How To Clean a Smelly Garbage Disposal

The last thing anyone wants to smell in a kitchen is rotting food, or any bad odor for that matter! We all take out the kitchen garbage when the bag is full or when it contains smelly scraps like fish or vegetables and fruits that have gone bad. But when an odor lingers or seems to chronically linger in your kitchen plumbing, it is being actively generated. The first place to look is your garbage disposal.

If you are asking yourself, “Why does my sink smell,” the answer may lie in your garbage disposal. Kitchens are about life, vitality and the process of food preparation. Unfortunately, the proper use of a garbage disposal is often misunderstood. It is not a food waste processor and has never been intended for that purpose. Only small bits of food that easily rinse off a plate should go down the disposal. Secondly, there are best practices for cleaning your garbage disposal that may be unknown.

First: What shouldn’t go into the garbage disposal

The garbage disposal unit is often a common source of kitchen plumbing problems and sink clog issues and the causes are almost always the direct result of what’s been put down the sink.

The name of this appliance is somewhat misleading: “garbage disposal.” That makes it sound like a convenient garbage can, one that whisks away anything that fits in it. The truth is, many food items should never get near the disposal because they will either clog some of the internal parts or improperly process the food and create a drain clog just past the disposal. Before a clog occurs, food sticks to the disposal or collects in places without flowing through to the sewer. This is the underlying reason that your sink smells.

The big culprits are:

· Grease. Sure, you might sneak a little bacon grease down the drain, thinking if you flush with hot water it will stay liquid. In fact, grease and oils cool down fast and often congeal just past the disposal in the waste pipe. Grease and oils can also coat and plug the holes in the chamber walls that eventually will lead to clogs and odors.

· Tough or fibrous food scraps. A garbage disposal isn’t efficient at processing broccoli stalks, potato peels, asparagus, corn husks and other chopping board food leftovers. What doesn’t get passed through can decay in the disposal.

· Bones. Bones should never go down the drain, even small ones, although it can occur in error. Bone fragments that do get through can contribute to a serious clog further down your wastewater line.

· Coffee grounds. They accumulate and create a sludgy clog either in your disposal unit or in the pipe it feels into.

· Pasta and rice. Throw them down the disposal and they expand when they get wet, even if cooked. They will fill the disposal trap, lead to motor burnout or clog the drain line further along.

· Paper and plastic. Of course, these items should not go down your disposal, although accidents can occur.

· Food debris from your dishwasher. The dishwasher wastewater, including food particles, is pumped out of your dishwasher unit and into the upper chamber of the garbage disposal – the same place food from the sink goes. Kitchen cleanup should start with a careful scraping of plates, platters and pots into the trash or compost. What goes into your dishwasher should really be particle free.

In this day and age where we expect instant service, proper use of your garbage disposal takes only a few minutes longer but avoids the waste in time and money bad odors and clogs bring on. It is worth those few minutes of your time!

How to clean your garbage disposal and get rid of an odor

It is important to understand how your disposal works, so you can clean it more efficiently. Your garbage disposal is bolted directly under your sink and you can look down the drain and see the impeller plate and maybe the lugs bolted on the plate that swivel around. These lugs are often mistaken for cutting blades, but the disposal doesn’t work like that.

When you turn the disposal on, the impeller plate begins to spin rapidly and creates a centrifugal force that directs food, with the help of the lugs, to a stationary shredder ring that goes around the outside of the plate. Adding water when your disposal is on helps drive the solid waste through the ring, shredding and liquifying it and passing it through to a lower chamber where the wastewater is forced out through a waste pipe. So, there are many places food and/or grease can lodge and build up an odor. Fortunately, you don’t have to uninstall the unit and take it apart. One of these steps should handle it:

· Cut lemons into small bits and dump them in your disposal and turn it on for a few moments before turning the water on. Oranges work too. They have the advantage of helping dissolve grease but are not as strong at neutralizing odors as lemons.

· Ice cubes and rock salt. These come in handy for knocking off food that has accumulated in the grinder ring or impeller plate. Food gone; smell gone. Ice also helps sharpen grinder ring edges to keep your disposal operating efficiently. Put a dozen ice cubes down the drain and pour in a cup of rock salt. Run water and turn on the disposal for a full minute to ensure build-up has been dislodged.

· Baking soda and vinegar. Used for many kitchen cleaning issues, they work well together here too. Pour a half cup each of baking soda and vinegar in the drain and let sit for 15 minutes. Flush with hot water for a full minute.

· Mild bleach and running cold water can help eliminate food particles that remain lodged in the disposal and finally kill an unpleasant odor.

Important note

If your garbage disposal is clogging and smelling frequently, it is a sure sign that the wrong food is being put down the drain or it is not being properly flushed or it is getting old and needs to be replaced. Even with properly operated disposals, smelly odors can occur without regular cleaning. Disposals collect bacteria and while water and centrifugal force can clean a lot, one of the above cleaning methods should be done every few months in a busy kitchen or every six months in a moderately-used one. If you notice sink water draining into your dishwasher, we have some tips for you. Seeing black gunk in your sink drains? We have some tips for that too.

Our team of Benjamin Franklin plumbers in the Bay Area are each highly-experienced professionals and will be happy to evaluate your garbage disposal and all your kitchen and bathroom fixtures. We can show you simple routines to keep your systems working optimally. The sink odor you detect may be coming from other problems, such as a clogged plumbing vent, or a malfunctioning (or missing!) sink trap. Whatever it is, our Benjamin Franklin plumber will get to the bottom of it and fix it quickly.