How can I keep my disposal working properly?
Garbage disposals are extremely convenient appliances that help prevent clogs in your pipes and allow you to wash food scraps down the drain rather than scooping them out. But despite their name, garbage disposals aren’t designed to accept all garbage that may enter your sink. It’s a common misconception that you can wash down any and all food items, and it often leads to garbage disposal jams and worse.
How garbage disposals work
Contrary to popular belief, garbage disposals don’t work solely by using blades to chop up and wipe away food scraps. Instead, disposals are complex appliances with multiple parts, with the main mechanism for breaking down food being metal impellers that function like teeth to grind the food into pieces that are small enough to be washed away.
However, when garbage disposals come in contact with pesky scraps that are too hard to grind up, or could get stuck in the pipe, blockages can begin to form rather quickly.
What causes blockages in my disposal?
When used correctly, garbage disposals prevent blockages in your pipes, but a misused disposal can lead to the very thing it’s meant to prevent. If water and liquids aren’t draining properly, it’s likely that a clog has formed, or the impellers are jammed. This is often caused by problematic food scraps being thrown down the disposal, including:
- Fats and grease: Though this one may come as no surprise, it’s worth repeating that putting fats and grease down your garbage disposal can quickly become detrimental; they quickly congeal and lead to a nasty (and smelly) blockage. Instead, place your fats and grease in a separate jar, let it cool and congeal, and then throw it out with the trash.
- Coffee grounds: It may be surprising, but something as small as a coffee ground can be pretty powerful in large quantities, piling up with other scraps and forming blockages.
- Hard-to-grind foods: Just as humans aren’t built to digest hard items like fruit pits, egg shells, and bones, your garbage disposal isn’t meant to break them down either. These could create clogs in the pipes or jam the disposal’s impellers.
- Fibrous vegetables: Stringy or high-fiber vegetables like celery, asparagus, and cornhusks can wrap around your disposal’s impellers and jam them up.
- Pasta/oats: Even though they may be easy to break apart, pasta and oats can expand and stick together with water and create a blockage surprisingly quickly.
Avoiding putting these things down your garbage disposal is the best way to prevent blockages – and when you practice healthy disposal maintenance habits, your garbage disposal can remain working smoothly for years.
Maintaining your garbage disposal
One of the best things you can do to keep your garbage disposal clog-free is to run it every day to ensure that it doesn’t rust. It’s also important to run cold water while using your garbage disposal in order to help move the scraps through the plumbing and prevent clogs. Running hot water while using the garbage disposal could potentially cause any fats in the disposal to congeal.
For a deep clean of your garbage disposal pour a half cup of baking soda and a half cup of vinegar into it, let it sit for a few minutes, then wash it down with warm water while running the disposal. This can be done every few weeks to break up any blockages that have begun to develop. It’s important not to put any chemicals, like bleach or drain cleaners, in your garbage disposal; even though they might be able to break up some blockages, they can corrode your pipes – and can potentially fly back up into your face the next time you turn on the disposal.
If your garbage disposal starts to smell, try the baking soda and vinegar method, or grind up ice cubes and a few small pieces of lemon or lime peels – the ice will help wash away anything that’s causing the odor, and the citrus will help cover the scent up. Just make sure the pieces of the peels are small enough for the disposal to manage.
Regularly cleaning your garbage disposal and avoiding adding inappropriate items into your disposal are the best ways to prevent a blockage or broken disposal. However blockages can happen to even the most careful homeowners. If you find yourself with a clogged or broken disposal, you can always call a plumber to safely and quickly find and resolve the blockage or repair your disposal.