There’s nothing more embarrassing than walking into your kitchen and smelling something that stinks like a kitty litter box. If it’s not coming from the garbage can, then your garbage disposal is probably to blame. That wonderful invention that grinds discarded food into oblivion is also responsible for the bad smells than can take over your kitchen.

The good news is there are some simple steps you can take each week to clean your garbage disposal and keep it smelling clean and fresh.

Garbage Disposal Cleaning 101

When it comes to disposal funk, the usual suspect is the splash guard. It’s that black rubber thingy with the holes and slits in it that marks the doorway to the drain.
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garbage disposal trap
Closeup of garbage disposal trap

The splash guard is where moisture and food particles pass by on their way through the drain, and into the belly of the “garburator.” Adding to the stink is the combination of bacteria buildup on the splash guard, and food bits that line the walls of the disposal unit.

The good news is there are household items (like ice cubes, baking soda, and lemon slices) that can help you manage these odors. Just make the following steps part of your weekly disposal cleaning routine:

Step 1: Turn off the power to your garbage disposal

Safety first! Be sure the power to your garbage disposal unit is disconnected. You can either unplug the unit (outlet located under the sink) or cut the power from the electrical junction box. Look for the switch that controls the disposal and turn it off. Before sticking objects past the splash guard be absolutely sure that you’ve cut the power.

Step 2: Check to see what’s beyond the trap

Remove the rubber splash guard (just pull it up and out) and shine a flashlight on the drain to check for foreign objects. These can include bottle caps, paper clips, or fibrous food particles that may have got caught there. You can use needle-nose pliers to remove anything that doesn’t belong there. You DO NOT want to stick your finger in the chamber. Err on the side of safety. 

Step 3: Make an ice and rock salt cocktail

Dump ice cubes into the disposal chamber, then add a cup of rock salt. Turn the power back on. Run water down the drain and turn on the unit and let it run for about a minute. This action works to dislodge the built-up grime and food particles. Check to see if the blades are clean. If so, turn the power back off before moving on to step 4. 

Step 4: Add a little fizz

Grab a cup of vinegar and about a half a cup of baking soda and pour both into the drain. Stand back and allow it to get its fizz on for about 15 minutes. Next, create a thick paste of the baking soda and vinegar and, using an old toothbrush, scrub the rubber splash guard. This will kill surface bacteria like salmonella or E. Coli. You can also choose to soak the guard in bleach before reattaching to cover the drain.

Step 4: Do a final flush

Restore the power to the disposal. Plug the drain and fill the basin to about 75% full. Add some dish soap and let the water run out while the unit is on. While the water is draining, toss in a few lemon peels and let it cycle through. This final action will leave your drain smelling fresh.

Routinely process baking soda and vinegar or ice and rock salt through the unit for odor control maintenance. If you make a habit of cleaning and disinfecting your garbage disposal unit every two weeks, you’ll never have to worry about crazy smells coming from the disposal again.

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