Garbage Disposal Smells Bad (Why & What Should You Do)

Have you recently walked past your sink and caught a whiff of an unpleasant smell? I used to have this issue and it turns out that it’s the garbage disposal! It’s an issue that you can fix quickly so you also won’t have to smell rotten food lingering in your home.

Your garbage disposal smells because of rotten food scraps. Common ways to fix this issue are rising with water and soap, rinsing with baking soda and vinegar, using lemon or citrus fruits, using salt and ice cubes, or cleaning the flap. Remember to take safety precautions before cleaning.

Figuring out why your garbage disposal smells and how to fix it will be an easy task. You will be able to try different cleaning methods and see which one works best for you. Most of the materials you probably have laying around at home. Let’s get into figuring out and solving the problem. 

Why Your Garbage Disposal Smells 

Your garbage disposal smells because of a build-up of decaying food scraps. A garbage disposal is an appliance in your sink. It grinds up food that you put into your drain so that your drain does not get clogged. There is usually a switch to turn it on and off near the sink.

Bad Smell Garbage

Food scraps will build up if you do not properly wash the food down the drain or let the disposal run enough. These food scraps are most likely minimal but can create a strong unwanted odor when left in the disposal.

Food that has gotten stuck to the disposal or has been sitting around in the disposal will build up bacteria. When the bacteria builds up it lets off the smell of rotting food. 

Sometimes the build-up is so bad that rinsing with just water will not work. The build-up can happen even if you use your sink often. You are going to have to take extra measures to clean the smell and make sure there are no clogs or backups as this can lead to problems, like the disposal not turning.

Safety Precautions

Cleaning a garbage disposal should not be scary. However, you need to take safety precautions before cleaning

You do not want to accidentally get your hand stuck or cut. You should start by clearing your sink. This ensures you won’t accidentally hit your hand on a knife and clears access to the disposal. 

You should never put your hand down in the disposal. The blades that cut up your food could accidentally cut your hand. The only time you should clean the inside unit is if you need to. Do this by completely cutting off the power to the disposal and removing the whole unit. Otherwise do not put your hand near the inside unit. 

Most cleaning techniques do not require you to put your hand near the disposal. If you need to clean the inside disposal unit then you will likely have to call a professional to turn off the power and take the unit out to clean it.

Rinse with Water

Try rising the garbage disposal with water. To properly do this turn on your water to the hottest setting. Hot water can help clean the disposal on its own. While the hot water is running, turn on the garbage disposal for 10-15 seconds. Listen and make sure it sounds clear. 

You should do this every time you use the garbage disposal. This way it stays clear and clean after each use.

Rinse the garbage disposal with water
Rinse the garbage disposal with water

Rinse with Soapy Water, and Try a Scrub Brush

Hot water may not be enough to get rid of the bad odor. Rinse with hot water again but this time use soap. 

To create the soapy water, start by plugging the drain. Fill the sink with hot water and dish soap. Use dish soap because it helps to get rid of grease or food scraps. Once it is filled about halfway you can unplug the drain.

As the soapy water is draining down scrub the disposal using a scrub brush with a handle. This way you will not be sticking your hand down the drain. After the soapy water has gone you can turn on the hot water and run the disposal.

Scrub Brush in a garbage disposal
Rinse the garbage disposal with Soapy Water and Scrub Brush

Fix the Smell with Baking Soda and Vinegar

When combined together, backing soda and vinegar are notoriously strong cleaners. Baking soda will absorb the odor and vinegar will create a reaction that releases carbon dioxide. These two ingredients combined will not only clean your garbage disposal but can clear a clog as well.

Putting Vinegar and Baking Soda
Fix the Smell with Baking Soda and Vinegar

To clean the disposal with these ingredients start by pouring about half a cup of baking soda down the drain. Allow the baking soda to sit for 30 minutes without adding anything to it. After 30 minutes pour half a cup of vinegar down. Let the mixtures combine and work for 10 minutes. 

Once you have waited 10 minutes, turn on the sink water and wash the mixture down. Leave the water on and turn the disposal on for 15 seconds. If it smells like vinegar after then it has worked.

How Fix the Smell with Lemon or Other Citrus 

Lemon or other citrus fruits can get rid of the odor. Citus has antibacterial properties that get rid of odors and leave a nice one in its place. You can try to use oranges, grapefruit, or lime if you do not have a lemon. Lemon is one of the most effective citrus fruits to use.

To prepare your lemon or citrus fruit, cut it into slices. Try to cut it into eight slices. This way they will be small enough to fit into the drain and be cut up by the disposal. Once you have your slices, turn on cold water.

Run your garbage disposal and put in one lemon slice at a time. Be sure that each slice has been cleared before you put in another one. You don’t want too many at a time because it can create a clog. There is a chance that it begins to smell fresh before you use all the slices. If that is the case then save the rest.

Putting Lemon or Other Citrus 
How Fix the Smell with Lemon or Other Citrus 

Fix the Smell with Ice Cubes and Salt

Ice cubes and salt can fix the smell because when combined they will clean the blades of the garbage disposal. Food scrap can get stuck to the blades causing the smelly odor. Salt makes ice cubes colder and will help clean the blades. Along with possibly sharpening the blades.

Start by getting two cups of ice from your fridge or ice tray. There is no specific size they need to be so it is okay if you have smaller cubes. Pour the two cups of ice into the drain. Follow this with a cup of salt. Any salt will work but using rock salt is recommended. 

Once the mixture is in the sink, run the cold water and turn on the disposal. Keep the disposal running until all of the ice disappears. After the process is done the garbage disposal blades should be cleaned of any residue that was stuck to them. 

Putting Ice Cubes and Salt

Fix the Smell by Cleaning the Flap

Sometimes the flap of the garbage disposal can be the issue. A red ring can build up around the flap or the flap itself may need cleaning. Get a scrub brush or dish sponge and add soap and water to it. Then you can scrub the outside part of the disposal. 

You can use baking soda and vinegar to clean the flap as well. To use baking soda and vinegar just pour baking soda over the entire flap and let it sit for 30 minutes. Pour some vinegar on it and let it sit for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes scrub the outside with a bush and wash away the remaining mixture.

The flap is the only part of the garbage disposal that you can clean up close with your hands. Remember to clear the sink and not to put your hand into the disposal.

Cleaning the Flap
Fix the Smell by Cleaning the Flap

An Additional Note: What Can and Cannot Be Put Into a Garbage Disposal

There is only a certain amount of foods that can be put into your garbage disposal. These foods should be soft or easy to break down. Such foods are noodles, small fruit scraps, oatmeal, vegetables, or soups. Anything that needs to be rinsed from a dish can go down the disposal as well. 

You should not put onion skins, grease, coffee grounds, hard foods, egg shells, vegetable peelings, or fruit pits into the garbage disposal. It will not be able to break any of these down which will lead to a clog. Please note that the garbage disposal is for food and not other items.

If you can, you should try to throw away any food scraps into your trash can. The garbage disposal should be a last resort. This way you avoid any potential clogging if the garbage disposal doesn’t break it down enough.


Having a smelly garbage disposal may be alarming at first, but the fix is easy. Take proper safety precautions before dealing with your disposal. Never put your hand down the drain. Remember that only certain foods can go down the drain and only foods can go down the drain.

There are plenty of natural home remedies to get rid of the smell caused by rotting food. Remember to always run your garbage disposal with hot water while you are running it. This way you can keep your disposal fresh and odor free.

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