Garbage Disposal Smells? 6 Tool-Free Fixes

While helpful, garbage disposals can - in some cases - produce a foul-smelling odor that might be noticeable even when the unit is not running.

If you're experiencing this with your disposal and you can smell something bad even when the sink is empty and you're simply standing above or near it (not stooping down for a sniff) then this guide is going to take you through the easiest process of ridding your disposal of the odor.

We'll also list some common follow-up tactics to try if our step-by-step instructions don't work for you.

Maybe your garbage disposal keeps smelling bad and just needs replaced? If so, checkout our roundup of the best garbage disposals for the money.

Otherwise, let's look at the simplest fix:

Step-by-Step Garbage DIsposal Odor FIX (tool-free)

This is the first thing you should try before moving on to the other suggestions in this article:

  1. Remove all dishes and food waste (if any) from your sink
  2. Unplug the garbage disposal and reach into the sinkhole to confirm there are no stuck piece of food waste. If there are, remove them and continue to step 3.
  3. Clean the top flange of the disposal and the sink hole area with Lysol or some kind of all-purpose cleaner
  4. Spray or pour some of the cleaner down the drain
  5. Run the garbage disposal with hot running water for about one minute

In most cases, this simple process will get rid of a bad garbage disposal smell. In fact, garbage disposals should be more of an odor deterrent, when working correctly.

Still - If it doesn't work, here are some additional things you can try.

1. Lemons

Lemon

Lemons are used to make cleaning agents because their acidic properties help break down dirt and grease. Slicing up a few lemons and throwing them into your garbage disposal can both eliminate odor and increase the cleanliness of your sink area.

2. Ice Cubes

Ice Cubes with Lemon Slices Laying Over Top of Them

If there is any food waste or grime built up in your garbage disposal, chopped up pieces of ice whirling around in the unit can loosen and purge stray waste. Try ice first, then gradually introduce cold running water.

3. Enzymes

Enzymes

While this option involves a separate purchase, it might be one of the more effective options. You can actually buy garbage disposals for septic tanks that have additional enzymes designed to break down food waste. Since you already have a disposal, the enzyme liquid can actually be purchased separately.

4. Bleach or Ammonia

Bleach

For more stubborn smells, pouring bleach or ammonia down the garbage disposal and running it for a minute or two might get the job done. Bleach is an extremely powerful cleaning agent; an alkaline substance on the pH scale and just a step down from industrial drain cleaner. Be sure to follow bleach safety recommendations to avoid injury.

5. Soap and Warm Water

Cleaning products for home cartoons

On a more organic note, a modified version of my first suggestion is just to run some warm water with intermittent soap, perhaps for a longer duration, closer to two or even three minutes.

6. Boiling Water

Man opening lid of pot starting to cook

Boiling water isn't the simplest solution or the safest. But, it might be a more effective option especially if you're dealing with a sticky food waste substance that needs to melt before it can wash down through the disposal.

Alkaline or Acidic?

When you're dealing with bad odor from a garbage disposal, you ultimately need to break down whatever is causing the smell. Knowing the pH scale is helpful because you'll need something that is either highly acidic or highly alkaline. 

The Science pH Scale

This is why we've chosen things like lemons, soap, and bleach. Other options might include baking soda, vinegar, or drain cleaner. Anything that's not "neutral" on this chart has a shot at breaking up the garbage disposal's foul smells.

Worst Case Scenario

If none of my suggestions work, you'll need to consider calling a plumber to take apart the unit and remove the odor-causing waste from inside the disposal. There's also an outside chance that the odor is coming from beyond the disposal, perhaps inside part of the plumbing fixture.

Preventing Bad Smells in the Future

What caused the bad smell in the first place?

It's likely that most lingering garbage disposal smells are caused by food waste that either gets stuck or caked to the interior of the disposal or the lid and sinkhole area. This can be avoided by the following best practices:

  • Avoid leaving food waste or dishes in the sink for an elongated period of time
  • Make sure to run the garbage disposal until it spins "clean" or it is entirely empty and you no longer hear the grinding noise
  • Avoid putting heavy items in the disposal like bones or fibrous veggies
  • Regularly use one or more of the cleaning methods we described above, even when there's no odor

While no garbage disposal maintenance plan is full-proof, following the aforementioned best practices is probably going to keep your sink odor free, if adhered to consistently.

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