.
- Turn on cold water and flip the garbage disposal switch on.
- If the garbage disposal still doesn’t turn on, and you now find your sink is full of water, you’ll want to attempt to clear the clog, with your handy-dandy-plunger.
How to clean out a garbage disposal
Regardless if your garbage disposal is smelly or not, you should make a point to clean it out on a weekly to monthly basis.
Disconnect the power. Before you do anything, you’ll want to disconnect the power by removing the power cord from whatever outlet it’s in. If you’re unable to locate the power cord from under the sink, make sure the disposable switch on the wall is in the “off” position. As another form of safety, you may also want to turn off the circuit breaker that connects the power to the garbage disposal.
Clean the splash guard. The splash guard is the black piece that attaches to the drainage hole in the sink. The underside of the flaps gets pretty gross. If you can remove the guard, you’ll want to do so, but if your disposable doesn’t allow that, you’ll want to pull the flaps up and clean them with a small kitchen brush and warm soapy water. You’ll want to pay close attention to the grooves and crevices.
Remove any food debris. Once the splash guard is removed, shine a flashlight down the disposable and look for any food debris that may be hiding around or under the blades. Use tongs, pliers, or long-handled tweezers to remove whatever food is in the disposable. The disposable may not be on, but the blades are sharp, and you can cut yourself.
Even though the garbage disposal is turned off, freak accidents have been known to happen. Just remember, nobody wants to deal with having to clean pieces of your finger out of the disposable.
Clean the garbage disposal. Once you replace the splash guard, you’ll want to do the following 3-step process. Make sure you turn the power back on.
Step 1: Pour in baking soda and vinegar.
- Pour ½ cup of baking soda into the garbage disposal. Let it sit untouched for ½ hour.
- Pour 1 cup of household white distilled vinegar into the disposal. Once it stops fizzing – which should be around three minutes), rinse with hot water for 3 minutes.
Step 2: Grind up ice and salt to clean and sharpen the blades.
- Place 8-to-10 ice cubes into the garbage disposal.
- Pour 1 cup of large coarse salt (rock, kosher or Himalayan)
- Turn the water to cold, run the disposable. You’ll want to let it run until all the ice has been ground up.
Step 3: Grind up lemon peels to freshen your garbage disposal. If you don’t have lemons you can use grapefruit, lime, or orange peels.
- Place the peel from your lemon, lime, grapefruit, or orange into the garbage disposal.
- Turn the water to cold, run the disposable. You’ll want to let it run until all the citrus peels have been ground up.
How do you clean out a garbage disposal? Share in a comment.