This post is part of our series: 10 Things Women Should Know About Plumbing.
When washing dishes or cooking dinner, some people have a tendency to throw any and every last thing down the garbage disposal. If you are one of those people, STOP DOING IT RIGHT NOW! You are shortening the life of your disposal and setting yourself up for an expensive repair.
FYI: Garbage Disposals Can Only Take So Much
During the holidays, plumbers get more calls for clogged or broken garbage disposals than any other service, because people don’t realize there are limits to what can go down them. Garbage disposals were built for remnants of food left on plates, not full meals. Their blades aren’t very sharp. They are only meant to grind up small bits of soft foods. The key word there being: small. A plate full of mash potatoes is as bad for a disposal as a plate full of chicken bones. Put either one in, and you’ll be calling a plumber because you broke the blades.
Which Foods are Bad for my Disposal?
The rule of thumb for foods that should go down a disposal: anything that doesn’t dissolve quickly in water. So, right off the bat, grease and anything oily, like gravy or salad dressing, is out. You’re probably wondering why not, doesn’t it just flow right down the drain? No, it doesn’t. Even if it’s hot and fluid when you pour it in the drain, it’s going to cool almost instantly and coat the inside of your garbage disposal and drains. The coating will trap anything solid you put down the drain and before you know it, you’ll have a clog.
Now, your drains are going to end up coated with oily deposits one way or another from the soaps and detergents you use. (Still, there’s no reason to help the process along by dumping greasy foods down there.) The oil traps anything solid, so things like coffee grinds, egg shells, and nuts are also a no-go for the garbage disposal. That’s because any one of these will cause granular waste, a.k.a. little bits of hard stuff that are going to get stuck, causing your drains to slow and eventually clog.
The foods that’ll probably surprise you that you REALLY shouldn’t put down the drain are really starchy foods like desserts, potatoes, and cereals. These are actually some of the most damaging foods you can put down the drain. Why? Well, in water, starches turn into sugars and sugars are sticky… really sticky. In a disposal, if that sticky residue builds up on the blades they’ll stick together and fail.
How Not To Clean A Garbage Disposal
Rule #1: NEVER clean a garbage disposal with chemical drain cleaners.
Drain cleaners are usually made to stick to the insides of pipes so they can dissolve whatever else is stuck there. Remember that sticky = bad for garbage disposals. So sticky cleaners = very bad. You could end up having to fish all the highly caustic chemicals out by hand, which we promise you will not enjoy having to do.
Drain cleaners are also highly, HIGHLY caustic. Most are powerful enough to actually dissolve the inner parts of your garbage disposal. It’s not like they’re going to melt the machine our from under your sink. You’ll likely get away with using them for a while. But, they are going to make all the gears and fittings just a little bit smaller every time you use them. Over time, the parts will start to loosen and before you know it, gears are slipping, breaking and your disposal isn’t working.
The Right Way To Clean A Garbage Disposal
The best way to clean your garbage disposal is to simply run cold soapy water through it.
- Put the drain stopper in.
- Fill up the sink with cold water.
- Dump in a bunch of dish detergent.
- Mix it up so all the water is soapy.
- Throw in a handful of ice cubes to help clean the blades.
- Then, pull the plug and hit the on switch.
The soap is mild enough to gently clean without harming the inner workings of the machine. If the drain still smells a little funky after you finish running the soap through it, you can throw some citrus fruit peels in with a few more ice cubes.
In the end, your garbage disposal is just like your car…
The better you take care of it, the longer it will run. Anything bigger than a “scrap” should go in the garbage. The only thing you should clean it with is cold soapy water, ice and maybe a citrus peal. Follow these two simple rules and your disposal should give you years of reliable service.
- Cleaning Your Disposal
- Common Garbage Disposal Problems
- Repairing Broken Garbage Disposals
- Garbage Disposal FAQ