Best Way to Clean a Garbage Disposal

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Your garbage disposal is a powerhouse: it takes your leftovers and pulverizes them so they can safely go down the drain, which also helps reduce what you send to your local landfill. But let’s face it: garbage is right there in the name, and eventually garbage will be exactly how it smells. Here we’ll be covering how to get rid of buildup, clear away any potential obstructions (both in the chamber and in the pipes), and give it a fresh, pleasant smell. We will also talk of what to do if your disposal gets stuck. To find out the best way to clean a garbage disposal, check out our helpful tips down below!

Best Way to Clean a Garbage Disposal: How Often?

Ideally, this should be done once a week. However, you can probably get away with waiting two weeks, perhaps as long as three, between one cleaning and the next. Back in the day, you would have had a good chunk of your day aside, in order to follow a long series of steps. Nowadays, there’s no need to turn to home remedies anymore: the key to a quick, thorough cleaning is one click away.

The Best Cleaner For Your Garbage Disposal: Glisten DP20B

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For disinfecting, deodorizing, and cleaning both the chamber and the pipes, this is all you need: it generates a foam which expands until it occupies every nook and cranny within the chamber (even under the splash guard!). In a matter of minutes, the area is disinfected, cleared of buildup and left with a fresh lemon scent. This cleaner comes in packets, which spares you the trouble of measuring it.

Something that sets this product apart is its composition: instead of caustic elements, it relies on a combination of bleach alternative and abrasive modules, which makes it fairly safe to use. The packet is biodegradable too, so there’s nothing to worry about when putting it in the disposal’s chamber.

Tools You Need

  • Flashlight
  • Needle nose pliers – like these, whose double pivot allows the jaw to open wider even in narrow places.

The Step-By-Step

1. Cut the power. Your hand is unlikely to come anywhere near the disposal’s teeth, but “better safe than sorry” is particularly true here. If your disposal is plugged into an outlet, pull the cord out. If it is hardwired, then shut off the corresponding circuit breaker. Don’t forget to try and turn on the disposal, so you can be absolutely certain there is no power for it.

2. Fish out foreign items. Turn on the flashlight and look into the chamber. Check for rings, bottlecaps, shards, anything that cannot be chemically removed; this is also a good time to see if there might be anything, such as vegetable fibers, tangled around the grinding mechanism. Use the pliers to bring out everything you can.

3. Use the cleaner. The box provides detailed instructions on how to use your Glisten DP20B, but in a nutshell, you run hot water towards the disposal, which should already be turned off; then, you place one packet, unopened (this is important!), in the chamber, and turn the disposal on. Soon the foam rises, all the way to the top, and slowly recedes.

In about a minute or two, the foam disappears completely, which means that the job is done! Read on to find out what to do should your unit get jammed.

Best Way To Unclog a Garbage Disposal

It can happen sometimes: a hard object gets stuck between the blades and the chamber wall, and forces the mechanism to a halt. You will know this has happened if you hear a hum, as the motor keeps trying to push the blades through. This will cause overheating, at which point most disposals will automatically shut down. This is usually a fairly easy problem to resolve.

What you need

While this list may seem long, it is unlikely you will end up using every single item. This is so you are prepared for just about anything you may end up facing.

  • Flashlight.
  • Needle nose pliers.
  • Hex wrench – many garbage disposals include it. If it’s not available, any ¼ inch Allen wrench will do.
  • Wooden spoon or broom handle.
  • Plunger. You might want to use one of appropriate size, such as this example.

What to do

First, cut off the power (safety first!); this will require either unplugging the disposal or shutting off the circuit breaker it’s hardwired into. Then, turn on the flashlight and look inside the chamber; if you see the object that got stuck, pull it out with the pliers.

If the object won’t come off, look at the underside of the disposal, and find the hex socket at the center. Fit the wrench into it, and move it back and forth; this will move the blades, and should loosen the obstruction, allowing you to fish it out. You can also use the wrench and the socket after removing the foreign object, so you can verify that the blades are indeed free. At this point, it is recommended to give the motor 15 minutes to cool off if the emergency shutdown was very recent.

Now, it is time to reset the motor. Most modern units come with a button for this purpose, located usually at the bottom, although it may vary by model. You can always refer to your user manual if you can’t find it. Press the reset button, restore power, and turn the disposal on: it should now be working as normal.

If jam persists

Let’s say the wrench trick did not work; maybe your disposal doesn’t even have a hex slot at the bottom. This is when you use your spoon or broom handle: insert it into the opening, and use it to push against the blades, back and forth, until you feel free movement. Give the motor 15 minutes to cool off, then turn it on and see how it goes.

If the drain is blocked

A word of caution: while a drain cleaner can be used on the garbage disposal, it should only be when the disposal is draining slowly, not when it is completely backed up; and even then, it should not be just any cleaner, as some of them might be too corrosive and damage certain parts of your disposal or plumbing. This is especially important when considering the use of a plunger: pumping with it can make the cleaner splash around, which is likely to cause injury. Further down we cover a disposal-friendly drain cleaner, for when you want to clear away a partial block that doesn’t require a plunger.

Before doing anything, check if your dishwasher’s drainpipe is connected to the disposal; if it is, you should clamp it temporarily, so that no dirty water will flow back to your dishwasher machine. Then, use the plunger to pump at the drain opening. This should pull the obstruction back up or force it down the drain.

Ways to prevent clogging

As powerful as a garbage disposal is, it does have its limits. In order to help prevent obstructions, do not feed your waste into the chamber too fast: give the disposal time to work through it before you pour in more; also, water flow should be sufficient to flush everything down the drain. While we’re at it, avoid pouring in any sort of grease of fat: it can harden around the grinding mechanism, forcing it to work harder, and it can also back up your pipes.

What shouldn’t go in

It bears repeating: your garbage disposal is not all-powerful. Keep these items out of the chamber, and your unit will work better, last longer, and be at less of a risk of clogging.

  • Non-food waste. Examples: paper towels, glass shards, bits of metal… or produce stickers!
  • Expired medications. They will negatively impact your local water supply.
  • Fruit pits and seashells. Way too hard to chop up.
  • Nuts. The constant grinding will turn them into a paste.
  • Coffee grounds. It’s true that they clean and freshen up the disposal in the short term, but they do more harm than good down the road… or, in this case, down the drain.
  • Pasta, bread, rice, oats, any grain-based food. They gain volume when they absorb water, which can lead to clogging.
  • Bones. Some particularly powerful, higher-end disposals may be intended to grind this sort of waste, but they are more the exception than the rule. In most cases, they will end up causing damage.
  • Onion layers. The membrane beneath the dry skin can easily dodge the grinding mechanism, or wrap around it; it might even end up blocking the drain.
  • Eggshells. Contrary to what you may have heard, they don’t really help sharpen the blades.
  • Potato peels and sauerkraut. They may be so thin they avoid the mechanism altogether, or be ground into a paste that will eventually block the drain.
  • Stringy fruits and vegetables. Examples include rhubarb, banana peels, celery and asparagus. Their fibers may tangle around the mechanism.
  • Chicken skin. More likely than not, it will clog your plumbing, to say nothing of the smell and germs as it decays.

Best Drain Cleaner For Garbage Disposal: Green Gobbler Drain Clog Dissolver

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For partial obstructions, this one’s got you covered: given its formula and manufacturing process, it is EPA certified and safe for use in all sorts of pipes, including the more modern PVC. It will not cause irritation upon contact with skin or eyes, and it does not produce fumes or odor. This is not to say it is not potent: it is widely regarded as one of the most effective cleaners out there, having no problem to deal with paper, grease, hair and soap.

The cleaner comes in a bottle with double compartment: one of them should be emptied per use. Once poured in, the ultra-thick formula clings to your pipe’s inner walls, creating a protection and then slowly dissolving anything that is obstructing the flow of water. You shall notice a remarkable difference in as little as 15 minutes; the protein enzyme that remains after that will keep your pipes protected for a while. Now you’ve got the best way to clean a garbage disposal! Your trusty appliance will thank you with many years of service.


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