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Why Does My Garbage Disposal Smell?

A garbage disposal that smells

Your garbage disposal is one of the most important appliances in your kitchen. It helps send any leftover bits of food left on plates or in containers down the drain smoothly. However, your garbage disposal can sometimes smell pretty bad.

So, what causes these smells, and how can you make them go away?

Common Reasons Garbage Disposals Smell Bad

When a garbage disposal is turned on, its blades spin and grind down food waste. This process produces small pieces of refuse and water that are pushed down a pipe to the drain. Over time, these small particles can accumulate and create an unpleasant smell in the garbage disposal.

The most common cause of this smell is grease or food particles gathered around the drain opening. If the disposal is not properly cleaned, this residue can also cause corrosion to the metal parts inside the unit.

There are a few other common causes of garbage disposal smells as well. One is when these same food particles, grease and other fats accumulate over time inside the disposal unit and rot.

When they rot, organic substances like food waste generate methane gas. This is the primary unpleasant smell associated with garbage disposals.

Finally, dirty water can collect in the disposal unit, creating an unpleasant smell. These problems can be easily addressed by taking simple steps to clean your garbage disposal regularly.

If your garbage disposal smells bad, there is a chance that something could be blocking the drain. Check to see if anything is sitting in the drain below the disposal or if any objects obstruct the water flow. If you cannot find an obstruction and the disposal still smells bad, it may be time to contact a licensed plumber who fixes garbage disposals.

Some other typical reasons garbage disposals can smell bad include the following.

Blocked Drain

The waste disposal unit can become clogged with debris, creating a strong smell. You can try using a plunger or contacting a professional plumber to clear the obstruction.

Decaying Food in the Disposal

If the unit smells bad, it may be because of spoiled food (particularly onions and garlic) that has built up in the unit. You’ll need to take appropriate steps to eliminate the odor source in these cases.

Corroded Pipes

Garbage disposals can develop leaks due to corroded pipes. These leaks can lead to mold, mildew and decay, all generating unpleasant odors. Major leaks can allow food particles to pass through, where they will rot and emit smells.

If this is the case, replacing the entire exit pipe assembly may be necessary for your disposal to function properly and smell nice again.

How to Fix a Garbage Disposal that Smells

You can do a few things to try and fix the smell coming from your garbage disposal.

If the smell is coming from food particles lodged in the blades, there are two things you can try. First, pour ice cubes down your disposal. Turn on the sink and then turn on the disposal. As the garbage disposal grinds the ice, it should help dislodge any particles that are built up in the unit. You can also try pouring baking soda and then white vinegar down your drain. Let it fizz and sit for 30 minutes. Then, turn on the sink and run the garbage disposal. This should also help break up any particles in your disposal.

Additionally, if you notice an unpleasant odor coming from your garbage disposal when you turn it on, something could be stuck in its discharge pipe below the disposal unit. This can be caused by grease, plastic or other debris build-ups.

To clear stubborn pipe blockages, it’s usually best not to risk damaging your disposal or drain system. Instead, make an appointment with a professional plumber to remove your blockage and clean the system.

A garbage disposal that has been smoking

What Makes a Garbage Disposal Smoke?

If your garbage disposal emits a strong, unpleasant odor like smoke, it may be because the motor is overheating. The smell will likely dissipate as the motor cools down, but you may want to call a professional to check out the problem if it persists.

If your garbage disposal emits actual smoke, that’s a problem. Check the following to see if you can identify the source:

  • Are any objects jammed in the disposal? If so, remove them using tongs or pliers after turning the unit off for safety.
  • Is water running through the disposal? An overheated motor can also result from too much food build-up. This can happen if the unit isn’t getting enough water to flush through the system. Use a plunger to clear away obstructions and run cold water through the appliance for several minutes to flush it out completely.
  • Is the garbage disposal older? Disposals can go bad over time due to wear and tear. You may need to have your unit replaced by a plumber who can work on disposals and drains.


What Can You Put Down a Garbage Disposal?

Despite having the word “garbage” in the title, you shouldn’t put just anything down your garbage disposal. Most leftover food items should be disposed of in a trash bin. Only small bits of food left on plates, containers and cookware should be washed down into the garbage disposal to keep your unit in good working condition. However, despite how small some items are, they still shouldn’t be scraped into the garbage disposal.

Things You Shouldn’t Put Down a Garbage Disposal

A few things can be difficult for your garbage disposal to handle.

Things like grease and eggshells in the garbage disposal can cause it to smell and lead to a clog. There are also some materials, like bones, plastics and rubber, that can get stuck in the blades, leading to an unpleasant smell or even a jam.

While it can handle a wide variety of food waste with minimal effort, some of the things you should not put down a garbage disposal include:

Broken Glass

Glass can easily become jammed in a garbage disposal, causing it to stop working. Unfortunately, it’s also sharp and can lead to injury. If glass gets stuck in your garbage disposal, you’ll need to dislodge and remove it safely and completely to fix the disposal.

Metal objects

Garbage disposal blades are tough, but they’re no match for a misplaced metal spoon or fork.

Any metal objects should be removed from your sink before running the disposal.

Fibrous or Stringy Fruits and Vegetables

Some fruits and veggies you shouldn’t put in a garbage disposal include potato peels, banana peels, celery, asparagus and corn husks. These items are extremely difficult for a disposal to break down and can clump up further down in the drain, leading to a blockage over time.

Coffee Grounds

Wet coffee grounds tend to clump together in water rather than break apart.

Over time, these grounds can build up inside your sink drains and the disposal’s inner workings. This can lead to clogs that prevent the drains and disposal from working properly.


Chips, rice and other foods can expand when they’re wet. These foods can become lodged in the garbage disposal blades, leading to frustrating delays in cleaning your sink. Instead, try putting them in a wastebasket and taking them outside for disposal.

Garbage Disposal Safety

A garbage disposal is a useful appliance in your kitchen, but like any appliance, it can lead to serious issues if not used properly. You can manage garbage disposal by following some guidelines.

Never pour anything other than food down the drain. This includes liquids, oils, grease and caulk.

Only use the power cord that comes with the garbage disposal. Do not use an extension cord or other devices to power the disposal. If the disposal is not working, check to see if the power is turned on at the wall outlet. If it is not, turn it on by pressing the reset button on the bottom of the unit.

If you’re noticing issues with your garbage disposal, contact a licensed plumber to get the problem solved quickly. They have the knowledge to fix any issues and look for small problems that could become big annoyances.

ABC Can Get Your Garbage Disposal Working Again

A garbage disposal that isn’t working can cause huge disruptions in your life. Instead of prolonging the issue by trying to fix it yourself, contact ABC Home & Commercial Services. Our licensed plumbers will efficiently locate the issue and work on making all garbage disposal repairs.

Tom Riggs

Tom Riggs is the Division Manager for Mechanical Services, overseeing sales and operations for HVAC, Plumbing, Electrical, Appliance Repair and Water Quality for all ABC Austin branches. He joined ABC in 2014. Before ABC, he was an HVAC Service Technician, HVAC Comfort Advisor/Sales and Operations Manager. Tom attended Universal Technical Institute. He's an avid outdoorsman and enjoys country living with his wife and two sons.

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