Garbage Disposal “Dos” and “Don’ts” (How to Clean Your Garbage Disposal)

Garbage Disposal Plumbing Tips

What do you do when you find an old, smelly container of leftover soup in the back of the refrigerator? Just pouring it down the kitchen sink risks clogging the drain, especially if the old soup is in a semi-solid state. This is why many people have a garbage disposal unit installed beneath the sink drain and the sink drain pipe. The garbage disposal grinds unwanted food waste into small particles so it can pass through your plumbing and out into the sewer system. This makes it easy to dump old food scraps into the sink and get rid of it quickly. 

Some people might think that a garbage disposal unit isn’t environmentally friendly and might damage a sewer system. However, most cities allow the use of garbage disposal units and a number of studies show that any potential harm to a public sewer system is minimal or none. The exception is for private septic systems which are not designed to handle food waste

While it’s convenient to flush food scraps down the drain, it’s a convenience that requires a combination of common sense usage and some maintenance. Properly caring for your garbage disposal can prevent problems like odors or malfunction. Otherwise, you’ll be dealing with the very clogged drain you had hoped to avoid as for having the garbage disposal unit in the first place. This could mean a call to a plumber to clean out your drain and possibly even replace a damaged unit. 

Here are a few tips to ensure the proper operation and maintenance of your garbage disposal:

  • Garbage Disposal “Dos” 
  • Garbage Disposal “Don’ts“
  • How to clean your garbage disposal
  • Typical minor problems
  • When to call a plumber 

Garbage Disposal Do’s and Don’ts

garbage disposal dos


Garbage Disposal “Dos”

If you are installing or replacing a garbage disposal unit, we recommend that you do:

  • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Each garbage disposal is different.
  • Have your garbage disposal professionally installed to avoid problems. Garbage disposal plumbing is not particularly complicated, but it is important to do it right and make sure the garbage disposal is hooked up to the plumbing and dishwasher correctly.

What you can put down the garbage disposal depends on the make and model in your home. Modern, high-end garbage disposals can grind more types of food than basic or older models. 

That said, good “dos” for using any kind of garbage disposal unit include:

  • Check the disposal for fallen items like spoons, bottle caps, jewelry, and other small things before running the disposal.
  • Turn off the disposal and use tongs to retrieve items you don’t want to grind (e.g., small spoons or bottle caps) that have fallen into the garbage disposal.
  • Teach children garbage disposal safety, meaning don’t stick your fingers in there. For that matter, young children shouldn’t be allowed to operate it.
  • Clean your garbage disposal regularly and properly to prevent odors and debris build-up.
  • Use cold water to flush fatty residues. Fats coagulate so even if ground up in the garbage disposal they can stick to pipes further down. Flushing with cold water can avoid this.
  • Grind lemon and other citrus peels to give your kitchen a fresh, clean scent.

garbage disposal plumbing - Bleach Don't


Garbage Disposal “Don’ts”

Just because your disposal can grind something down does not mean that your city waste system, let alone your home’s plumbing, can handle just about anything you shove down it. In fact, most plumbing systems cannot handle large amounts of food waste. The garbage disposal unit is intended for food scrap, not everyday garbage waste that can not only clog or even damage your plumbing but sometimes affect the operation of the garbage disposal itself. Clogged piping means slow or stopped drains that eventually result in potentially costly repairs to remove.

There are some things that should never be put down at any garbage disposal. For one, when it is clogged, it is not usually the garbage disposal itself but the pipes that are clogged from accumulated grease and food sludge. This can lead to more problems and the need for repairs. Also, certain substances can actually cause direct damage to plumbing that requires repairs that involve more than cleaning out clogs but replacing pipes.

To keep your plumbing and your garbage disposal unit in good working order, don’t grind anything other than food scraps. It is not a trash can. In particular, don’t put any of the following down the disposal:

  • Grease or other fats (these are sure to cause clogs).
  • Metal, wood, or glass.
  • Cigarette butts.
  • Bleach or drain cleaner.
  • Coffee grounds; while coffee grounds aren’t likely to damage the garbage disposal, they can accumulate in your plumbing and cause clogs.
  • Excessive amounts of pasta, rice, potatoes, potato peels, or other starchy foods. Just like coffee grounds, they won’t harm the garbage disposal but can build up in your pipes and cause clogs.
  • Fibrous items like eggshells, celery, and banana peels;  while a small piece of celery is not likely to jam your garbage disposal, several stalks of celery or a banana peel might. 

In addition, don’t grind with hot water as it causes grease clogs. Always use cold water. 

A good rule of thumb is that when in doubt, toss it out (in the garbage) and not down your sink. Another important don’t is to never put your hand in the garbage disposal to retrieve fallen items. Turn off the disposal and use tongs to retrieve any fallen items.



How to Clean Your Garbage Disposal

Like any mechanical device, your garbage disposal unit requires regular maintenance to stay in good working order. The good news is you do not need any expensive special cleaners. You can keep your kitchen’s garbage disposal clean and fresh with natural items you already have in your home. 

Three of the best ways to clean your garbage disposal are:

  1. Ice and Salt. Put three or four ice ices in the garbage disposal with rock salt. Run cold water and grind. The rough texture of the ice and salt helps loosen oil and grime from the garbage disposal.
  2. Baking Soda and Vinegar. Pour one cup of baking soda down the garbage disposal. Use a rubber spatula to push it through the opening. Finish by pouring one cup of vinegar down the disposal.
  3. Flush. Put a stopper in the sink drain. Fill the sink ¼ full of water and add a small amount of dish soap. Remove the stopper and turn on the garbage disposal to thoroughly flush your garbage disposal and pipes.

Once your garbage disposal is clean, you can freshen it up and make your kitchen smell great by grinding lemon, line, orange, or grapefruit peels.

Typical (Minor) Problems

Modern, high-quality garbage disposals are generally easy to operate and trouble-free. If the garbage disposal is not turning on, check to see if it is unplugged. 

If it is plugged in and still not turning on, it might just need to be reset. Look for a red or black reset button on the bottom of the unit. With certain large garbage disposal units, you may not be able to get underneath to see if there is a reset button. Here’s a handy trick: grab any small household mirror and hold it underneath the unit to look for the reset button.

If the button is popped, simply push it back in. This should reset the unit. 

If that doesn’t work, check to see if the circuit breaker for the garbage disposal has tripped and reset it. If the circuit breaker hasn’t tripped, one other possibility could be that the electrical switch to the unit is in need of repair or replacement.

If none of this troubleshooting results in getting the garbage disposal unit working again, you might need a replacement. 

When to Call a Plumber

Garbage disposals are usually worry-free appliances when installed correctly. The key here is proper installation. An improperly installed garbage disposal can leak, clog, cause foul odors or result in the garbage disposal not draining. 

If your disposal is leaking, call a plumber. If the garbage disposal unit isn’t working but is plugged in and can’t be reset, you may need a replacement. In which case, call a plumber to ensure proper installation.

With professional installation and a little time and attention, your garbage disposal can operate worry-free. Whenever it isn’t working properly or you’ve sent something down the drain that is causing a clog, the friendly plumbers at Benjamin Franklin Bay Area are always ready to help. We are happy to do a full inspection of your plumbing system, resolve your plumbing issues and provide you with advice on how to preserve your plumbing for years to come to limit if not eliminate costly repairs in the future.