Does your garbage disposal smell like, well, garbage? This relatively common issue is one that no homeowner should have to put up with. Garbage disposals are supposed to do away with food and other organic materials. They are not, however, supposed to retain the smell of refuse or sewage.

Read on to learn more about what causes a smelly garbage disposal, and what you can do to solve and prevent it from happening again in the future.

What Does a Garbage Disposal Do?

A garbage disposal unit is a small machine typically found between the drain and the piping in a kitchen sink. Garbage disposals garbage disposalare designed to shred food waste and other organic matter into super small pieces. Doing so enables these disposal materials to easily flow through pipes, thus greatly reducing the risk of clogs.

Though garbage disposals are used to break food and other organic materials homeowners should not intentionally throw these materials down their garbage disposals. Contrary to popular belief, garbage disposals are not made for this purpose. Instead, they are designed as a last line of defense to prevent clogging due to materials that may have accidentally gone down the drain.

To ensure that your garbage disposal is working the way it’s supposed to, we recommend running it regularly and avoid intentionally throwing food or other organic matter down it. You’ll also want to run your disposal with running cold water. Cold water solidifies any grease or oils, enabling your garbage disposal to grind them into smaller bits.

What Causes a Smelly Garbage Disposal?

Even with proper maintenance, garbage disposals can have issues. One of the most common and frustrating of these issues is odor. Often, an unpleasant (and seemingly inexplicable) smell will emanate from a kitchen garbage disposal. This smell can have several sources, all of which can be dealt with relatively easily.

Here are the three primary causes of a smelly garbage disposal:

  • A Garbage Disposal Clog: While many homeowners may have clogs pinned as the primary culprits for garbage disposal odor, the fact is that clogged disposals are rarely to blame for that mystery smell emanating from the sink. Clogs simply don’t occur that often, and when they do, they are easily identifiable—thus, no mystery smell.
  • Biofilm Buildup on Pipes: Beneath your drain, your garbage disposal is connected to a series of pipes that send water through your septic system and out into the municipal sewer. Often, biofilm (residue from organic matter) can build up on the insides of these pipes. When an unpleasant smell starts to emanate from a garbage disposal, it’s often due to biofilm buildup on the pipe directly below garbage disposal itself. This pipe connects the garbage disposal to the p-trap. The p-trap serves to block odor from reaching the drain, but it can’t block odor on a pipe that’s located between it and the drain, which is why biofilm buildup on this specific pipe is a common problem.
  • P-Trap Problems: If biofilm buildup is not to blame for a smelly garbage disposal, then there is likely a p-trap problem at play. The p-trap is a curved pipe underneath a kitchen sink that traps water once the tap stops running. This water serves as a barrier to block odor and gas from sewer pipes from reaching the drain. However, p-traps have leaks or haven’t had water cycled through them in awhile won’t perform this function properly. To stop the smell, the p-trap must be filled with water.

To identify which of these problems may be the source of your smelly garbage disposal, we recommend using the solutions provided in the sections below. Begin by exploring the possibility of a clog, then move to biofilm buildup, and finally to potential p-trap problems. When in doubt, it is always a good idea to hire a professional in your area.

Solving Your Smelly Garbage Disposal: What Works and What Doesn’t

Never fear: The culprits behind garbage disposal odor are all fairly easy to take care of. In this section, we explore solutions to the three most common sources of garbage disposal odor mentioned above.

  • Clearing a Garbage Disposal Clog: If you’ve determined that a simple garbage disposal clog is to blame for the unpleasant smell coming from your drain, you’ll first want to turn off the disposal and shut off the power. Use a flashlight to inspect the clog, and then use pliers, a long dowel, or another appropriate tool to dislodge the clog. Don’t use common drain-cleaning chemicals to unclog your garbage disposal, as many of these are highly corrosive and may damage rubber or plastic parts. Wait 15 minutes for the motor of your garbage disposal to cool, then run your disposal with flowing water.
  • Eliminating Biofilm Buildup on Pipes: Is biofilm buildup on the pipe below your drain to blame for your smelly garbage disposal? Follow these steps to get rid of this odor-causing intruder:
    1. Take the cover off of the sink drain so you can clearly see into the drain pipe.
    2. Use a non-corrosive bacteria waste eliminator to eat away the biofilm buildup on your pipe. Follow directions on packaging clearly.
    3. Rinse thoroughly with clean water until the entire drain is perfectly clean.smelly garbage disposal
  • Solving P-Trap Problems: If unclogging and cleaning with a non-corrosive bacteria waste eliminator don’t solve your garbage disposal odor problem, there’s only one place left to turn: the p-trap. If your p-trap isn’t holding water, it isn’t blocking odor. Sometimes, this occurs simply because you haven’t used your faucet in a while. Run the water for a minute or two and see if the odor goes away. If that doesn’t work, you’ll want to inspect your p-trap for a leak. If there is no leak to be found, there may be a vacuum caused by other pipes in your home that is sucking water out of your p-trap. In this case (and in other cases where the source of the odor cannot be identified), it’s time to hire a professional.

“Solutions” to Avoid

There are a number of DIY “solutions” that many homeowners use to get rid of garbage disposal odor or fix clogs. The vast majority of these “solutions” are ineffective, or worse, damaging. As mentioned above, using common drain-cleaning chemicals to unclog your garbage disposal is a bad idea, as these chemicals can corrode your garbage disposal’s hardware. Another garbage disposal cleaning “solution” to avoid include is the use of citrus fruit to clean blades. The highly acidic juice of citrus fruits may dissolve some buildup, but it will also corrode your blades.

Professional Plumbing Solutions at 1-800-anytyme

If you have a smelly garbage disposal that you just can’t fix, it’s a good idea to hire a plumber to help you find a solution. Professional plumbing teams like ours here at 1-800-anytyme use advanced tools and technology to inspect plumbing systems and stop unwanted odors at their source. We have decades of experience dealing with garbage disposals and plumbing configurations of all shapes and sizes. In addition to our troubleshooting and cleaning services, we also offer garbage disposal repairs and full-scale garbage disposal replacements to properties across the greater San Diego area. I’ve you’ve got a garbage disposal problem, there is no better team to call.

Call Our Plumbers for Fast and Reliable 24/7 Service

Dealing with a smelly garbage disposal? Don’t wait — contact our plumbing professionals here at 1-800-anytyme for fast and effective garbage disposal servicing. We’ve helped hundreds of homeowners across San Diego solve their smelly garbage disposal problems in just minutes. Let us help you with yours. For San Diego’s best 24/7 plumbing service, contact our team today!