Why Is There A Bad Smell Coming From The Garbage Disposal?

Garbage disposals are an essential part of millions of kitchens, helping reroute hundreds of pounds of food waste that would otherwise end up in a landfill. You can toss all sorts of food scraps down the drain, although most folks use the disposal for fruit and vegetable trimmings. 

On top of that, many folks scrape small amounts of leftovers after meals into the disposal. Considering all the food that can end up in the canister, it’s no surprise that the disposal might begin to stink, especially if you don’t keep it on a regular cleaning cycle. 

So, what’s causing the foul odor wafting from the disposal? How do you correct the issue? We’re here to walk you through the whys and hows, so continue reading to learn more!

What Causes The Bad Smell Coming From My Garbage Disposal?

To answer this question, we need to understand how a garbage disposal works. There’s a common misconception surrounding how garbage disposals function. Many think the unit uses sharp blades to chop and break down food. 

However, the disposal actually uses blunt rotating impellers to crush and break down food scraps. For the most part, food scraps get whisked away when you flush the drain with water. Sometimes, food scraps can get left behind in the canister.

These food particles will cause a pungent odor as they begin to decompose. Generally, they deteriorate fairly rapidly (especially in hot weather), so you’ll probably notice the smells a few days after the food gets caught. 

In more severe cases, the caught food particles can build up in the disposal canister, eventually causing a clog. Once a clog forms, the sink won’t drain properly, preventing you from using your sink and garbage disposal efficiently. 

How To Get Rid Of Odors From A Garbage Disposal

Unpleasant odors emanating from your garbage disposal don’t bode well for your kitchen. If left long enough, the scents may take over your kitchen, causing the entire space to stink. Since the kitchen is the hub of food preparation, this isn’t ideal. 

Luckily, getting rid of those unpleasant odors isn’t overly complicated. The whole process takes less than half an hour (unless there’s a stubborn clog). Here’s how to get rid of those odors once and for all.

Remove Clogs As Necessary

Before you start cleaning, it’s essential to remove the clogs in the appliance (if applicable). Sometimes, you might catch the problem quickly enough before it has time to build up and become a clog. 

However, it doesn’t hurt to check before you start cleaning. If you don’t take care of the root of the problem, you’ll be back to square one once you finish the process. We outline the steps to tackle stubborn clogs in your garbage disposal here.

The process is simple enough, although some clogs are more challenging to remove than others. Make sure you check for buildup and debris before cleaning the canister. Once you clear the clog (if necessary), move on to the following steps. 

Clean With Soapy Water

With the clog out of the way, it’s time to start the cleaning process. Here’s what you’ll need for this step:

  • Dish soap
  • Hot water
  • Scrub brush or sponge

Start by ensuring the appliance is off, either by unplugging it or turning off the switch on the wall. At no point in this process should you stick your hands in the appliance, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. 

Next, plug the sink drain on the disposal side. Fill the sink with hot water and about a teaspoon of dishwashing liquid. Swish the water and soap together to create a sudsy mixture. Remove the drain stopper and turn on the disposal. Allow the disposal to process the soapy water, then turn off the unit. 

Saturate a sponge or scrub brush with warm water, then apply a few drops of dish soap. Scrub all visible parts of the garbage disposal, including the sink rim, inside the drain, and the baffle. Avoid sticking your hand into the unit – only clean the visible, easily accessible areas. 

Rinse the sink and drain to remove any suds.  

Use Salt And Ice

Once the visible areas of the disposal are clean, you need to clean the inside of the canister. Since it’s not a good idea to stick your hand in the unit, use ice and salt instead. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Coarse salt
  • Ice cubes
  • Cold water

Set about ten ice cubes in the sink around the drain, then sprinkle roughly ½ cup of coarse salt over the ice. Turn on the garbage disposal, then feed the cubes into the running unit. If you have a batch feed garbage disposal, simply add the ice and salt to the unit and put the lid on to run the unit. 

Let the garbage disposal run until the ice and salt are completely gone. The two ingredients will help dislodge food particles that might be stuck in the canister, causing unpleasant smells. Once the garbage disposal sounds like it’s done grinding, run cold tap water directly into the disposal for 1-2 minutes. 

Deodorize The Unit

Sometimes, ice and salt won’t completely eliminate the smells coming from your garbage disposal. So, it’s time to bring in the stars of the show: baking soda and white vinegar. 

These ingredients have deodorizing properties, so the combination is sure to rid the drain of any unpleasant odors. Simply pour about 2 cups of baking soda directly into the disposal canister, and follow up with ½ cup of white vinegar.

The mixture will bubble and fizz, creating a chemical reaction. Let the mixture sit in the drain for an hour, then rinse the residue with cold water. Let cool water run for one minute to clear the canister of any residue. 

Once the disposal is odor-free, you can add a few finishing touches to freshen the smell in your kitchen. Add a few chopped citrus peels to the disposal, like orange or lemon scraps. Toss a few more ice cubes in the canister, then run the unit until it grinds everything. 

When they’re crushed, the citrus peels will release fresh-smelling odors, leaving your garbage disposal fresh and clean. 

Prevent Odors In The First Place

Although getting rid of stinky odors emanating from your garbage disposal isn’t a complex process, it takes time. To save yourself the hassle of tackling pungent smells in the future, follow these tips to avoid the problem altogether:

  • Always run cool water: Whenever you run the garbage disposal to dispose of food scraps, run cold water. This will help the food go down smoothly and prevent blockages in the disposal and the following plumbing. 
  • Only grind disposal-safe scraps: Some foods simply aren’t safe for the garbage disposal, like banana peels, celery stalks, pumpkin innards, shells, and large bones. So, avoid clogs and other issues by only grinding items the disposal can handle. 

Chop food scraps: While your garbage disposal is designed to handle the grinding process of disposing of food scraps, large chunks can cause an issue. To help with the disposal, chop food into small pieces and add scraps in small quantities.

Leave a Comment