Garbage Disposal Dos and Dont’s

a sink with a garbage disposal in it

What Can I Put Down My Garbage Disposal?

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One of the most useful advancements in technology is the garbage disposal, which allows us to get rid of waste quickly, easily and without the need to lug bags of garbage to the curb every week. But the purpose of the garbage disposal isn’t to replace the waste bin or the recycling bin, and it’s easy to ignore or overlook garbage disposal maintenance, which could mean you require a replacement sooner than expected.

How long do garbage disposals last? Ideally, a well-cared-for garbage disposal should last more than a couple of years, but the better care it gets, the longer it’s likely to last.

tips on how to properly use your garbage disposalGarbage Disposal Dos

There are some basic ways to keep your garbage disposal in tip-top shape. The following five things ensure proper garbage disposal maintenance:

  1. Use cold water: It may seem counterproductive to use cold water since hot water is better for breaking down food, but that can end up being harmful to your garbage disposal drain. Hot water allows greasy substances to break down and move down the drain, but those broken bits can end up coagulating and creating a clog further down. By using cold water, you’ll help greasy substances to become more solid, thus allowing them to move down the garbage disposal drain easily, instead of sticking to the sides of the pipe.
  2. Use it regularly: It may seem silly to be told to use your garbage disposal, but sometimes we may think that selectively using it will help it last longer. However, the opposite is true. Without regular use, the garbage disposal is at risk of corrosion and rust, which can lead to the need to replace the disposal sooner than expected. Using it also ensures that all parts of the disposal keep moving, which prevents waste from accumulating and obstructing the mechanisms.
  3. Keep using your trash and recycle bins: Having a garbage disposal doesn’t mean you can get rid of a trash can or recycling bin. While it’s a handy gadget for any kitchen, it can’t replace the traditional trash can and recycling bin, especially since there are many items you should not put into a garbage disposal. Your recycling bins should not see any decrease in waste and your trash can is still the best place for anything that isn’t a biodegradable food item.
  4. Keep it clean: Aside from preventing blockage and clogs, a clean garbage disposal is one that will continue to work properly — and will keep away any offensive odors. It’s also best to keep it clean by emptying it or running some diluted dish detergent and water through it regularly to prevent waste from having the opportunity to collect within the mechanisms.
  5. Cut up large foods: A good way to ensure your garbage disposal doesn’t get clogged or blocked is to make sure the waste you put into it is in small pieces. While the mechanisms of a garbage disposal are great at breaking down foods, it’s not designed to break down giant chunks of food, so it’s best to tear or cut up larger pieces before putting them into the disposal.

6 things you can put down your garbage disposal

What Can You Put Into a Garbage Disposal?

The basic rule of thumb for what you can put down a garbage disposal is anything that is biodegradable food. Some of the things that are encouraged for a garbage disposal include:

  • Most vegetable and fruit scraps: Tomatoes, apples and cucumbers are perfect for garbage disposals. Any fruits or vegetables that tend to be fibrous or stringy — like bananas or celery — are better for a compost bin instead.
  • Small bones: Foods that are small and soft will have an easier time being broken apart in the garbage disposal, so if you opt to throw bones down there, make sure they’re bones of smaller animals, like chickens. Chicken bones are small as well as fairly weak, compared to cow or pig bones, and will be more easily broken apart in a disposal.
  • Cooked meat scraps: Again, smaller and softer is the key, so well-cooked meat scraps are okay for the garbage disposal. If they’re too big, just cut them up before putting them down the disposal. And make sure to put them in little by little.
  • Small amounts of coffee grounds: Some coffee grounds are okay to put into a garbage disposal, and they may even help keep it smelling fresh and clean. But too much coffee grounds in the garbage disposal can clog up the drain, leading to plumbing problems.
  • Citrus rinds: Lemon or lime rinds or even orange peels can serve a dual purpose for your garbage disposal. Aside from being a good way to get rid of the waste, orange and lemon peels in a garbage disposal can help loosen up any food that may be stuck to the mechanisms inside.
  • Small bits of ice cubes: Like the orange and lemon peels, ice in a garbage disposal can help keep it clean and smelling fresh. But since large and hard objects are not recommended for any garbage disposal, it’s best only to put small pieces of ice in your garbage disposal.

Learn more about garbage disposal maintenance

Garbage Disposal Don’ts

Just as important as knowing what you should be putting into your garbage disposal is knowing should be kept away from it and what to avoid doing to ensure your disposal serves you well for many years to come. Five things to remember when it comes to your garbage disposal are:

  1. Don’t try to sharpen the blades: Contrary to popular belief, the impellers in a garbage disposal are blunt, so there’s no need to try to sharpen them with large chunks of ice or eggshells. These items can end up harming your garbage disposal and lead to malfunctions and avoidable repairs.
  2. Avoid using hot water: As mentioned, hot water may be able to break down any grease or fat that ends up in your garbage disposal but that fat and grease will harden when it’s further down the pipe, which may lead to a bigger headache later on.
  3. Don’t turn off the motor too soon: Ideally, you should let both the cold water and the motor run until all the food has been ground up. Once the grinding ends, then it’s safe to turn off the motor, but leave the water running for at least 15 seconds. This will allow the garbage disposal to break down all the food properly, and the running water will dislodge any additional bits, which lessens the chances of buildup and clogs.
  4. Avoid using harsh chemicals: Bleach in a garbage disposal is not a good idea even though it may seem like it. Harsh chemicals can deteriorate the inner mechanisms of your garbage disposal and cause it to perform less than perfectly.
  5. Don’t put too much at once down the disposal: While they can handle a lot, garbage disposals are made to tackle smaller portions of food waste, so avoid dumping large quantities of anything. If you have a lot of waste to dispose of, feed it into the garbage disposal in smaller portions or pieces, ideally over time.


examples of what you shouldn't put down your garbage disposal

What Should You Not Put Into a Garbage Disposal?

When it comes to what’s not okay to put down your garbage disposal, the simple answer is anything that isn’t biodegradable food. This includes things like cigarette butts, metals, paper or wood of any kind. Some other things may seem like they may be okay to put down your garbage disposable but will end up causing problems in the long run. These include:

  • Potato peels: It’s best to avoid putting potato peels in the garbage disposal since they tend to mash together when wet and can form a heavy paste that can dry up and clog various mechanisms of the disposal. The same applies to other hard, fibrous foods like corn husks and onion peels. Foods like asparagus are also best for the compost bin instead since they can easily get trapped in the impellers and cause jams.
  • Grease, oils or fats: You may wonder if you can pour grease down a garbage disposal, but the answer is always going to be a passionate, “No.” For the same reason you shouldn’t put grease down your sink, you should keep it away from your garbage disposal as well. Grease, fats and oils will likely leave behind bits that will accumulate and end up interfering with the garbage disposal’s mechanisms.
  • Nuts and shells: Anything that’s too hard to break down will cause problems, and nuts are often too hard for a garbage disposal to break down. In attempting to break them down, the disposal risks damage, which can lead to problems for you in the long run. Similarly, most shells are also too hard or have additional membranes that can wind around the mechanisms and lead to your garbage disposal not working.
  • Large bones: Similarly, thick and hard bones are best suited for the compost bin rather than the garbage disposal. Since you can’t break down bones from animals like cows or pigs, they’ll be too big for the disposal and far too hard to be broken down. They can lead to you panicking to find out how to fix a clogged garbage disposal.
  • Egg Shells: The egg shells are not what causes problems when you put them down your drain. It’s the membrane of the egg shell that causes problems. The membrane is very sticky and can get stuck to the sides of your drain and easily clog up whatever else comes down after it.
  • Foods that expand: Rice, pasta and bread are notorious for becoming bigger the longer they sit in water, so they’re best kept away from garbage disposals. These types of foods absorb running water, causing them to expand and lead to clogs in the plumbing.

Do Garbage Disposals Need to Be Emptied?

The short answer is: Yes, garbage disposals need to be emptied. Despite best practices, foodstuffs can still end up trapped in there, which can lead to clogs and blockages. Using small pieces of lemon or orange peels while running the garbage disposal at least once a week will help loosen any food that may be stuck to the sides. It’ll also help get rid of any offensive odors.

If you realize there’s a bigger chunk of food down there or something that shouldn’t be in the garbage disposal has found its way there — such as a utensil or a non-biodegradable food — you should carefully empty the garbage disposal.

Learn more about garbage disposal repairs

How to Empty Your Garbage Disposal

There are three ways to empty your garbage disposal or fix a garbage disposal jam, depending on the issue:

  1. Check for clogs and remove blockages: If you suspect you have a garbage disposal clog, there are ways you can empty it to clear up the obstruction. Simply turn off the garbage disposal and reach in with pliers or kitchen tongs — never your hands alone — and pull out the obstruction.
  2. Empty the drainpipe: A clog in the garbage disposal can lead to a clogged sink if there is an obstruction in the drainpipe. Simply plug the disposal and fill up the sink with water and a bit of dish detergent, then drain the sink while running the disposal. The pressure of the water and gravity should help clear out any stubborn bits of waste that may have been stuck to the pipe.
  3. Use a plunger: If it’s an especially difficult clog that’s too far down to reach with tongs or pliers, try using a toilet plunger to loosen the obstruction After that you can either pull it out or let it pass down.

How to Fix a Garbage Disposal

If you need to figure out how to fix your garbage disposal, you can do several things, including:

  • Push the reset button.
  • Make sure the disposal is getting power.
  • Use a hex wrench to clear up blockages.
  • Check for a blown fuse or tripped circuit breaker.

If you find that your garbage disposal is draining improperly or not draining at all, it’s most likely due to a plumbing issue. If you find that your garbage disposal isn’t grinding the waste as well as it should, it might be a case of changing what you put into it.

If you’ve been using cold water while running your garbage disposal and have avoided putting anything down that shouldn’t be going down a garbage disposal, the grinders may have gotten dull or broken and need replacing.

Home Climates provides garbage disposal maintenance

Contact Home Climates for Your Garbage Disposal Maintenance

At Home Climates, we’re dedicated to offering over-the-top service for a fair price to help you ensure your home is as comfortable as it should be. From HVAC to plumbing services, we service all brands of equipment. Our service is reliable, and we offer a five-year warranty on labor.

If you need professional assistance for your garbage disposal maintenance, contact us 24/7 by calling 717-689-4151 or make an appointment online. We service several locations in Central Pennsylvania, including Harrisburg, Elizabethtown and Mount Joy. If you’re looking to install a brand new garbage disposal, we can help with that, too, and if you just have some questions, the Home Climates team is more than happy to assist you.

Get in touch by phone or online today.

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