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The garbage disposal is an almost indispensable feature of any kitchen sink. The plates piled up this Thanksgiving, and being able to quickly get rid of wastes down the drain is a matter of saving time and convenience. While the blades are designed to tear apart large pieces of food into tiny pieces, inappropriate and overuse of the disposal can lead to unpleasant smells.

The blades can be the first source of these problematic smells. They do actually break down food like they’re supposed to, but it can be so thorough that it sends the pieces flying into the disposal walls. Here’s where they can get stuck, harden, and eventually emit a rotting smell. This can be an example of how overuse can eventually catch up to you.

It’s a good idea to always accompany every garbage disposal usage with a steady running of tap water down the drain. Many homeowners will run the water, but not long enough after they believe they’re finished to actually flush the disposal clean. Every use of the garbage disposal could potentially be adding to the foods that have already accumulated and dried up on the disposal walls.

Giving the running water the opportunity to rinse the walls of the disposal sometimes isn’t enough. If the inside of the disposal has long been stuck with the rotting wastes, then the smell may be more ingrained in the system than simple water can handle. There are a few tricks that many people have found effective. One is to plug the drain with a stopper, and fill the sink with soapy water. When it’s full, unplug the stopper, and let the water rush down the drain. Turning on the disposal at the same time will often give the blades and the wall a more thorough cleansing.

If soap and water doesn’t work, it’s time to call in the “big guns”. And by big guns, I mean baking soda and vinegar. Take about a half a box of baking soda and pour it down the drain. Then use about the same amount of vinegar and pour it down the drain as well. As many people know, this will cause a bubbling reaction that can destroy bacteria. When the bubbling dies down, pour boiling water down the drain and run the disposal again.

Should the garbage disposal be damaged in some way, or the blockage is severe, it may need to be detached and professionally cleaned, or replaced if the damage is too extensive.