Why does my garbage disposal smell… like GARBAGE?

Modern technological advancements become such a part of our lives; we can’t imagine life without them. iPhones, air conditioning, smartwatches, VR… and the list goes on and on. When they don’t work, or create problems in our lives instead of solving them, it can be extremely frustrating and discouraging.

When you think of technology, your first thought probably isn’t your kitchen sink, but garbage disposals sure are a convenient part of life in the 21st century! Convenient that is until you start to notice an unwelcome odor wafting from its direction! So why DOES your garbage disposal smell so rank… and what can you do about it?

We’re glad you asked!

Knowledge is power, so first: The Why.

Garbage disposal odor comes from three sources: rotting and decaying trapped food, pipe issues, or mold and bacteria. Sure, your handy-dandy disposal made short work of last night’s dinner scraps, but sometimes those remains are far from out of sight, out of mind. Small food particles can remain trapped under the rubber flange or impeller, leaky or blocked pipes route smells back up the drain, and the warm moist conditions in your home’s pipes can become the perfect storm for mold and bacteria.

Yuck! Knowing why doesn’t fix the problem. So, now what?

Slow down cowboy, first we have a few important words about what NOT to do.

  1. DO NOT attempt to clean the disposal with your hands. While you may think that nothing in the world could possibly be worse than living with the putrid smell coming from your disposal, how’s this for something that could definitely be worse: a trip to the emergency room when you slice your fingers! Do yourself a favor and leave any disassembly of the unit to the professionals! (If you’re already prepared to tap out, go ahead and quit reading and give Heiland Home Services a call, we’ll be out for a professional drain cleaning before you know it!) If you are still feeling up to giving this a shot, continue reading!
  2. DO NOT use bleach. Bleach is powerless against food scraps, grease, or hair. What it does have the power to do is react with other chemicals in your pipes causing dangerous fumes, as well as killing the good bacteria you need in your septic system. Resist the urge to reach for bleach, you’ll thank us later.

Ok, now that we’ve got those out of the way, what SHOULD you do?


  1. Check for obstructions.
    This may sound like a no-brainer, but grab a flashlight and take a look down the drain. Did a bone or kitchen utensil find it’s way into the disposal? Has a child crammed a toy where the sun don’t shine? (No, not THERE…down the drain!) This may seem like a “duh” step, but we’ve all spent twenty minutes looking for sunglasses that were on the top of our heads or “lost” a key that was in our pocket the whole time, so it’s worth noting!
  2. Deodorize.
    There are plenty of deodorizing methods that could do the trick. Start with a grease-cutting detergent (you’ve probably got that sitting by the sink anyway!), try a garbage disposal cleaning pod, or cut a lemon peel in to one-inch pieces and run them through the disposal. These methods may only provide temporary relief, so if they don’t do the trick, keep moving to the next step.
  3. Try a natural treatment.
    Before calling in the professionals, why not put some natural, household items to the test? Run 10 ice cubes and half a cup of rock salt through the disposal, or try the baking soda and vinegar method which involves sprinkling half a cup of baking soda into the drain, then gently pouring a cup of white vinegar on top. The mixture will fizz and bubble, so after allowing it to do so for 5-10 minutes, rinse it down with some boiling water with the garbage disposal running. These natural remedies are low risk, high reward, and may just do the trick!
  4. Clean the Rubber Flange.
    Food particles or bacteria may be “right under your nose” as they hide on the underside of your drain’s rubber flange. Using an old toothbrush (remember, NOT your hands!) clean under the flange and release any stubborn food particles or bacteria buildup that could be causing your unwanted odor.

If none of these methods have solved the problem, don’t get too down on yourself! You’ve taken steps to correct the issue and begun the diagnostic process. The odor situation could be just the tip of the iceberg. We strongly urge you not to attempt cleaning the garbage disposal blades, disassembling the unit, or handling electrical components without a trained professional… and that’s where Heiland Home Services comes in!  Heiland Home Services, your ‘go to’ for local residential plumbing services, is available to diagnose the issue, clean, inspect, and ensure your disposal is working properly… and rid your home of those foul odors! Give us a call today!