How to Maintain Your Garbage Disposal

Not all kitchens have a garbage disposal, but they have only grown in popularity in United States households since their invention in 1940. Today, they are not very common in other countries, but more than half of all homes in the U.S. have a garbage disposal system.

The garbage disposal is an important part of your kitchen plumbing, working to eliminate large pieces of food waste and prevent them from clogging your sink and causing larger plumbing issues further down the line.

There are general guidelines every homeowner should follow about what you can put into a garbage disposal, what you shouldn’t put into a garbage disposal and general maintenance tips to extend its longevity and efficiency. But we’re going to start at the very beginning.

What is the purpose of a garbage disposal?

Some homeowners think that their garbage disposal saves them the hassle of scraping dinner dishes, because their sink will handle all that hassle. This mentality is a quick way to abuse your garbage disposal and decrease its effectiveness and longevity.

The purpose of a garbage disposal is to decrease kitchen waste, and grind up small food scraps into liquid, allowing existing infrastructures, like underground sewers and wastewater treatment plants, to manage their disposal.

Solid food scraps in our plumbing and wastewater treatment facilities pose dangers to our environment and damage to our existing infrastructures.

Sharp edges in the grinding portion of the disposal use water as a lubricant and grind up food particles until they are small enough to fit through openings that then send it down the drain.

So your garbage disposal is used not just for your convenience, but as a way to better preserve our environment and ensure that large food particles are not treated along with wastewater, damaging our systems and potentially our environment.

Thanks for doing your part to preserve our environment – now what can you do to preserve the life of your equipment? Follow the rules below.

What can you put in the garbage disposal?

The easiest items for your garbage disposal to handle are soft and malleable. This includes:

  • Fruits
  • Most vegetables
  • Breads, pasta, rice or cereal

Keep in mind that if leftovers on plates are large, they should really be put into a solid waste container rather than forced down your garbage disposal.

There is one way you can lubricate a garbage disposal: water. It works as a lubricant for the blades in the system and prevents them from grinding when you start the system. Not flushing water through the drain while you’re using it is a surefire way to cause damage to the equipment.

What should you not put in a garbage disposal?

Generally speaking, your garbage disposal was designed to handle small pieces of food waste, but there are a few specific items that are definitely not good for the longevity of the equipment or your wastewater system in general.

Bones, frozen items, popcorn kernels or hard seeds and nuts.

These items are not easily broken down by your disposal and can cause damage to the blades. Even if your disposal does break these up into smaller pieces, they cannot be treated the same way as wastewater, therefore they shouldn’t be disposed of down a drain.


This vegetable is so fibrous that it’s strings can get caught in the blades of the disposal and not pass through entirely.

Meat fat and gristle

Because of the gummy texture of meat and fat, the blades have a difficult time chopping it up into tiny pieces.

Foreign objects

It goes without saying, your kitchen plumbing is not meant to dispose of foreign objects.

Not only are some of those items difficult for your disposal to process, but if they do not properly pass through the drain, they can become stuck in the in-between, grow bacteria and cause a dreaded odor.

You also should not put WD-40 down your garbage disposal in an effort to lubricate it, as this toxic material can cause damage.

How do you clean a garbage disposal?

If your kitchen sink is acting like a mode of disposal, it’s only normal to expect that your sink could have a similar odor to your physical garbage. Luckily, there are easy tips for how to clean a garbage disposal.


Every other week, run some vinegar through your garbage disposal. Vinegar works in many kitchen appliances as a way to clean the lines and eliminate odor. Depending on usage or odor, running some vinegar along with water down the drain will help.

Ice and Salt

If you put ice cubes in the drain and pour vinegar or salt on top and run it with the water on for 10-20 seconds, the ice will grind up in the disposal trap, scraping along the sides, dislodging any buildup.

Garbage disposal maintenance tips

Use these tips to keep your garbage disposal from sticking and extend its life.

  1. Run it with plenty of cold water. To avoid grinding or overheating, it’s important to use cold water when you start the disposal, when it’s working and after you’ve turned it off to move all particles down the drain.
  2. Don’t put harmful items in it. Keep note of what not to put in your disposal: bones, celery, meat fat, popcorn and other hard food items.
  3. Avoid banana or potato peels, eggshells and coffee grounds. These items are also in that fibrous category and are difficult for your disposal to fully break down. Once broken down, they can congele and cause a clog in your pipes.
  4. Keep your hands, and other objects, away from the blades. When you’re doing a sink full of dishes, a spoon can easily slip down the drain. Make sure the area is clear before you turn on the garbage disposal.
  5. Garbage disposal repair and replacement

    What if your garbage disposal stopped working entirely? To avoid further damage, stop using the appliance and contact plumbing experts in Arlington for garbage disposal repair. If your home doesn’t already have one and you’re considering garbage disposal installation, contact John C. Flood.

    Because of the combination of plumbing and electrical, if your system is malfunctioning due to a electrical issue, a clog, misaligned blades or a trap issue, it’s essential to work with plumbing professionals. We’re experienced in all disposal repair issues, including U-bend repair.

    The disposal is a helpful kitchen feature in many homes. If you are in need of garbage disposal repair or garbage disposal replacement, work with the plumbing experts in Virginia. Call John C. Flood at 703-214-5611!

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