Goodbye Smelly Garbage Disposal

My Garbage Disposal Stinks!
Bring a Fresh Lemon Scent to your Kitchen Sink

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Nothing ruins your appetite faster than a rancid odor. So the last thing you want in your home is for your kitchen to smell like the city dump. If you've got a sour odor floating about your kitchen and you've removed the usual suspects like rotting food or an overflowing trash can, sniff-test your garbage disposal.

The garbage disposal is one kitchen appliance that we often assume cleans itself. After all, you're running water through it while it runs, right? (And if you're not, this is a must or else you run the risk of burning out the motor.) But, unfortunately, food particles manage to collect on the underside of the blades, on the interior sides of the unit and in the piping itself.

There are a number of quick and easy ways you can go about cleaning your disposal without having to disassemble it or without having to purchase expensive and potentially toxic cleaners. This is definitely something you'll want to get in the habit of doing about once every 3-6 months.

Clean It!

SAFETY TIP!: Before we get started, one note of caution. One thing we don't recommend using are "drain cleaner" type products. Aside from the high toxicity level of such products, they can be quite damaging to your disposal unit. So, steer clear of these.

The simplest way to go about cleaning your disposal is to take the hottest water your sink can muster and run the disposal. You may want to consider throwing in fresh lime and lemon wedges which will help to give your disposal a citrus scent.

Another home remedy to try: Pour half a cup of baking soda down the disposal and follow it with half a cup of vinegar. Let the combination sit for a couple of minutes and then flush with hot water.

You may want to wipe down the inside of the unit as well. To go about this, first, be sure the unit is TURNED OFF. This should be obvious, but we'll state it anyway.

You can then wipe down the sides of the unit as well as near the bottom with a sponge or paper towel and any household cleaner.

JANE TIP: Don't use a scouring pad or a sponge with a scouring pad on the inside of your garbage disposal. You run the risk of having some of the scouring threads getting caught in the blades or along the side of the unit.

If you have a dishwasher running through your unit, you should also try running your disposal during the dishwasher's drain cycle. If you don't have a dishwasher, then try cleaning the pipe on the disposal unit's dishwasher connection.

Cold Cleans

To really help clean out your unit, consider throwing in some ice cubes and letting it run for a bit. The ice will break up within the unit and clean those areas that you can't reach with your hands. If you mix in some lime and lemon wedges and salt crystals, your unit will get a truly thorough cleaning. After a minute or two, run some cold water down the drain and then slowly alternate to hot water. This will dissolve the ice and salt and help to sanitize your unit.

Professional Products

If ice, hot water and lemons aren't doing the trick, you may need to go to the next level: the professional cleaning products.

There are a number of options available at your local home improvement retailer. But, there are also a few options online. One product that we found worked well is called, Disposer Care. Simply drop one packet into the disposal and let the blue foaming action degrease, clean and deodorize. We like it because it's easy to use and biodegradable.

We found this product at a number of online retailers, such as:

What Can it Take?

There is a lot of debate as to what can and what cannot go down the garbage disposal. The most important thing to remember is not to load it down with big chunks of food. For example, don't peel five carrots directly into it. The idea is that the small morsels of food stuck to your plate can be ground by the machine, but don't scrape your entire plate of leftovers into it. And don't ever pack food down the disposal, either.

Also, many plumbers will attest that garbage disposals do not respond well to starchy foods, such as potatoes and rice. Another big no-no: animal fat. Grease can get trapped in the unit and as food and other debris collects on top it soon becomes a prime candidate for a foul smell. Animal fats—such as bacon grease—should never be put down any drain, since they congeal and invite clogs.

More foods to avoid: fruit pits. They'll eventually break up within the unit and do little to no damage in the process, but they'll be bouncing around in there for some time while adding to the possibility of becoming part of an unpleasant odor.

Eggshells simply don't dissolve and can lodge themselves along the sides of the unit; germs and bacteria form along the edges that will stink up the kitchen in no time flat. Celery strands will eventually stink if stuck within the disposal, but the bigger danger here is that they can wrap themselves around the base of the blades and eventually grind your whole unit to a complete stop. Ditto artichoke leaves. So, stick these in the trash instead.

If a glass breaks in your sink, try your best to pick up all the pieces and remove the possibility of any falling into the disposal unit. Now, some people have been known to place bits of glass down the disposal on purpose to help clean out the unit. This isn't something we recommend, as it causes damage. But, we have been told that glass is the one thing that can help cut away celery strands when they get stuck in the disposal. Again, this isn't something we've tried or recommend you do. Stick with food debris only.

Uh-Oh. It's Not Working

Okay, so you ignored our advice and now your disposal is not working. What to do? (Join our forum for advice.) Before you call a plumber, know that garbage disposals are incredibly easy to fix. To troubleshoot, turn on the disposal and listen carefully. Do you hear a slight humming sound? If so, it's not the power. If you think this is the problem, check the circuit breaker.

Look underneath the disposal. Every unit has a reset button that will likely solve your problem. Some buttons are very obvious, some you have to really hunker down and search for.

If resetting it doesn't work, you will have to take more drastic measures. Start by cutting the power off at the circuit. You are going to dislodge the jam from below by inserting an Allen wrench into the bottom of the machine and twisting until you feel it start to turn. (Look around your disposal—you may find one attached to it.)

Finally, you can tackle a jammed garbage disposal by inserting a non-metallic object into the sink and attempting to turn the blades until they break free. Then, instead of turning the machine back on manually remove whatever was causing the stoppage.

Remember, after fixing the jam, run plenty of water so that the debris completely washed down the drain.

It's a Grind

Garbage disposals are one of those appliances that do not respond well to abuse, so be careful. Remember not to take advantage of its perceived power or durability, otherwise you may find yourself with a sink full of water and a clogged machine.To help keep those nasty garbage disposal odors to a minimum, make sure you take the time to clean your disposal at least once every couple of months.

If you do find that you need to replace your entire machine, heed this advice. The motor costs almost as much as the garbage disposal itself, so you might as well buy a whole new unit. For tips on easy installation, see our animated feature. However, keep up with basic maintenance and you can delay that day from coming for years.

See also:
Plumbing 101
Change a Faucet
Install a Vessel Sink

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