A close up of a metal pan

How to Deep Clean a Garbage Disposal and Why You Need To

Germs—bacteria and viruses—are pretty much everywhere. Most of them are harmless, but one percent of all those germs can actually cause anything from a runny nose to a life-threatening infection.

Common sense dictates that when we clean our homes, we target places such as the toilet and counters to eliminate these germs—but we haven’t even scratched the surface of where germs lurk.

A close up of a metal pan

Photo credit: Wikimedia.org

According to Prevention magazine, there are more than half a million bacteria in the kitchen sink, about 1,000 times more than the average toilet.

The garbage disposal collects germs from raw food, like chicken, eggs, and spinach, and that food can be filled with harmful bacteria, like salmonella. It can make anyone, especially children, the elderly or anyone with a compromised immune system, very sick.

The metal part of the garbage disposal in a kitchen sink produces ions that can help kill germs, but they love to grow on the crevices in and around the slimy rubber splash guard. Your disposal can become a real breeding ground for bacteria, contaminating your hands, and everything you touch, like your dishes and utensils. All that rotting gunk and grime can cause quite a stink, too!

The solution to this problem is to deep-clean a garbage disposal every couple of weeks. Mark the calendar. It’s easy and you can do this in twenty minutes flat using items from your freezer and pantry.

Materials and Tools

A close up of a bottle on the counter

  • Ice cubes
  • Salt (rock salt or regular table salt)
  • Baking soda
  • White vinegar
  • Wooden spoon or similar
  • Small stiff brush
  • Disposal brush

Step 1

Dump a bunch of ice cubes into the garbage disposal followed by about 1/2 cup salt (rock salt is best if you have that, however ordinary table salt will do the job).

Sink and Kitchen


Turn on the disposal while running a small stream of water down the drain. Use a long-handled wooden spoon or similar, to carefully push all the ice into the running disposal. Keep it on for at least two minutes, which should be long enough for all the built-up gunk and grime to begin falling off the disposal’s blades. Turn off the water.


Drain and Washing

Step 2

Pour about 1/2 baking soda (more or less) into the disposal.

Image and Bacteria


Follow with 1 cup white vinegar and get ready for a show. Allow this non-toxic combo to fizz and bubble for at least 15 minutes. During this time the acidity of the solution will kill bacteria, even salmonella, and E. coli.


Sink and Drain




While you wait, mix a bit of vinegar and baking soda in a small dish to make a thick paste. Dip a small stiff brush (love this brush set; I use it every day for one thing or another) into the paste. Get busy scrubbing down the top of the disposal, the splash guard (outside and inside, too … ick!).

If your disposal is manufactured with a removable splash guard, your job will be much easier. While you’re at it, scrub the rubber sink stopper, too.

Sink and Drain

Step 4

Next, look under the sink to find where the disposal is plugged into an electrical outlet. Disconnect the disposal from its electrical power. You are going to scrub the inside floor, walls and the “ceiling” area at the top inside of the disposal. If you opt to do this by hand, put on a rubber glove, take a deep breath and go in with a scrubber, brush or another such implement. Personally, I’ll do anything to avoid that technique.

An excellent alternative is to use a disposal brush like Brushtech or Mr. Scrappy, made just for this task.

Let me warn you about what you are going to find in there. It’s not pretty, even when you clean your disposal routinely. Stuff splashes and gets stuck inside the disposal, where it sits and rots. Enough said.

Here, take a look.

Bacteria and Sink


Bacteria and Sink

The previous steps will have loosened the gunk, but now it needs to be totally removed and sent down the drain. The disposal brush fits perfectly into the disposal drain. You can clean the floor, walls and “ceiling” areas of the disposal including the underside of the splash guard without ever having to touch any of it when you use a garbage disposal brush.

Continue to scrub, clean and rinse until your brush of choice produces nothing disgusting and comes out clean.

Step 5

Plug the disposal back into its electrical outlet. Place the rubber stopper in place and fill the sink three-quarters full of warm water. Add a teaspoon of liquid dishwashing detergent, like Blue Dawn. Reach in and remove the rubber stopper, turn on the disposal and allow all of the water to drain at once. Turn off the disposal.


Step back and admire your beautifully clean garbage disposal.

Water and Bacteria

Daily maintenance

For daily maintenance clean the disposal’s splash guard and rubber stopper with a diluted bleach solution—1 teaspoon liquid bleach in 1 gallon of water, dispensed with a spray bottle that is well-labeled. Scrub it really well, and rinse. Soap and water just aren’t good enough.

First published: 10-12-18; Updated with additional information 12-8-19

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12 replies
  1. Debbie says:

    Mary, very recently I just had a professional come in to install new fixtures in my bathroom shower. I told him I used vinegar and Dawn to clean my shower stall tiles and plain vinegar to soak my shower head in to clear up the mineral buildup. He was adamant that vinegar is very corrosive to metal and to not use it on my fixtures. In fact, he told me to cover my fixtures when I cleaned the tiles with my vinegar/Dawn solution. I’ve always been skittish about using vinegar and bleach on my metal things and so started using Lysol disinfecting products that state that they kill as many bacteria as bleach. I also believe it is way less corrosive but I cannot swear to that. Plus, the smell is heavenly clean! Can you give me your thoughts on this?

  2. Marla says:

    I’ve read so many places lately that combining baking soda and vinegar produces nothing more than a slightly salty water solution and is not a good disinfectant and not necessarily good for general cleaning. The acid (vinegar) and the base (baking soda) cancel each other out. I’ve read that you’d be better off using the baking soda as a mild abrasive to scrub and remove the majority of nasty germs then following up with a splash of vinegar as a disinfectant (at least against some bacteria). Professor Peter Collignon, an Australian, infectious diseases physician says disinfectants have a 99% kill rate and that by removing most of the bacteria by physical means (scrubbing) and then using the vinegar you’re left with less bacteria.

    • Mary Hunt says:

      Eventually, I believe it does but there is a powerful and useful process while that “conversion” is happening—as evidenced by that bubbling and gurgling process. It is powerful. How poweful? I know this from first hand experience! Read “How I Indvertently Saved the Day for One Historic San Francisco Hotel” … here’s the link: https://www.everydaycheapskate.com/home-and-family/how-i-inadvertently-saved-the-day-for-one-historic-san-francisco-hotel/ That reaction really can clear a sluggish drain and loosen caked on stuff.

    • Mary Hunt says:

      Hi Marla … I just recorded an episode of my new Podcast on this very subject! Vinegar + Baking Soda = The Ultimate Cleaner…Myth or Miracle? It airs on Dec. 10. Don’t miss it!

  3. Vicki McMahon says:

    I have used Mr. Scrappy per EC recommendation and WOW! Very nice gadget. Now to implement the routine cleaning. Thank you!

  4. Emily Booth says:

    I almost never use the garbage disposal. I heard it’s bad for plumbing. Condos have started asking owners to uninstall then.

    • Mary Hunt says:

      Of course it’s bad for plumbing to put potato peels or artichoke leaves—even citrus peel down a disposal. A garbage disposal was never intended to handling certain items like that. They’ll cause a blockage that requires a plumber. That’s because a garbage disposal is NOT a garbage can. You should always scrape the big stuff into a can or receptacle. The garbage disposal is for the small chunks and bits that inevitably go down the drain in a typical kitchen. I think the solution for you is to learn to use your disposal properly. It really is an awesome kitchen appliance.

      The solution is not to get rid of one of the best kitchen appliances ever but to learn to use it properly.

    • Mary Hunt says:

      Well, that’s because the average person doesn’t know how to use them in the mannner in which they are designed to be used! A garbage disposal is not a garbage can. Large amount of anything should be properly put into the trash. A disposal is for the small chunks and food debris left on plates before being washed. That’s the first rule. Beyond that keeping the thing clean and clear is just good common sense.


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