Things to Never Put Down a Garbage Disposal

What Is a Garbage Disposal?

The garbage disposal is a small electric device located below the drain of a kitchen sink and is used for shredding food waste into smaller particles so that it can easily be flushed through standard plumbing systems. The garbage disposal has many names: waste disposal unit, garbage disposer, compost, waste disposer, garbage grinder, compactor, and garburator (if you’re in Canada). Regardless of the name, this kitchen device has been mincing and munching leftovers for the last 78 years.

History and Growth of the Garbage Disposal

​The garbage disposal was invented in 1927 by architect John W. Hammes and patented in 1935. However, it took about five years for this kitchen device to become mainstream. Hammes’ company, InSinkErator (founded in 1927), brought about the popularity of the disposal in 1940. Today, over 50% of kitchen sinks in America have a garbage disposal installed. Interestingly, the garbage disposal is not as popular outside of the United States. Only 6% of sinks in the United Kingdom and 3% of sinks in Canada have these kitchen units installed currently.

How “Green” Is a Garbage Disposal?

The garbage disposal was initially developed and gained popularity for its proclaimed environmental benefits. By using sewage systems that are already in place, utilizing disposals decreases the amount of biodegradable material that is sent to local landfills or burned in waste-to-energy facilities. This, in turn, will slow the growth of landfills and decrease the amount of methane released into the atmosphere during the decomposition of food scraps. The garbage disposal is also extremely energy efficient, only requiring 3-4 kilowatt-hours per year and roughly 1 US gallon of water per person per day (roughly an extra flush of the toilet) to operate. Despite these proposed benefits, the debate over whether or not they are truly beneficial to the environment still exists.

The DO’s of Garbage Disposal Use

When using a garbage disposal it is important to remember to always run COLD WATER down the drain 10-20 seconds before and after washing food scraps down the drain. This allows for water to build up a little at the base of the disposal and will therefore prevent any food scraps from sticking and getting left behind in the disposal.

What Can I Put Down a Garbage Disposal? 

​One of the biggest questions asked about garbage disposals is, “What can I put down a garbage disposal?” Here is a list of things that can down the sink and through the disposal:

LIQUIDS AND SOFT FOOD: 

Any kind of liquid or softened food can easily go down a garbage disposal. Some examples include soft drinks, spoiled milk, baby food, mashed potatoes, fruit, etc.

CHOPPED FOODS:

Any kind of food that is absent of bones, large portions of fat, or other hard elements is acceptable, as long as it is finely chopped. It is best to cut up all food scraps as finely as possible before flushing them down into the garbage disposal.

DISH SOAP:

This will not hurt your garbage disposal. In fact, it will help keep your garbage disposal clean and running smoothly.

ICE CUBES:

Disposing of a handful of ice cubes is a great way to knock off residue that may have built up in your disposal.

The DO-NOTS of Garbage Disposal Use 

The most important thing to remember when using a garbage disposal is it’s name: it is NOT a garbage dispose-ALL. Despite the fact that garbage disposals are very powerful kitchen appliances that can shred and break bones, does not mean that we should put bones or other hard objects down the drain. Let's remember that nothing goes down to the garbage disposal unless you want it cut up, fingers included.

What Should Not Go Down the Garbage Disposal?

Here are 15 things that should never be put into a garbage disposal:

COFFEE GROUNDS:

​While it’s true that by dropping coffee grounds into your garbage disposal, sink odors can be reduced, it can also clog your drain. When coffee grounds are removed from the coffee maker they form into a dense and thickly packed wad, perfect for getting stuck in your pipes.

PASTA:

As we all know, pasta expands when it is soaked in water. Given that, you can see why having large amount of pasta in your disposal and drain may not be a good idea. The pasta will continue to expand and clog both your disposal and drain.

BONES:

Although garbage disposals are strong enough and robust enough to handle an occasional small bone, it would be unwise to make this a regular practice. Bones are hard and dense and could result in the chipping of your garbage disposals’ blades. This will decrease the overall lifetime of your disposal.

OATMEAL:

Oatmeal is a lot like pasta, in that it expands when it sits in water. Again, this will clog and block both your garbage disposal and your drainage system.

NUTS:

When nuts are placed in a grinder they release their oils and become a thick paste (peanut butter, anyone?). Although delicious, peanut butter and garbage disposals do not mix. It will clog your pipes and disposal, so let's leave the nuts out of the disposal.

ONION SKINS:

Your garbage disposal should be able to handle the majority of onion waste, except for the outer tough layer of the onion skin. This thin layer can pass the blades and become lodged in your plumbing and create a clog. To avoid this, simply cut up the outer layer of skin or throw it in the garbage.

EGG SHELLS:

Egg shells in and of themselves will not harm your garbage disposal, but the thin membrane on the inside of the egg will. Just like the onion skins, this membrane will pass through the disposal and get stuck in your pipes, which will most likely result in a clogged drain.

PUMPKIN OR FIBROUS VEGETABLES: 

Again, let’s think back to the onion skin. Pumpkins are very stringy and these strings pass right by the blades of your garbage disposal. Now think of your shower drain after you get some hair in your drain. Let’s avoid the hair ball and not place fibrous vegetables down your garbage disposal.

POTATO PEELS: 

Potato peels are extremely thin and can easily pass by the blades of your garbage disposal. These peels will drift down the pipe until they get stuck and begin to make a clog in your drain.

PITS:

​Fruit pits are extremely hard and will damage the blades of your garbage disposal. Think back to the bones; the occasional pit won't ruin your disposal, but do not make a habit of dropping fruit pits down the drain, unless you enjoy replacing kitchen utilities.

CLEANING CHEMICALS:

This does not include dish soap or hand soap but does include heavy cleaning chemicals. These chemicals can damage the blades or cause stress to your plumbing system. It is best to leave heavy chemical cleaners away from your garbage disposal.

PAINT:

Latex- or oil-based paint should never be put down your garbage disposal. The paint will not mix with water and will stick to the sides of your drain, garbage disposal, and plumbing system.

CORN HUSKS:

Corn husks should not go down your garbage disposal. The silk will slip past the blades and act a lot like the fibrous vegetables, and the dense husk will cause damage to your disposals’ blades.

SHELLS:

Lobster, crab, and shrimp shells are far too dense to be properly reduced in your garbage disposal. The shells can damage your disposal and clog your drain because the are simply too large to pass through.

TRASH:

Remember, it’s not a garbage dispose-ALL. Do not put paper towels, boxes, diapers, or banana peels down your garbage disposal.

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Proper Maintenance of Your Garbage Disposal

Maintaining your garbage disposal is relatively easy and can be accomplished by always running cold water before and after putting anything down your disposal. To clean your garbage disposal, pour some dish soap down the sink and turn the disposal on. Allow the cold water and soap to mix and clean off the blades that contain any residue. A more aggressive approach to knocking off residue is placing a handful of ice cubes down your disposal as well. These ice cubes can be made of water, vinegar, or lemon juice. This will help knock off any built up residue and make your drain smell better.

When to Replace Your Garbage Disposal

Unfortunately, garbage disposals do not last forever and must be replaced. There are a few signs to look for so that you’ll know when to replace your garbage disposal: your disposal clogs frequently, it has a lingering odor, the blades become dull, or you develop a leak that cannot be fixed. These are all common signs that a garbage disposal is on its way out. In addition, if you ever replace your kitchen sink, it is recommended that you put in a new garbage disposal as well. You should always replace a garbage disposal that is not functioning properly to ensure that you do not develop clogs in your plumbing system. By replacing your garbage disposal early on, you will save yourself money in the long run.

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Tyler Farr
 

Tyler is an energetic nature enthusiast who is currently considering moving into a tiny house. Tyler and his wife enjoy hiking, mountain biking, camping, and doing anything in the great outdoors. He hopes that the articles he writes will help others learn how important it is to take care of the environment.

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