How To Get Rid of Garbage Disposal Smells

Garbage disposals make quick work of food scraps, but need TLC to keep them smelling fresh. Clean yours cheaply and quickly with this simple trick.

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If you’ve lived without a garbage disposal, getting one can seem like a miracle. You mean I don’t have to scrape that chunky spaghetti sauce into the trash, crossing my fingers that the bag won’t rip on the way to the curb? I can just pour it down the drain?

Yes— for the most part.

Garbage disposals keep food waste out of landfills and prevent your kitchen trash bin from smelling like rotting food. They’re a barrier against clogs, too. No matter how hard you try, food always seems to find its way into the kitchen sink and drain, doesn’t it?

A smelly garbage disposal isn’t much better than a smelly trash can, though, so it’s important to keep it clean. If your disposal smells funky, here’s why, and how to fix it.

Why Does My Garbage Disposal Smell?

“It’s usually the result of decaying bits of food that have escaped the grinding process and gotten stuck in the appliance,” says Alicia Sokolowski, president and co-CEO of AspenClean.

Garbage disposals work by pulverizing food into tiny particles so they can be flushed down the drain. When chunks of food are left behind, they start to smell.

How To Clean a Smelly Garbage Disposal

Just like cleaning a smelly shower drain, Sokolowski recommends a vinegar and baking soda combo as an inexpensive, all-natural way to get rid of those stinky garbage disposal smells.

Remember that paper-mâché volcano you built in the third grade? You poured in the baking soda, followed by vinegar, and the volcano “erupted.” That bubbling action results from carbon dioxide produced when mixing bases like baking soda and acids like vinegar.

When combined in your garbage disposal, the bubbles mechanically break through accumulated gunk, releasing it into the drain so you can wash it down. Sokolowski recommends cleaning your disposal weekly or biweekly. Here’s how to do it:

  • Pour a quarter cup of baking soda into the disposal.
  • Follow with a cup of distilled white vinegar.
  • Allow the mixture to bubble for several minutes.
  • Run the cold water and turn on your garbage disposal.
  • Rinse the mixture down the drain.

How To Clean the Splash Guard

You know that flappy rubber thing that covers your drain? That’s called the splash guard. It prevents the grinding action of your garbage disposal from spitting food up into your sink.

As you can imagine, the underside of the splash guard gets pretty gross. Ground-up food bits land there and attract bacteria and mold, giving off smelly compounds. (The rotted food stuck there smells pretty bad, too.)

Take an old toothbrush and scrub under each flap of the splash guard with an all-purpose cleaner. If you need extra scrubbing action, dip the toothbrush in naturally abrasive baking soda. That will remove the gunk and keep smells at bay.

If you notice rips or tears or deteriorating rubber in your splash guard, replace it.

How To Prevent a Smelly Garbage Disposal

Never grind anything other than food in your garbage disposal, Sokolowski says, and don’t put fibrous or starchy vegetables down there. That means no celery and no potatoes. Starch from potatoes forms a gluey mess that sticks to the disposal and your drain, while fibers from celery stalks and asparagus can twist around the grinding gears. No coffee grounds, either.

Always run cold water with your garbage disposal, Sokolowski says. That seems counterintuitive because hot water and cleaning usually go together. But cold water keeps food and grease from sticking to the inside of the machine. Run the disposal for 30 seconds when sending food down the drain to ensure everything clears the system.

Speaking of grease, never pour grease, oil or fats into your sink or disposal. InSinkErator, the most popular brand of garbage disposal, also says to avoid bones and fruit pits, unless you have a really powerful model. Always check your manual to see what you can put down your disposal.

Another tip from InSinkErator? Grind up citrus peels to keep your disposal smelling fresh.

Ally Childress
Ally Childress comes to Family Handyman from the electrical industry, where she was an accomplished electrician, winning the highly competitive Outstanding Graduate award as an apprentice. Her professional electrical experience included large commercial projects such as Minnesota's US Bank Stadium, and the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and several hospitals. Before becoming an electrician, she worked in food safety and water quality as a scientist and technical writer. Ally's career, spanning multiple industries and areas of the country, honed her innate sense of curiosity and her ability to connect with subject matters of all kinds and explain dense subjects to diverse audiences. Ally is her household's designated handy person and is well versed in a variety of home DIY and maintenance tasks, able to confidently clean, troubleshoot, build, install, and modify. She loves spending time outdoors, especially with her partner and dogs.