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.
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
- Ice cubes
- Salt (rock salt or regular table salt)
- Baking soda
- White vinegar
- Wooden spoon or similar
- Small stiff brush
- Disposal brush
Step 1: Ice and Salt
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).
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.
Step 2: Baking soda and vinegar
Pour about 1/2 cup baking soda (more or less) into the disposal.
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.
Step 3: Brush and scrub
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.
Step 4: Unplug then go in
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A garbage disposal is NOT a garbage can. It’s bad for plumbing to put potato peels or artichoke leaves—even citrus peel down a disposal. The garbage disposal was never intended to handle certain items like that. They’ll cause a blockage that requires a plumber.
The garbage disposal is designed for the small chunks and bits that inevitably go down the drain in a typical kitchen. You should always scrape the big stuff into a can (or compost if possible).
First published: 10-12-18; Updated and republished 09-05-21
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