How to clean your garbage disposal in a nontoxic way

March 10, 2022 by PEMCO Insurance
Residue buildup in garbage disposals can turn a handy kitchen appliance into a stinky problem. Check your owner’s manual or manufacturer’s website for tips on keeping your disposal fresh. And every two weeks, follow this gentle, ecofriendly cleaning routine:
Fruits and vegetables in a sink.
  • Run the disposal. Even if you haven’t knowingly rinsed something into the disposal, run it at least three times a week, and always before cleaning. That will remove any unnoticed food particles that may have collected in the disposal chamber. Flush with plenty of cold water.
  • Clean the underside of the black rubber splash guard. Decaying food residue can accumulate there, producing odors. Wear plastic gloves to lift and scrub the flaps with an old toothbrush loaded with dish soap and baking soda. (When purchasing a new disposal, choose a model with a removable splash guard for easy cleaning. Some are even top-rack dishwasher safe.)
  • Run a handful of ice cubes down the disposal. The ice provides scouring action inside the disposal chamber to loosen residue. Flush with water and turn off the disposal.
  • Pour one-half cup baking soda and one cup vinegar into the disposal. Allow the mixture to bubble and fizz for at least 10 minutes before flushing with cold water. Repeat if you still notice odor.
  • Run another handful of ice cubes down the disposal. The ice will provide a final scouring. 
  • Run citrus slices, including peels, down the disposal along with plenty of cold water. Whether you use lemons, oranges, grapefruit or limes, the citrus will further deodorize the disposal and take some of the bite out of the vinegar smell, too. 
Some DIYers recommend adding bleach to the disposal to clean and deodorize it; however, we discourage using bleach or other harsh chemicals that could fly out of the disposal if it’s turned on, potentially splashing you or food-preparation surfaces.

How to extend the life of your garbage disposal

Garbage disposals have an average life of 13 years. You can give yours more repair-free years with these tips from maintenance pros: 
  • Run lots of cold water when you use the disposal. Cold water makes food scraps brittle so they grind more efficiently and flow through the pipes rather than sticking. Turn on the water full force before you start grinding and continue to run it for five seconds after the food seems to be gone.
  • Use your disposal mostly for removing scraps before dishwashing. Rather than trying to stuff a sink full of peelings down the disposal, compost them or put them in your green recycle bin. Large amounts of refuse can quickly clog your disposal. Even if they do go down, starchy items like potato peelings, flour or rice can become gluelike inside your pipes, causing them to drain slowly. Uncooked pasta can swell when wet, blocking pipes. Eggshells grind up so finely that they can form a sandy, clog-making layer in the sink trap. Fibrous vegetables like celery or corn husks can wind around and damage the disposal’s blades.
  • Keep fruit pits out of the disposal. While some people recommend putting peach or apricot pits in the disposal to scour and clean it, pits can damage blades, similar to a small rock. 
  • Don’t grind raw or gristly meat. It tends to turn stringy and not grindable. Instead, freeze it and put it out with the weekly garbage on pickup day. We don’t recommend disposing of meat scraps in compost, since it can draw wildlife, particularly rats. Small amounts of cooked meat are usually OK to grind.
  • Keep fats and oil out of the disposal. Oil can build up in pipes and lead to clogs. If you’ve ever seen bacon or beef fat harden and turn white in a frying pan after it cools, you can imagine that inside your pipes.
  • Cut power to the disposal before attempting any repair. Unplug or flip the circuit breaker for your disposal to prevent injury. Use tongs or pliers – not your fingers – to remove something clogging the disposal. While the blades aren’t exactly sharp, you could still get a painful jab even with the disposal completely powered off. 

Consider home warranty protection

If you’re worried that your appliances will some day leave you on the hook for a big repair bill, consider getting home warranty coverage. PEMCO has partnered with Cinch to help homeowners worry less and live more. It takes just minutes to get a quote online, and as a PEMCO member, you’ll get the first month of your Cinch plan free. 

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