How to Clean a Garbage Disposal

A garbage disposal.

Here at How to Clean Things we always strive to recommend cleaning methods that are safe for you and the environment. So it’s a bit strange that we’re writing an article on how to clean garbage disposals. Garbage disposals are anything but green. Throwing food down the drain strains water treatment plants, takes away oxygen from water supplies, and feeds sewer rats (and alligators?) not to mention suck power. But you didn’t come here for a lecture; you came here to clean a garbage disposal. Though they are usually convenient and low maintenance, garbage disposals can get stinky, dull, and clogged up (hint: don’t throw potato peels down there). Below you’ll learn how to keep your garbage disposal clean of debris and odor, and keep drains moving swiftly.

Simple Garbage Disposal Cleaning

  1. soapy water int he sinkKeep your garbage disposal clean by using it correctly.While grinding food, always run cold water. Don’t grind fibrous items like asparagus or corn husks. Similarly, stay away from bones, fruit pits, or anything overly hard. Fats and grease clog drains and produce foul odors, so those go elsewhere. After seriously working your garbage disposal, fill your sink with cold water and a squirt of dish soap. When it is full, remove the stopper and turn on the disposal. The added pressure will help clean garbage disposal blades and walls.
  2. two ice cubsGrind ice to clean garbage disposal blades. Nothing tricky here. Just drop in a few ice cubes at a time – let the beast chew them up before you add more. This will help remove sludge and built-up grease from the blades, which has a dulling effect. Contrary to popular belief, grinding ice will not sharpen those cutters…they don’t sharpen. If your garbage disposal no longer cuts through waste, you’ll have to fix or replace the unit, or better yet, have it uninstalled and start composting your leftovers.
  3. two slices of lemon in club sodaGrind citrus fruits to remove odor and clean garbage disposals. Why use a drain cleaner that smells like lemons when you can use actual lemons? Be authentic. Cut up a lemon (or lime or orange…etc) into small pieces and grind away. The citric acid will dissolve grime and grease, leaving your garbage disposal clean and fresh smelling. Your guests will wonder at your domestic prowess.
  4. A blue garbage disposal cleaning brushUse a garbage disposal cleaning brush. Yes, there are specialized brushes for this, and they can be found at any hardware store (some grocery stores). With long, stiff bristles and a flexible head, these tools are suited to clean garbage disposal blades and walls. First, fill your sink with cold water and a splash of dish soap. Remove the drain stop and turn on the garbage disposal. When all is drained, attack with the garbage disposal cleaning brush. You can reward the family pet with whatever atrocities you find within.
  5. Vinegar and SaltUse a homemade drain cleaner. You’ll need two cups of white vinegar, one cup of water, and ¼ cup of salt. Mix it in a pan and bring it to a boil. Next, turn the heat off and add a few splashes of dish soap (go organic), and pour this brew down the drain. Wait 10 -20 minutes. Have a beer. Yell at the kids. Lastly, bring a kettle or pot of water to a boil and dump that down the drain. This should leave your garbage disposal clean and fresh.
  6. Drano Gel bottle with a red bar over itThat clogged garbage disposal doesn’t need harsh chemicals. Commercial drain cleaners contain toxic chemicals and extremely corrosive acids. A splash could blind you and the fumes could make you sick. Also, they can damage your garbage disposals. Luckily, there are many ways other ways to clean garbage disposal drains. Plungers, drains snakes, and enzyme cleaners will get the job done without the danger. Follow the link for a short, insightful article on opening drains.

Garbage Disposal Waste and the Environment

It may seem like dumping those little bits of food down the drain would be better than dumping them in the trash. Aren’t landfills burdened enough as it is? Well yes, but not as much as our water supply. Adding organic waste to our water is a huge source of “nutrient pollution”, which has contributed to the creation of dead zones like the one off the coast of Louisiana and Texas. Water treatment plants cannot address all of the chemicals and filth thrown at them, and they in turn are huge polluters. Garbage disposals also lead to water waste, as you need to run water during and after grinding up food. They also use electricity and break down, which in turn creates a demand for more metal, more production. Throwing scraps in the trash is better than using a garbage disposal, but the best, greenest option is composting. Composting does not take much room (see right sidebar) or much work. It will provide you with a rich fertilizer for gardening or landscaping. Contact your local municipality to see about area composting programs.

Garbage Disposal Products and Alternatives

Enzyme drain cleaners. Eco-friendly drain cleaners utilize nature’s ability to break things down. These products come equipped with bacteria that produce enzymes that literally eat the grease and filth that hangs on your garbage disposal walls and blades. These products do not pack the punch that Drano does, but they will work given time. Popular brands include Drainbo Drain Cleaner (sold at Amazon), Earth Enzymes Drain Opener, and Bio-Clean Drain Cleaner.

black compost barrelCompost barrel.My neighbors – whose lifestyle is one of conservation and responsibility – don’t have much room in their yard for a compost pile. Because of this, they purchased one of these handy compost barrels. Instead of raking and mucking about, you just have to roll or spin these around now and then. You can use compost to enrich your garden, pot flowers, or plant a tree. Hell, rake it into your lawn for nourishment. Hate trees and gardening? Your neighbors who garden would take it off your hands, and then they would owe you one. Don’t pollute our water with your food scraps and waste; turn it into compost. A clean conscience is more useful than a clean garbage disposal anyway.