A woman preparing food in a kitchen

17 Things You Need to Know About How to Use Your Garbage Disposal

I would like to personally thank the late John W. Hammes, an architect working in Racine, Wisc., who in 1927 invented the garbage disposal. What a brilliant idea. Is there anything more convenient in a kitchen than a garbage disposal? For me, it’s right up there with my dishwasher.

A woman preparing food in a kitchen

I’ve learned the hard way that there’s a lot we need to know about how to use a garbage disposal.

It took me a ridiculously long time to recognize the obvious connection between holidays, dinner parties, and emergency calls to the plumber due to hopelessly clogged drains. Why was it always on a holiday, always embarrassing with a houseful of company, always after hours, and always super expensive?

I’ll tell you why: Because that’s when I would do stupid things like peel ten pounds of potatoes, cram all of the peels into the garbage disposal and expect it to all magically disappear. Dittos with prepping artichokes. Or I’d throw a couple of whole lemons in there, thinking that would freshen up the thing before the guests arrive.

I’ve learned the hard way that a garbage disposal is not a trash can. There is a proper way to care for and feed a garbage disposal—rules that when followed will keep your garbage disposal in tip-top shape, functioning as a reliable member of your household team.

Learn from my mistakes so you don’t have to make them yourself. Clogged drains are a major inconvenience and garbage disposal repair can be a costly proposition.

Just because your disposal can grind up just about anything does not mean that your home’s plumbing—let alone your city’s waste system—can handle large amounts of food waste. A garbage disposal unit is intended for food scraps, those bits and pieces you scrape off before putting things into the dishwasher.

Do these things

1. Do run your garbage disposal regularly

Frequent use prevents rust and corrosion, makes sure that all parts stay moving to prevent small obstructions from accumulating.

2. Do run cold water

Always run a strong flow of cold water before you turn it on to grind food waste. Cold water will cause any grease or oils that may get into the unit to solidify so that they can be chopped up before reaching the trap.

3. Do grind bones and pits

Grind certain hard materials such as very small chicken and fish bones (never beef or pork because they’re too large) and very small fruit pits. Yes! These particles create a scouring action inside the grinding chamber that cleans the garbage disposal’s walls.

4. Do cut large items into smaller pieces

It’s hard on the machine if you force large pieces of anything. Put pieces into the garbage disposal a few at a time with the cold water running instead of trying to shove a large amount in all at once.

Don’t do these things

5. Don’t pour down grease, oil, or fat

Grease will slowly accumulate and not only stop the disposal from grinding up food particles—it will create drain clogs the likes of which you do not want to experience.

6. Don’t use hot water when grinding food waste.

Hot water will cause grease to liquefy and accumulate, causing—you guessed it—hopelessly clogged drains!

7. Don’t grind anything fibrous

Don’t grind anything that’s tough and fibrous like eggshells, corn husks, celery, onion skins, and artichokes. Fibers from these can tangle and jam the garbage disposal motor and block drains. Citrus peel, while touted by many as a great way to freshen and clean this appliance, are a problem just waiting to happen. Trust me on that!

8. Don’t turn off the motor or the cold water until grinding is finished

When grinding is complete, turn off the garbage disposal first. Let a strong flow of cold water continue to run for at least 15 seconds, flushing out any remaining particles. Then turn off the water.

9. Don’t put potato peels down the garbage disposal

The starches in the potatoes will turn into a thick paste and may cause blades to stick and oh boy, what a mess you’ll have. Do yourself a favor and put potato peels into the garbage can or compost pile.

10. Don’t put large amounts down all at once

If you must, feed food into the garbage disposal a little at a time with the cold water running; this will help the food scraps flow down freely through the drain pipes and plumbing. Stuffing, cramming are not actions enjoyed by any disposal or plumbing situation.

11. Don’t put in expandable foods

Don’t put things like pasta and rice into your garbage disposal. If it expands as you cook it, that’s what will happen in your pipes or the disposal itself. Result? Jams and clogs.

12. Don’t put coffee grounds down the garbage disposal

Even though coffee grounds won’t harm the garbage disposal and can actually help eliminate odors, the problem is coffee grounds can accumulate in drains and pipes, causing clogs. It’s best to just avoid it.

When you drop coffee grounds down your disposal, they clump–just like they do when you pour water on them in the coffeemaker. When coffee grounds clump together, they stick to themselves and everything around them. They stick to disposal blades and the sides of pipes. If you drop them into your drain they’ll make a big, gross clog in no time.

The more coffee grounds you pour in your disposal, the worse the clog will get. Throw out your coffee grounds in a garbage can; never a drain or disposal!

13. Don’t use harsh chemicals like bleach or drain cleaners

They can damage blades and pipes. There are much better ways to keep that drain running clean and clear.

14. Don’t put anything in that is non-biodegradable

Don’t ever (that means never) put anything in the disposal that is not biodegradable food. Your disposal is not a trash can. Don’t grind glass, plastic, metal, paper, or cigarette butts.

15. Don’t use your hand to retrieve

Never put your hand in the garbage disposal to retrieve fallen items. Turn off (unplug) the disposal first and then use tongs to retrieve any fallen items.

Keep it clean

16. Use borax

Routinely, clean stubborn odors from your garbage disposal by pouring 3 to 4 tablespoons of borax down the drain (like Twenty-Mule-Team Borax that you’ll find in the supermarket laundry aisle). Let it sit for an hour. Without running the disposal, turn on the hot water to flush the borax away. Borax is a natural sink cleaner and sanitizer that effectively works on odor-causing mold and mildew that accumulate in a garbage disposal.

17. Vinegar ice

Once or twice a month freeze vinegar in ice cube trays and toss a few of these into the disposal and run it with cold water flowing. This will clean the disposal, sharpen the blades and break up grease build-up which has accumulated while safely killing odor-causing bacteria.

A good rule of thumb is that when in doubt, toss it out (in the garbage) and not down your sink’s garbage disposal.

First published: 4-10-17; Revised & Updated 3-31-21


 

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  1. Sarah Daniel says:

    If your county or city has composting, you can get compost bags from the stations and fill them with many types of leftovers, food not being used as peels,seeds, skins, egg shells, (you can get a list from the compost office) and take the compost to the bins. There are many other items you can compost.

    Reply
  2. Kay says:

    And ALWAYS run it after you’ve used your dishwasher!
    I don’t use my dishwasher, but the homeowners before me did. When the man came out to look at my garbage disposal, he told me a frequent problem he runs into is the blades locked up because people don’t think to run it after they use their dishwasher.

    Reply
  3. Jerry Showalter says:

    Mary,
    How do I dispose of cooking oil (used to deep fry battered cod loins)?
    When living in the country I had a trash barrel and could burn it.
    Now that we have moved to the city I am in a quandary.
    (Actually I do not live in a quandary, but rather in a condo/house).
    Thanks.
    Jerry

    Reply
    • sadnana says:

      I save all of my coffee grounds to mix with soil when planting. I’ve found them to be especially beneficial for flowering plants. I could never raise zinnias without having to deal with mildew. But since using coffee grounds in that bed my zinnias are healthy and beautiful.

      Reply
  4. Sharon Mutschler says:

    According to Angie’s List regarding Egg shells:

    Some people claim that egg shells sharpen the blades of the unit, but this is not true. The shells’ stringy membrane layers can wrap around the shredder ring, and the shell itself will be ground to a sand-like consistency capable of clogging pipes.

    I have seen the same warning on other websites.

    Reply
    • sadnana says:

      And it’s a waste to put egg shells in the disposal because they contribute valuable minerals to the compost pile. They may even save the lives of small birds from larger birds who steal their eggs for the calcium in the shells.

      Reply
      • D says:

        You are a WEALTH of information and have now inspired me to keep a compost pile!! I was initially going to have one during the winter, but I just couldn’t bring myself to take anything outdoors and trek my way across my snow-covered yard in the freezing cold! LOL

  5. Robert Smith says:

    Also if you are on a private septic system use even more sparingly than suggested in article. a good quality disposal will work pretty well but it is safer to but the larger amounts like spoiled or outdated stuff in zip lock in trash can.

    Reply
  6. Fuchi77 says:

    Try to compost when possible (maybe not feasible for apartment dwellers). The ground up food eventually ends up in the water treatment plant where it has to be processed. If you don’t have curbside scraps collection, put up a yard compost pile or get a worm composter. Write to your county to encourage kitchen scraps collection – I have this in my community and citizens are able to get the finished compost for their gardens.

    Reply
  7. Luisa says:

    Thanks for the helpful hints. As a college student, I once lived in an apartment complex where a very kind maintenance worked. He taught me a lot about taking care of things, including some garbage disposal tips after I’d jammed mine. I’ve been very careful with them ever since and it does pay off.

    Reply
  8. Don says:

    My dad was always telling us kids not to put things down the garbage disposal, but he never explained himself. Once I put a bouquet of dying carnations down the disposal. Of course, the drain got clogged, and boy was he mad!

    After I got my own place, I discovered that everything that goes down the disposal has to be carried through the drain pipe to the sewer or septic tank. Under the sink you’ll see the U-shaped drain pipe under the disposal. It’s not very wide. Heavy, bulky things get stuck in the U, and the water from the faucet doesn’t have enough force to push them out and clear the drain. Just don’t put much down the disposal, okay?

    Compost what you can, and throw the rest in the trash. Your disposal will last much longer, and your drains won’t get clogged as often, saving you money.

    Reply
    • Catherine Pierce says:

      We just bought a House that has a septic tank. The gentleman who came to clean it out told me the only thing that should go into a septic tank are the three “P” which are Pee, poop, and paper. He told me that food from a disposal is the worst thing that could go into a septic tank Since overtime the food can clog the field lines.

      Reply
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