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The best way to clean a waste disposal unit

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Waste disposal units, also known as garbage disposal units, are commonplace within American homes, though they have become increasingly popular within the UK. As more of us prioritise efficiency and sustainability within our homes, garbage disposal units are an excellent solution to prevent wasted food from ending up in a landfill.

While garbage disposal units are beneficial for the environment, they can be a challenge to clean. This article covers the best way to clean a garbage disposal unit and how to maintain its freshness.

What is a garbage disposal unit?

A Garbage disposal unit is a convenient kitchen device that shreds up food waste, allowing it to pass through plumbing systems.

Food waste is ground up into small pieces, allowing it to be easily disposed of and is more environmentally friendly than simply throwing it in the bin. That being said, there are numerous foods which you should avoid from placing down your disposal unit as this could lead to damaged blades and blockages.

Cleaning your garbage disposal unit may not be a particularly elegant task, but thankfully it’s a relatively simple process. Maintaining your garbage disposal unit will not only make your kitchen more hygienic but can also prevent potential blockages and the need for professional assistance further down the line.

How regularly should you clean a garbage disposal unit?

You may be wondering how often you need to clean your garbage disposal unit to keep it in order. As you can imagine, vast amounts of food will be poured down the unit on a daily basis. It’s, therefore, recommended that you clean the device once a week if in use regularly. For those who use the unit less often, once every two weeks is sufficient.

Cleaning a garbage disposal unit in three steps

Cleaning a waste disposal unit may sound like a hassle, but it’s much easier than many may think. Before you begin the cleaning process, it’s essential to ensure that you turn off the power to avoid any nasty accidents.

How do I clean a waste disposal unit?

To keep your waste disposal unit in tip-top condition, we’ve outlined the three simple steps to a successful clean:

Step one

The first step of the garbage disposal cleaning process is to tend to the splash guard. The splash guard is the area where unpleasant odours can come from. This area can be easily cleaned with baking soda or using washing up liquid. You can even place it in the dishwasher for added convenience.

Step two

The second step is to clear any residue or stuck food items around the disposal unit with the splash guard removed whilst still ensuring that the power is turned off. Use a torch to inspect the area thoroughly and ensure that any items are removed with tongs or pliers – never use your hands to pick anything from the blades.

Step three

For the final step of the cleaning waste disposal unit, there are a couple of options to choose from. The first option is to pour a citrus fruit down the drain, such as lemon juice, along with a couple of ice cubes. Once you have poured down the disposal, rinse with water for around thirty seconds. For further cleaning strength, you could also pour bleach down the drain to remove any remaining residue.

As a second option, if you don’t have any lemon juice handy, you can also use baking soda and vinegar. Cleaning experts recommend adding a cup of baking soda down the disposal and leaving it around thirty minutes to absorb the odours thoroughly. You can then continue the process by adding a cup of vinegar.

The two solutions will mix and produce a foamy consistency, which will remove any abrasive remaining food items. After a few minutes have passed, run warm water down the drain to help clear out the baking soda/vinegar mixture. This cleaning process also comes in handy in cleaning a stainless-steel sink as the mixture can help remove any harsh food particles.

As a final tip, adding a touch of table salt can help clean any stubborn stains from the disposal blades. You could also finish off the process with some citrus peel to create a fresh-smelling scent.

How to maintain your waste disposal unit

It’s one thing to achieve a clean garbage disposal unit but ensuring that the device is maintained correctly is another. Keeping your disposal in excellent condition all comes down to making sure you don’t put anything down there which could damage the device.

Foods not to put down your waste disposal unit

You should never put certain foods in a waste disposal unit as they could harm the blades and require replacement. Disposals are not designed to receive all food items, so it’s essential to watch the foods you dispose of. It’s advisable to stay away from fats, oils and greases as these can cause blockages and excess build-up of residue with the potential to harm your plumbing system.

Similarly, coffee grounds can also be harmful and can lead to clogged up drains, creating a sludgy texture. You should either throw the old coffee grounds in the bin or, to be extra sustainable, you could use them for composting.

It’s also best to keep clear of throwing eggshells down your disposal as these often stick to drains and can sometimes clog together, forming a tough consistency.

You may be tempted to throw old medicines down your waste disposal as the capsules are often very small. However, medicines have the potential to impact your water quality and infect it with chemicals. As a result, you should dispose of old medicine at your local pharmacy, which they can include within the dedicated medical waste.

Staying away from large quantities of small food is also a good idea, such as pasta, nuts, rice, banana peels, cereals and potatoes. These have the potential to cause substantial blockages and are better off being thrown into the bin.

It may sound obvious, but throwing bones down your waste disposal could cause significant damage. Whilst disposals grind up food waste; they are not powerful enough to cut through hard items. If you find yourself accidentally dropping the odd small chicken bone down the drain, the damage will likely be minimal. However, dropping a rack of pork ribs down there is likely to cause a problem.

Although not a food product, it’s not advised to pour paint or thick consistencies down your waste disposal. Not only does this stick to the drains, but a build-up can prevent other food from passing through.

Stick to DIY cleaning

Although many of us head for commercial cleaning products when cleaning most kitchen appliances, cleaning experts recommend the DIY cleaning route for waste disposal units. This process is advised as some commercial cleaners contain harsh chemicals that could cause rusting of the disposal blades, which can be costly to replace.

Running cold water daily

Running cold water down your disposal unit on a daily basis can help flush out any food build-up, meaning you won’t have an arduous task ahead when you tend to your main weekly clean. Giving your drains a final flush prevents waste from settling in the pipes and preventing blockages.

What to do with the remaining leftover food waste?

We mentioned earlier that garbage disposal units are a more sustainable option, preventing food waste from entering landfills. Many believe that food waste will quickly decompose at landfill sights, but the reality is that it can create methane, which is 25 times stronger than carbon dioxide.

With so many food types having the potential to cause damage to your waste disposal unit, what can be done with any remaining food waste?

Although there are some instances where you may have no choice but to place food waste in the bin, there are other efficient ways to dispose of food in an eco-friendly manner safely.


Composting is an excellent way to reduce food waste at home and reduce your greenhouse gas emissions, allowing food to decay naturally within the ground. The food can also act as a fertiliser, which can help grow your garden. When deciphering which foods can be composted, the general rule is that most things that grow from the ground can be put back in the ground. This rule includes obvious choices such as old fruit, but it also includes grains such as pasta, cereal and bread.

Recycling food waste

When contacted, most local councils will supply households with a recycling bin or caddy to sit within their kitchen. Using a biodegradable bin liner, you can place food waste such as meat, fish, eggshells and coffee grounds into your recycling bin. The council will then collect your recycling caddy separately from your general waste.  

Cleaning your waste disposal unit is just one of the many essential tasks to keep your kitchen fresh and in order. Did you know you could help further increase the efficiency within your kitchen by installing an instant boiling water tap?

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