Garbage Disposals

mangled yellow corn pick in sink by garbage disposal
newly installed black badger 5 garbage disposal

Always clear the sink of non-food items before running your garbage disposal. This corn cob skewer slipped unnoticed into the garbage disposal. 


What shouldn’t I put into my garbage disposal?  

Some people make the mistake of treating their garbage disposal as a trash can. Garbage disposals are not meant to grind garbage and used incorrectly; they will break. They can handle liquids and soft foods, and some finely chopped fruits and vegetables. Non-food items should never go into the disposal, so it is important to clear your sink of plates, glasses, silverware, and any other non-food items that could potentially make their way into the disposal by accident.

Here is a list of food-items to avoid:

  • Fibrous fruits and vegetables:  Garbage disposals jam when the so-called blades get tangled in peels and stringy fibers. Common culprits are celery, onion skins, and potato peels. Avoid artichokes, fruit pits, banana peels, corn husks, and anything else that could cause the grinder to jam. Citrus peels are generally considered safe for your garbage disposal and may even help it to smell better. So, what can you do with these food scraps? Consider composting them along with lawn clipping, leaves, and other kitchen waste such as coffee grounds and eggshells.

  •  Egg shells:  You may have heard that eggshells can sharpen the blades in your garbage disposal. Since garbage disposals use grinders rather than blades, we do not recommend trying this. There are several ways that eggshells can mess up your plumbing. Like fibrous fruits and vegetables, the shell’s membrane can wrap around the grinding mechanism. Also, the shell gets ground into tiny pieces that clump together in the pipes, causing a blockage.  Avoid putting eggshells in the disposal. If you do not want to put your eggshells in the trash, consider using them in your garden. 


  • Grease:  It might seem okay to pour grease into your garbage disposal. After all, it is just a liquid, right? Not quite. The difference between grease and other liquids such as water or juice, is that grease solidifies as it cools. You may have heard that running hot water or using dish soap while pouring the grease will break it up enough to send it on down the line. At some point however, the liquid grease will still congeal, collecting debris with it, resulting in a clogged pipe. The last thing you want is a sewer or septic line backing up into your house! Rather than pouring it down the drain, collect hot grease in a can or let it solidify in the pan so you can scoop it out later into your trash bin.

  • Coffee Grounds:  Coffee grounds smell good, but they do not belong in your garbage disposal. Even though the tiny grounds will not actually damage your garbage disposal, they can still cause problems such as clogging the drain trap as they clump together. Running cold water might help, but we still recommend finding a different use for your coffee grounds. You would have to run a lot of water for the grounds to completely clear your system. Why waste so much water when you could use your coffee grounds for another purpose? We are not gardeners, but like eggshells, we have heard that coffee grounds can be used for gardening.


  •  Pasta and rice:  When cooked pasta or rice gets ground up in the garbage disposal, it turns into a thick paste that can clog your pipes. Uncooked pasta or rice is not okay either. The water going through your pipes will cause the pasta to swell, potentially leading to a blockage. The same is true of oatmeal and grits. If you do clog your disposal or drain with pasta or rice, remember to never put your hand in the garbage disposal! There are a few remedies you could try, or you might just have to hire a professional to clear the drain for you. Rice and pasta, both cooked and uncooked, can be used for compost along with your fruits and vegetables. There are a few tricks for successfully adding starches to your compost, so do a little research first.

  • Nuts and Beans:  Like pasta and rice, beans are starchy. If a couple beans slip down the drain, they will not cause a major problem, but imagine grinding up a cup full of beans into a thick mush inside the garbage disposal. If that mess is not enough to clog up the drainpipe on its own, all the other debris that gets stuck in it will create a clog. The same is true for nuts. Putting nuts in your garbage disposal is like using it to make peanut butter. Not to mention that their shells can cause damage too. Nuts and beans can be composted or thrown in the trash.


  • Bones and Meat:  The blades in your garbage disposal were not designed to chop up bones and trying to do so will probably ruin the motor or damage the blades. Smaller bones that might make it into your drains can cause clogs as they get stuck and other debris collects around them. It is possible to compost bones, but they take years to breakdown. Grinding them up can make them easier to compost. Whatever you do, do not give cooked bones to your dog! They can splinter, creating shards that can choke your pet or cause severe damage to their mouth, throat, and digestive tract.There is some disagreement when it comes to meat. Some manufacturers say it is safe to let meat go into the garbage disposal, while others think it is a bad idea. As your plumber, we would recommend finding a different way to dispose of meat. Meat can lead to bad odors coming from your garbage disposal and nobody likes the smell of rotten meat. Red meat especially can be greasy or fatty and we already know what grease does to drains. Fat and oils should never go down the drain either. Unless you are brave enough to try composting meat, scraps may need to go into the trash. Remember to take the garbage out though before rotting meat stinks up your whole kitchen!


What can I put into my garbage disposal?


Even though the list of don’ts seems long, there are many things that will not hurt your garbage disposal or plumbing. Some manufacturers say their garbage disposals can handle tougher food waste so check your product’s manual to get information specific for your make and model. No matter what unit you have though, we recommend following these tips to get as much life out of your garbage disposal as possible. When it comes to using your garbage disposal, if in doubt, leave it out. Here is the list of our plumber-approved food scraps and cleaners.


  •  Citrus rinds:  Citrus rinds such as orange or lemon peels, are considered safe by most plumbers and are often suggested to give your disposal a fresh scent. We suggest only grinding a few small pieces of rind at a time to prevent clogging the drainpipe. If you put citrus fruits or lemon juice in the garbage disposal, rinse well with water.  Too much acid can cause corrosion.

  • Ice Cubes: Ice cubes can knock out food debris that might be caught up in the impellers, helping to eliminate odors, without causing any damage. Despite popular advice, ice cubes do not sharpen the blades. Garbage disposals do not actually have blades because they are not designed to slice through food, they are meant to grind food. Even so, grinding up a handful of ice cannot hurt.

  • Fruit and Vegetables:  Fruit and vegetable scraps are okay as long as they are in small pieces and are not on the list of no-nos. Avoid shoving in a whole bunch at a time and keep the water running at least fifteen seconds after you turn off the garbage disposal to help move food debris down the line.

  •  Soft Foods: Soft foods that are not oily or greasy can easily go into the garbage disposal. A common rule of thumb is that if a baby can eat a food, it is safe in the garbage disposal. This includes foods like yogurt, applesauce, pudding, and broth without the bones.

  •  Cleaners: Cleaners such as foaming tablets or deodorizing pods are safe to use in garbage disposals. Other products that are fine to use are dish soap, vinegar, and baking soda. Avoid harsh drain cleaners and bleach because they will damage your plumbing.


What can I do to keep my garbage disposal running smoothly? 


In addition to following our advice on what you should and should not put into the disposal, here are a few tips for maintenance and safety.

  • Turn on a steady flow of water before grinding, and always use cold water during and after use. Water helps wash down the food particles and cold water will help keep fats and oils solidified as they move through your drains. Even though you know better than to pour oil down the drain, inevitably a little oil makes its way into the drain, such as when you rinse salad dressing off your dinner plate. Cold water also helps prevent overheating.

  •  Remember to run cold water down the drain for about fifteen seconds to a minute after using the garbage disposal to help push food debris down the line.

  •  Grind a little bit of food waste at a time rather than filling up the disposal. Just make sure to keep your fingers clear of the grinder!

  •  Always unplug or shut off power to your garbage disposal before attempting to remove objects. Never put your hand or tools in the disposal while it has power.

  •  Read any instructions and warnings that come with your unit.

  •  Clean your garbage disposal once a week or once every two weeks if well maintained. Do not leave food debris in the unit to rot. Before leaving home for vacation, clean out your garbage disposal or else you risk coming home to a foul odor.

  •  Never use bleach or harsh drain cleaners.


Which garbage disposal should I buy?

                There are a few factors to consider when purchasing a garbage disposal such as: budget, motor size, corded or non-corded, amount of use, and quality. Our plumbing technicians will help you select the best fit for your plumbing needs. We carry a range of popular models that you can choose from.


How long should my garbage disposal last?

The life of your garbage disposal depends on several factors. One factor is the initial price. As with many things, you tend to get what you pay for. A cheap unit probably is not going to last as long as one that costs more. You are paying for the technology, materials, and overall quality of the unit. A second factor is brand. Not all brands are created equal. Our plumbing technicians can make recommendations as to which brand will work best for you. The third factor is use. Your garbage disposal will last longer with proper maintenance and correct usage. If you abuse your disposal, you will be facing repairs or replacement soon. It is kind of up to you to decide whether you want your garbage disposal to last two years or twelve!


How much does a garbage disposal cost?

                That depends on several variables including motor size, type of motor, and materials. Higher horse-power models cost more but are more suitable to large families and heavier usage than a lower horse-power model, best suited for small families and minimal use. There are two motor types, which make a difference in noise level and life expectancy. Also, some disposals are made with mostly plastic components, whereas higher quality models contain more metal components.  Our plumbing technicians will work with you to find a garbage disposal that works within your budget.


Can I use a garbage disposal with a septic tank?

We do not recommend using a garbage disposal with a septic system. Doing so can cause several plumbing problems and you will need to have your septic tank pumped more frequently. Composting food waste is a better option than sending it into your tank where it will just sit without breaking down.