How to Clean a Garbage Disposal

It is difficult to recognize when the garbage disposal in your sink is dirty.

It can be very difficult to tell when it is dirty, but when your garbage disposal is dirty, it can seriously compromise the quality of your sink, as your disposal’s ability to shred and crush what is put in it.

Cleaning a garbage disposal can be complicated, but it does not need to be nearly as complicated as it lets itself on.

If you do the following things, you’ll be able to clean your garbage disposal when it is time to clean it.

Sometimes you will need to remove the disposal from the sink, and sometimes this is not necessary.

Because of this, the first thing you should do is see if you can clean the disposal without removing it from the sink.

How to clean a garbage disposal without removing it

Despite what you may think, it is often not necessary to remove a garbage disposal in order to clean it.

This can usually be accomplished via many products you can find in your local hardware store that will help to break up and dissolve food particles that can sometimes become trapped within the connections that run from your garbage disposal to the run-off water outlet in your home’s plumbing system.

It is best to attempt to use any of these products before you take the added steps of removing your garbage disposal from the sink itself.

Any kind of pipe cleaning device or fluid will work in this situation. This method is ideal for new garbage disposals.

This practice however, is sometimes not enough, especially for old garbage disposals.

How and why older garbage disposals need to be cleaned differently

Older garbage disposals that may not have been run for a time sometimes have food particles large enough to collect in the sink trap underneath making it difficult for the unit to drain as it normally would.

In order to clean these, you will need to disconnect your garbage disposal from the sink itself.

Disconnecting your garbage disposal is as easy as following the manual that came with your garbage disposal.

If you do not have the manual, most models have simple connections that will allow you to remove the disposal itself so that you can clean it free of your under sink connections.

While some disposals can and will become clogged over time, the problem may also be within your sink trap underneath your sink itself.

Oftentimes, you may not need to continue beyond this if that is where you find the problem.

However in the event the garbage disposal unit needs to be thoroughly cleaned there will be additional steps necessary to ensure that you have completely eliminated any blockages that prevent your disposal from draining properly.

The following instructions will guide you on how to disconnect the sink trap as well, as your disposal if this is necessary.
Preparations you need to make before removing the garbage disposal from your sink

In order to disconnect and disassemble your garbage disposal from the sink itself you will need a few tools and items that you can find at your local hardware store.

Some of these items are unlikely to come with even new garbage disposals so you will need to purchase them separately if you do not have them around the home. Doing this requires the following:

  • Tongue and groove pliers
  • A vice grip, adjustable, or plumbing wrench
  • A typical household bucket

Once you have these, you will need to remove the garbage disposal itself from underneath your sink.

While some models are larger in size, most models come with the same typical assembly parts and can be removed using the same steps.

The following instructions will allow you to remove your garbage disposal safely.

How to physically remove your garbage disposal safely

The first thing you’ll need to do is to disconnect the disposal itself.

There will likely be a plug located underneath your sink that your disposal draws its power from, so before you begin to disassemble the disposal and the plumbing connected to it, make sure you locate and unplug the disposal itself.

If you are inexperienced in doing this, locate your breaker box and shut off the power to the switch that powers your disposal to be extra careful.

Once you’ve unplugged your disposal you’re ready to begin disconnecting the accompanying plumbing.

Next, locate the plumbing connected to your garbage disposal for disconnection.

To do this, locate the sink trap pipes (typically these are made of PVC plastic) running from your garbage disposal that allows the water run-off to drain.

Once you’ve located the sink trap pipes, you’ll need to remove them from the disposal housing.

Typically, the direct connection to your disposal will have a clamp on the end connecting directly to the disposal, and in some cases a screw on connection.

If these connections are clamped, you’ll need the tongue and groove pliers listed in the materials list.

Simply open the tongue and groove pliers wide enough to reach both ends of the clamp and squeeze tightly enough to loosen the connection.
Having disconnected the clamp to your disposal assembly, you can begin to turn the sink trap pipe connections counter clockwise until all the connections have been loosened.

You may also need the tongue and groove pliers to accomplish this and/or any of the wrenches listed in the items above.

This is where your bucket will come in handy. The water that rests in the trap will begin to drain off and you’ll want to catch all excess water to save yourself clean-up time. This is the first chance to check if the blockage is in your sink trap so inspect the sink trap at this time.

If your garbage disposal is connected to a dishwasher, you’ll also need to disconnect the tube that runs from your garbage disposal to the dishwasher.

Most models have a simple screw on connection, so with either an adjustable or simple plumbing wrench you can loosen this connection and remove the tube itself.

Also at this time, check to see if the tubing that connects to your dishwasher is blocked.

You can do this by running your dishwasher with the hose not connected to the disposal, and place the tube inside of a bucket. If the water does not drain properly when it should then the blockage is likely in your dishwasher connection and not your garbage disposal.

Now you are ready to remove the disposal unit.

First, remove the disposal from the mounting ring that will be attached to the upper portion of the disposal which connects to your sink. To do this, turn the disposal counter clockwise until loosed from the assembly above.

Once you’ve done this you’ll be able to remove the disposal itself for further cleaning.

How to clean your garbage disposal safely

The first thing you should understand is that there are various products you can use to clean your garbage disposal.

These are the same products you can use to clean your garbage disposal while it is still installed.

You can also use these products to clean your garbage disposal once removed, however the process is likely to be a little messier if you do this, so keep this in mind before you move forward.
Once you have removed your garbage disposal from the sink itself, you can simply take it to an area where you can plug it back in and run the unit free of the constraints of the sink itself.

Take the sink trap with you to be cleaned. If the garbage disposal is not draining, it is likely the case that your sink trap is clogged as well, and once removed this is the easiest way to clean the trap.

Once you have your disposal and sink trap disassembled and removed, take your garbage disposal to a place where you can clean it easily. Usually this will be located near a hose or simple spigot outside and connected to your home.

You’ll need to be able to plug your garbage disposal back in, so make sure you have an extension cord or outlet nearby. Plug your garbage disposal back in, and place it on a level surface, taking extra care to make sure you are free of any of the mechanical moving parts that reside in the housing yourself.

One thing that needs to be mentioned is that you should never put your hands in the garbage disposal when it is plugged in and powered.

When you’re ready to plug your garbage disposal back in, have running water ready. The plug you’ll be using should be running on its own constant power and will not require you to flip a switch for the unit to run.

In the event you can plug your unit into an outlet controller via a wall switch, do this instead so you can maintain control over turning the garbage disposal on and off manually.

The teeth inside your garbage disposal will do most of the hard work for you, so all you’ll need to do is simply add the cleaning compound you’ve chosen and pour and/or place the solution pack inside the disposal and begin to run water through the unit.

While you’re at this step in the process, take care not to look over the unit and make sure the connection where the water comes out is pointed away from you.

Once you’ve plugged your unit it, the rest will do the work for you, and you don’t need to run the garbage disposal for any longer than it takes for the solution to do its work.

Something you should do while doing this is wash out the sink trap that you’ve taken with you. Heavier food items will sometimes get stuck in the sink trap and the pressure of the hose should do just fine in clearing these items from the trap.

There are two decisions that you can make if you discover that your garbage disposal needs to be cleaned.
First, you can spend a lot of money by getting a specialist to do it for you.

Does this sound like something that you would want to do?

Probably not.

Fortunately, you have another option, and that is to follow the instructions in this guide and spend much less money, cleaning the garbage disposal yourself.

You know which choice to make.

Save yourself a lot of money and clean your garbage disposal by yourself.