The Proper Care and Feeding of 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 extra 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 the thing up before company arrives.

I’ve learned the hard way that 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.

DO THESE THINGS

Run your garbage disposal regularly. Frequent use prevents rust and corrosion, makes sure that all parts stay moving and prevents small obstructions from accumulating.

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.

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

Cut large items into smaller pieces. Put them into the garbage disposal a few at a time with the cold water are running instead of trying to shove a large amount in all at once.

DON’T DO THESE THINGS

Don’t pour grease, oil or fat into your garbage disposal or drain. 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.

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!

Don’t grind anything that’s tough and fibrous like corn husks, celery stalks, onion skins, and artichokes. Fibers from these can tangle and jam the garbage disposal motor and block drains.

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 water.

Don’t put too many potato peels down the garbage disposal at a time. 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. If you’re looking at a lot of potato peels, do yourself a favor and just put them into the garbage can or compost pile.

Don’t put large amounts of any kind of food down the garbage disposal 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.

Don’t put expandable foods 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.

Don’t put coffee grounds down the garbage disposal even though they 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 so it’s best to just avoid that.

Don’t use harsh chemicals like bleach or drain cleaners. They can damage blades and pipes.

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.

KEEP IT CLEAN

Clean stubborn odors from your garbage disposal by pouring 3 to 4 tablespoons of borax (like Twenty-Mule Team Borax that you’ll find in the supermarket laundry aisle) down the drain and 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.

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.

Periodically, take a lemon or orange, cut it up into small pieces and toss them into the disposal a couple of pieces at a time, while cold water is flowing and the disposal is running. The oils and juice from the fruits and peels naturally clean the walls inside the garbage disposal and create a fresh, long-lasting scent.

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  • emjay

    Hmm. I have a plumber for a son-in-law who tells me NOT to put egg shells in the garbage disposal as the shells will accumulate and clog the machine. These days, I have a healthy composter and find egg shells are splendid for adding calcium to the heap.

  • Beck

    We used to have a clogged drain whenever we put any sort of cabbage in the disposal. I compost all that now for the most part. I put banana peels, egg shells and coffee grinds in my hosta flower bed and they thrive when I do.

    • Mary Hunt

      You guys are all so smart! Hostas, huh? I have some of those and am clueless how to be nice to them. I’ll try this.

  • Mary Boyden

    Don’t throw potato peels away at all, roast them! Toss them with a little olive oil and whatever spices you desire, roast in a 450 oven about 15 to 20 minutes, crunchy and delicious, very healthy also. Most of the vitamins are in the skins.

    • Mary Hunt

      Interesting … !

  • Cally

    we eat oranges when they’re plentiful and freeze the peels, then year-round i have a stash of frozen citrus peel to clean and deodorize my garbage disposal.

  • Linda Pries

    When I bought this house almost 40 years ago it has a garbage disposal. One of the very first things we did was have the disposal removed. I’ve never missed having one and see no need for one more unnecessary device that could cost me money.

  • Betty Thomas

    These are great tips for garbage disposals that are being used by a home that is hooked up to the city sewer system. If, however, you are hooked to a septic system you should never ever use a garbage disposal for uncooked foods, vegetable peels or egg shells. A garbage disposal does not break those items down enough and that kind of matter can cause major problems for septic systems. Because they don’t break down they can be carried from the septic tank out into the drain field and cause it to not absorb liquids like it is designed to do. There is a garbage idsposal that is quite spendy that is recommended for septic systems. It grinds food very fine and as long as you maintain your septic tank with regular pumpings it won’t cause problems. My husband and I have owned a plumbing and excavation company for over 30 years and have seen the results of garbage disposals on a septic systems. Repairs or replacing those systems can run in the thousands of dollars so better safe than sorry. Composting is the better option if you have a septic system! Thanks Mary!

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