Say goodbye to your smelly disposal forever!
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Kitchen sink with a garbage disposal
Credit: Getty Images / Bill Oxford / Roman Kulinskiy

Your garbage disposal is a major time and and energy saver in the kitchen, since it makes your cleanup after meal prepping a whole lot easier. Though there are certain things you should never put down your garbage disposal (like meat or spaghetti), your garbage disposal can help clean up those lingering pieces of food from your dirty plates in the sink.

But every once in a while, an errant piece of food or debris can get caught in your garbage disposal and smell up your kitchen (which is ... not ideal). So it's important to clean your garbage disposal regularly to keep it maintained, free of unwanted odors and working as it should. Here's how to clean a garbage disposal, plus how often you should be cleaning it for ideal maintenance.

Why Do You Need to Clean a Garbage Disposal, Exactly?

Garbage disposals can get dirty when those bits and pieces of the waste they take in get stuck. Jake Romano, a cleaning expert at Ottawa Drain Cleaners, says, "If your garbage disposal is dirty, there's a good chance that the dirtiness is from food particles. These food particles are going to decay and rot, and become a breeding ground for bacteria."

And not only does that bacteria give off a bad odor, but it can also put your health at risk, especially over time if not cleaning your garbage disposal becomes a habit. "This bacteria can contaminate surfaces and become a hazard for healthy breathing and living conditions," Romano says. So it's worth regularly cleaning your garbage disposal to avoid risk of bacteria buildup.

Giving a garbage disposal a deep clean can also help you target those hard-to-reach spaces. Romano adds, "Cleaning your garbage disposal helps remove a lot of the particles building up in the nooks and crannies of the garbage disposal and drain. Not only does this destroy potential breeding grounds for bacteria and germs, but it also helps reduce the chances of clogged kitchen sink drains."

Mark it on your calendar like any other appointment! Here's a good guide for how to deep clean a garbage disposal.

How to Clean a Garbage Disposal

Baking Soda and Vinegar Method

First off, turn off your garbage disposal. Then clean the splash guard with a sponge and some dish soap, and get rid of any food particles that are present. Once finished, create a cleaning solution with baking soda and vinegar for your garbage disposal.

Romano says, "I'd recommend pouring 1/2 cup of baking soda down the drain, followed by 1/2 cup of white vinegar, allowing it to fizzle for around 15 to 30 minutes, then flushing it down with hot water."

You can follow this process with some hot water to fully flush things out. "I'd recommend heating a kettle, but not boiling it, and dumping it all at once, followed by turning the hot water tap on for a minute," Romano says. This will help wash away food particles and grease so your garbage disposal is sparkling clean.

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Ice and Vinegar Method

You can also use ice and vinegar to clean your garbage disposal. Alicia Sokolowski, cleaning expert and president and co-CEO of AspenClean, says, "Fill the disposal with ice cubes and pour in 1 cup of rock salt or vinegar, then flush the disposal with hot water." You can also use this method as a follow-up to the vinegar and baking soda technique for a further boost.

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Oxygen Bleach Method

The third option is to use oxygen bleach to clean and deodorize the garbage disposal. "Pour a solution of 1/3 cup of oxygen bleach mixed with 2/3 cup of hot water into the disposal, then flush with hot water for several seconds," says Sokolowski.

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How Often to Clean a Garbage Disposal

You should clean your garbage disposal once a week, or at least once every two weeks. "Make it part of your biweekly cleaning routine, at the very least," says Sokolowski. "And always run cold water when using the garbage disposal because cold water solidifies food and makes it easier to grind," she adds. You should also pour a pot of boiling water through the empty disposal once a month to remove any leftover debris and give it a real deep cleaning.

How to Make Your Garbage Disposal Smell Even Fresher

A quick and easy way to deodorize your garbage disposal is to add a little lemon juice for a fresh, fruity scent. Sokolowski says she likes to freeze some lemon juice in ice cube trays to give the garbage disposal an extra cleaning boost. She says, "Once the ice cubes are completely frozen, you can simply put a handful of ice cubes into your kitchen drain and turn on the garbage disposal, as it will sharpen the blades of your disposal and leave your drain smelling great—the natural way."