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How to Clean a Garbage Disposal

It is no surprise that garbage disposals can become smelly and clogged with overuse. The real surprise is that it doesn’t happen more often. Considering what most homeowners throw into this machinery on a daily basis, it only stands to reason that the device would occasionally experience problems. The good news is that there are indeed some very simple ways to clean a garbage disposal, and most of them require little more than patience and a few common household items.

First things first. Understanding your garbage disposal is essential to proper maintenance, particularly if you regularly have issues. When you turn on the garbage disposal, blades begin spinning to pulverize the food and debris, sending it downstream through your plumbing system as a slurry of waste. Most problems with odor arise because the blades themselves are extremely fast and strong, which is great for whole steaks, perhaps, but overkill for simple items like orange peels. All that power tends to fling the food up against the walls of the disposal, where it can become stuck. Wait a few days and you will inevitably notice the unmistakable smell of rotting food coming from your sink.

This is the reason manufacturers recommend running cold water during the pulverization process. Water is a good strategy, but few homeowners actually let the water run long enough to rid the disposal of everything inside. It’s not unusual for the slurry to slow down and become caught a few feet down the pipe, where it may harden and even grow rigid over time. Experts usually recommend running cold water for at least thirty seconds after the disposal has stopped spinning if you want to ensure this sticky problem doesn’t visit your home’s plumbing system.

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The simplest way to rid your garbage disposal of odors is to “flood the zone,” as it were – fill the entire apparatus with water and soap so that no walls are left untouched. Fill your sink most of the way with soapy, warm water while you keep the drain sealed. When you have enough liquid to fill the machine, simply remove the stopper and turn on the disposal again. If you won’t hear the screaming sound that usually accompanies disposal operation, that’s good as it means the blades are entirely submerged. Regular operation creates a whirlpool effect that pulls bits of food, bacteria and mold from the walls, at which point the blades help pulverize them further. Leave the water running a few seconds after the entire solution has washed downstream, and you should notice an immediate improvement in odor.

If soapy water doesn’t do the trick, it may be time to try something more robust: baking soda and vinegar. The procedure here is the same as you would use for a bathtub drain – simply pour about a half a cup of baking soda down the drain, wait a few seconds, then add the same volume of vinegar. This well-known home solution is particularly adept at clearing mineral deposits and destroying bacteria. After several minutes, you will notice the bubbling activity has died down. Try adding boiling water and running the disposal again. In most cases, this powerful one-twp-three punch will sanitize and scrub the inside of your garbage disposal in a matter of minutes.

Failing that, you can ratchet up one notch to a bleach solution. Although you could simply pour a solution of powdered bleach and water into the drain, in most cases this solution will wash away before it has adequate time to work. Instead, disconnect the drain pipe from your home’s plumbing and seal it with a strong rubber test cap that comes with a steel tightening band. Add half a cup of powdered oxygen bleach and plenty of warm water and wait several minutes. Drain the solution into a bucket, reattach the plumbing, and rinse the entire system with plenty more water. In most cases the odor will be gone for good.

Simple preventive measures can help keep your garbage disposal operating cleanly for years to come. Always use a strainer or grate when you aren’t using the disposal, and remember to occasionally fill the sink so the chamber operates at full volume. Chances are you won’t experience any odors again.


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