Garbage Disposals 101

Out of all the appliances in the kitchen, the garbage disposal is both one of the most used and one of the most misunderstood. While a garbage disposal usually doesn’t require much maintenance, there are still several important do’s and don’ts when it comes to keeping your disposal in good working condition for years to come. Here’s a crash course in Garbage Disposals 101.

How garbage disposals work

Garbage disposals are mounted to the underside of the kitchen sink and store waste in what’s known as a grinding chamber. In this chamber, a motor spins a flywheel and its attached blades at speeds of almost 2,000 revolutions per minute (RPM). The blades pulverize food waste and grind it down until it’s able to wash out of the waste line connector discharge outlet. From there, the waste travels into the sewer system.

The major benefit of garbage disposals is that they reduce the amount of food waste that gets sent to landfills. With the help of garbage disposals, food waste is liquidized enough to flow through the sewer system until it arrives at a water treatment plant. The water treatment process is far more environmentally friendly than food rotting away in landfills, making garbage disposals one of the most environmentally responsible kitchen appliances. Garbage disposals are also highly economically efficient, as they normally cost just 50 cents per year to operate.

Disposal Do’s

A properly functioning garbage disposal plays a vital role in your kitchen, and it’s important to keep it that way. Use the following tips to ensure that your garbage disposal stays in good shape.

Use cold water

Hot water may be the go-to for most household cleaning jobs, but it doesn’t belong in your garbage disposal. Hot water can melt the food the disposal is trying to grind up, creating a sludgy mess that ends up sticking to the sides of the disposal. This sludge can accumulate over time, slowing down the blades and making the disposal less effective. On the other hand, cold water hardens food, which makes it easier for the disposal’s blades to grind it up and force it down the drain.

Remove odors

With the amount of food waste that works its way through a garbage disposal, it’s no surprise that some less than pleasant odors can pop up from time to time. Fortunately, there are several things you can do to keep your garbage disposal from stinking up your whole kitchen.


One easy way to counter foul smells is with the fresh scent of citrus. Take fresh lemon, lime, or orange peels and toss them down the disposal when it’s powered on. Since citrus is so effective at neutralizing bad odors, you should immediately notice a difference. As a bonus, a pleasant citrus smell will be left behind.

Baking soda and vinegar

Baking soda and vinegar are two of the most versatile household cleaning products—and deodorizing a garbage disposal is just another one of their many uses. The fizzy chemical reaction caused by mixing the two can dissolve stuck-on food scraps and kill odor-causing bacteria. Start by pouring ¼ cup of baking soda down the drain, and then leave it for about 10 minutes. Then, follow it with one cup of vinegar. Be sure and cover the drain opening so the bubbles don’t escape. Let the mixture fizzle and work for a few minutes, and then finish by turning on the water and running the disposal to clear out any leftover food waste.

Keep it clean

To clean your garbage disposal and remove any built-up debris from the blades, run cold water down the drain. Then, dump one to two cups of ice cubes down after it, and turn on the disposal. The ice cubes will freeze off the debris and help release any buildup from the blades. As an added benefit, the ice cubes will also sharpen the blades to keep them in good working order.

Stay safe

Nearly 1,000 people a year end up in the emergency room due to accidents with garbage disposals. The sharp knife-like blades can spell trouble for any limbs they come in contact with, with lacerations and fractures accounting for the most common injuries.  Many injuries result from someone trying to retrieve something valuable that fell down the drain. No matter what the circumstances, it’s never safe to put your hand down into a garbage disposal. Instead of reaching your hand down the drain, be sure and use tongs, pliers, or a similar device to extract the item safely.

Disposal Don’ts

If you don’t want to end up calling a plumber, steer clear from putting harmful products in your disposal. Everyday cooking items and household waste can spell trouble for a garbage disposal by dulling the blades, causing clogs, or harming the motor.

Grease and fats

Grease and fats solidify at room temperature, causing them to slow down your drain as they harden and collect in your pipes. If left unaddressed, the end result is a complete clog.


Any oil-based items, including cooking oils, will coat drains and cause buildup over time, causing the drain to get slower and slower.

Flour and coffee grounds

Flour and coffee grounds expand and form a sludgy, messy blockage that slows down the garbage disposal’s blades.

Starchy vegetables

Starchy and stringy vegetables like celery, asparagus, corn husks, potato peels, and onion skins can entangle a garbage disposal’s blades, which may slow them down or stop them from spinning completely.

Pasta and rice

Spaghetti, penne, lasagna, rice, quinoa—no matter what kind of noodle or grain, they don’t belong in your garbage disposal. Pasta and rice expand in water, which is abundant in a drain. Once they expand, they cause clogs and prevent the disposal from working correctly.

Fruit pits and seeds

Fruit pits, seeds, and apple cores are too solid and tough for a garbage disposal to break down. A better, greener solution is to compost these items.

Paint or paint thinner

Any paint products, including nail polish, can damage pipes with their chemical properties. This category also includes acetone-based products like nail polish remover.

Harsh drain cleaners

Harsh liquid drain cleaners, like Drano and Liquid-Plumr, can corrode a garbage disposal. That’s not to mention all the damage they do to drains and pipes, and their potential to cause bodily harm. Bottom line—don’t use them.

Disposal questions? Contact Chas Roberts

If your disposal isn’t working the way it should, or you want a new one installed after years of wear and tear, contact the plumbing experts at Chas Roberts.