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Garbage disposals are a plumbing asset that many homeowners fail to properly care for. When garbage disposals aren’t properly maintained, they can become an expensive repair down the road. The best way to avoid clogs and other garbage disposal problems is by regularly maintaining a clean garbage disposal. By being proactive about cleaning your garbage disposal, your unit can perform effectively for years without needing repairs or replacement

What's Causing an Odor in Your Garbage Disposal?

Your garbage disposal is supposed to be a convenience, but no one likes smelly odors. If this is the case with your garbage disposal, mold is the likely culprit responsible for the smell. If food particles are too large, they can either clog the drain pipe or become trapped under the grate or around the sides of the machine. This decaying food trapped in the moist and dark garbage disposal provides an ideal environment for smelly mold and bacteria to grow. The result is unhealthy spores and rancid-smelling odors. 

By routinely cleaning your garbage disposal at least once a week with the proper cleaning techniques, you can have an odor-free (and clean) garbage disposal.

Removing Garbage Disposal Odor

There are many non-hazardous ways you can clean your garbage disposal and remove any odors if your disposal starts reeking like a dumpster. It’s recommended that you avoid using chemical drain cleaners since they can corrode and weaken the integrity of your pipes. Instead, consider some of the most effective ways to eliminate odors coming from your garbage disposal using products found at home.

  • Baking soda and vinegar: The acidity from the baking soda and vinegar solution is great for killing bacteria, including salmonella and E. coli. Pour half a cup of baking soda and vinegar down the drain and let the combination fizz for about 15 minutes. You can use the sink stopper to keep the solution inside the disposal. Wash away the solution by running hot water down the garbage disposal for one minute.

  • Citrus: Putting citrus peels down your garbage disposal is a popular and fresh way to combat any foul odors. While the peels don’t do much in the way of cleaning, the citrus oils produce a pleasant fragrance that wafts throughout the kitchen.

  • Ice and Rock Salt:  Before performing any further cleaning, make sure to shut off the power to your disposal unit. Then, drop a dozen or so ice cubes down the drain and pour a cup of rock salt. Turn the garbage disposal on while running the water. Leave both on for a minute until the ice and salt have scraped away and dislodged any buildup.

What to Avoid Putting Down Your Garbage Disposal

The best way to ensure your garbage disposal is working properly is by monitoring what food products you allow to go into the drain. Even though garbage disposals are great for removing excess food waste, there are certain items that can be harmful to your unit and create clogs or damage the disposal blades. Some of the food products that should never go down the garbage disposal include:

  • High-fibrous or “stringy” foods e.g. celery and tough vegetables
  • Expandable rice or bread-based products
  • Eggshells
  • Animal bones and fat
  • Paper or plastic materials
  • Cooking oils and grease

How to Unclog Your Garbage Disposal

plumber working on kitchen sink

To ensure your garbage disposal is working properly, it’s important to thoroughly clean and unclog it at least once a week. It’s important to follow proper safety measures when cleaning or troubleshooting your garbage disposal. Here are the steps to follow to effectively make sure your garbage disposal stays clean (and not smelly!).

Step 1: Turn Off the Garbage Disposal

ALWAYS turn off or disconnect the power to your garbage disposal before cleaning. Normally, you just need to unplug the unit from under the sink. If you can’t locate the outlet, cut the electricity to the circuit breaker powering the garbage disposal. 

Step 2: Identify the Clog

You can’t offer a solution if you don’t know what the problem is, right? Take a flashlight to look into the garbage disposal and see if you can identify what the blockage is. Since all clogs are not the same, understanding the blockage will determine the method you take to fix it. If it’s food that has been accumulated over time, then this should be a relatively quick fix. The clog is likely due to having excess food and nearly not enough water. Run some water down the drain to push the food down the disposal.

Note: If you notice that the clog is an object and NOT food, then refrain from running water in order to flush it down.

Step 3: Use a Cable or Auger

Use an extended cable or a sink auger to help break up and remove whatever foodstuffs are clogging the drain pipes or the disposal. Never stick your bare hands down the drain.

Step 4: Run Water Down the Drain

Perform routine flushes by allowing a thick stream of hot water to run down the drains for one minute. This will help reduce and remove buildup of odors. As mentioned, you can also drop about a dozen ice cubes into the garbage disposal and let it run for about a minute. 

Step 5: Perform Regular Maintenance

Don’t wait for your garbage disposal to start smelling bad before finally deciding to clean it! Your garbage disposal is a useful and handy tool that needs proper care and regular cleaning maintenance. Regularly cleaning your drains at least once a week is an important step to preventing any odors— whether by cleaning drains with safe products or hiring a professional plumbing company to perform hydro-jetting services on your entire plumbing system. 

When to Use Chemical Drain Cleaners

Generally, chemical cleaners are okay to use in a pinch, but should never become part of your regular disposal cleaning regimen. The chemical elements within these cleaners react in a way that breaks down and removes stubborn debris; however, it’s this reaction that also eats away at inner disposal and drain walls if cleaners are overused. This is one of home plumbing’s greatest misconceptions. Regular inspection and non-corrosive pipe flushes do more for maintaining a healthy plumbing system than chemical products ever could.

The best way to resolve a stubborn disposal clog isn’t by filling it with chemicals, but rather by accessing the unit below your sink and manually removing debris.

How to Avoid Garbage Disposal Clogs

Dealing with a stubborn garbage disposal clog is never something homeowners enjoy dealing with; however, there are several simple tricks you can use to prevent clogging altogether and keep your disposal running worry-free for years to come. For instance, how certain are you of food products that should or should not be processed through your disposal unit? 

The following are some tips you can use to maintain your disposal units for the long term:

  • Avoid using your disposal for food waste often responsible for clogging, such as animal bones, cartilage, fibrous skins, oils, shells, and rice. 
  • Perform self-inspections of your entire home plumbing at least once per month, and have a professional look at your pipes, drains, and fixtures once annually. In doing so, you can catch most indicators of plumbing problems early on, and avoid costly repairs later by dealing with the problem quickly. That said, there are some things the untrained eye will always miss, so professional inspection should be performed regularly as well.
  • Keep your disposal blades sharp by running ice cubes through your unit on a semi-regular basis.
  • Try processing citrus fruits or other strongly aromatic foods in your unit to keep your disposal, its blades, and the drain pipe it’s connected to smelling clean.

Stubborn Clog? Call a Plumbing Professional

Express Sewer employees are highly trained plumbers who can clean your drains safely and efficiently. Our company is fully licensed and insured and will provide you with a free estimate on your garbage disposal cleaning needs! Contact a representative to learn more about our extensive list of plumbing services!

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Topics: Home Plumbing, Drain Cleaning and Repair