Cover photo for blog and video "How to Clear Up That Smell at the Kitchen Sink"

After more than 22 years of plumbing in Phoenix, one of the most common questions I get asked by other moms is, “How do I clear up the smell at the kitchen sink?”. You know the smell I’m talking about– kinda funky!

The culprit is usually the garbage disposal; but why, and how, do you clean it?

Your disposal essentially has two compartments that are on top of each other. There are no blades in your disposal; most people think it looks like a blender inside, but it doesn’t. The top part of the disposal is where most blades are, but they are actually more like impeller blades– their job is to force the ground up slurry through to the lower compartment. The bottom of the upper compartment contains a kind of plate with many holes or slits in it. The lower compartment is where the slurry and water collects and is then pushed out into the drain.

All of these holes, slits, and side walls can collect food debris on their surfaces, which results in an awful odor emanating from the sink drain. How do you clean out your disposal, though? You’re not just able to take it apart and clean all the yuck out, right?

Here’s How to Clean Your Disposal

The secret…! Yes, a simple concoction of ice cubes and a couple of other items is usually the best remedy.

The ingredients you’ll need are a lot of ice, some citrus juice (I really like lemons), and a good amount of rock/sea salt:

  1. Turn the unit “on” and run cold water– not hot water– to get the disposal as cold as possible
  2. With plenty of ice on hand, usually 2-4 trays worth, fill the sink up, add ½-1 cup cold citrus juice, and half a cup of salt. Feed the ice into the disposal as quickly as it will take it. This method will freeze all the stuck debris, causing it to chunk-off the impeller blades and out of the holes in the plate/flywheel.
  3. Let the water run for a few minutes after all the ice cubes are ground

Test it from here, this usually does the trick!

Still an Odor Lingering?


Citrus rinds to clean the inside of your disposal. The idea is that the fruit rinds will help to clean the grinding components while the citrus scent will provide a fresh smell; what I want to emphasize if you use this method is to not overload your disposal. Cut your citrus fruit into small pieces– for reference, typically cutting an orange in 6-8 pieces is adequate. You will want to only put one piece of the cut citrus fruit down your disposal at a time. This is not because your disposal can’t handle the amount of fruit; rather, too much fruit down your disposal at once will create a stoppage in the plumbing drain line after trying to pass through– that is never fun. Other methods work, such as that suggested by Insinkerator brand disposals, like using a peach after it has been cut up and allowing the pit to go down– the hard pieces will clean any lodged food grime that is stuck in the grinding components.

Check Your Splash Guard

The rubber piece with slits that you can see inside your sink is known as a splash guard. This allows food debris and water to go in the drain, while attempting to keep larger items such as silverware and shot glasses out. Furthermore, this rubber piece is designed to stop the food waste and liquids inside of the disposal from splashing back up into the sink while it is running. The underside of this piece, in return, may become covered in old food and can potentially smell up your entire kitchen, so cleaning these regularly is highly recommended. Some of these splash guards may also have a second layer for sound suppression and extra protection that may need further attention.. Varying splash guards are connected to your disposal, while others are removable from the collar and can be easily placed in your dishwasher. When attempting to clean the splash guard, make sure that the disposal is unplugged so no one can accidentally turn it “on” while you do your best to freshen up the underside from unwanted buildup.


  1. Drain cleaners – these are usually sand and bleach
  2. Drano – or similar products; this will result in corroding the insides of your disposal causing it to leak and needing to be replaced

Services in Phoenix & Beyond

When you’ve found yourself in need of plumbing services in the Phoenix, Glendale, Scottsdale, or Chandler area, you can trust Robins Plumbing to provide you with prompt and expert care, contact our team today! In addition to our toilet services, we also offer a variety of residential and commercial plumbing services, including: drain cleaning, water heater repair and replacement, sewer camera inspection and locating, backflow prevention, commercial and residential jetting, water treatments, and more. Visit our reviews online to see what others have to say about our local plumbing company!