Here's How to Properly Use a Garbage Disposal

by Team eLocal
garbage disposal unit under kitchen sink

You signed the lease, added the new key to your ring and you even managed to carry your sectional up the stairs. Now that you’re all settled in at your new place, you’re probably starting to notice more of its features — one of which might be a garbage disposal.

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Now, if you’ve never had one before, you probably didn’t think to look out for one when you toured the place. But now that you’re the proud owner of a garbage disposal (look at you!), you’re going to need to know how to use it properly … unless you want your first call to the building maintenance team to be because you mangled a spoon in the blades.

Listen: We’re not here to judge you. We’re just here to help. Here’s a how-to guide.

How Does a Garbage Disposal Work?

A garbage disposal unit connects to your kitchen sink and grinds up food waste. The unit contains a spinning plate covered in blunt teeth called impellers. When you switch the unit on, the plate spins and forces the waste against a metal grind ring, pulverizing it to a near-liquid consistency.

Once pulverized, water from the faucet washes the waste particles through tiny holes into the drainpipe. These particles are then washed away down the sink drainpipe.

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How Do You Use a Garbage Disposal?

Garbage disposals rely on running water to wash food particles down the drain. Therefore, you should turn on the cold faucet for a few seconds before switching on the garbage disposal unit. Next, feed your waste into the garbage disposal slowly and steadily, keeping your hands well clear of the impellers.

You can turn the garbage disposal off once you've disposed of all your food waste. However, leave the water running for another 30 seconds to ensure you've flushed all the waste down the drain.

What Can and Cannot Go Down a Garbage Disposal?

Garbage disposals are designed to handle soft, biodegradable food waste. If you need to dispose of harder foods, chop them into smaller pieces to make them easier to grind.

However, certain foods should never find their way inside your sink food grinder. Anything fibrous, such as potato peels or onion skins, can cause the impellers to jam and break your unit. Certain foods are also more likely to cause clogs, such as uncooked pasta and rice or coffee grounds. Other examples of what not to put in a garbage disposal include:

  • Bones
  • Fruit pits, seeds and cores
  • Grease
  • Eggshells

Sometimes, non-food items such as knives and forks can fall inside a garbage disposal unit and damage the internal components. Therefore, it's worth emptying your sink first to prevent accidental damage.

How Do You Keep Your Garbage Disposal Clean?

Garbage disposals keep themselves relatively clean but can develop a foul-smelling residue over time. Cleaning your disposal every week can keep it germ-free and smelling fresh.

First, disconnect your garbage disposal from the power supply. Use dish soap and a sponge to clean around the disposal drain, baffle and upper grinding chamber, avoiding putting your hand near the impellers.

If you need to deep clean your unit, pour half a cup of baking soda down the garbage disposal drain, followed by a cup of cleaning vinegar. Adding vinegar to the baking soda will cause it to fizz and gently remove caked-on grime from the unit. Stopper the drain to trap the mixture inside and leave it for 10 minutes before flushing it with cold water.

Vinegar is a gentler option than harsher chemicals such as bleach, but it can damage your garbage disposal and plumbing when used too frequently. Therefore, it's best to manually clean the accessible parts of your garbage disposal each week and save the vinegar mixture for less frequent deep cleaning.

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How to Use a Garbage Disposal: Other Tips for First-Time Users

Many homeowners worry about how to use a garbage disposal properly when they install one for the first time. The following tips can help you keep your unit working correctly and troubleshoot common garbage disposal issues.

1. Spot and Clear Jams

You can expect a grinding noise while feeding waste into your garbage disposal, but a constant noise could signify a jam. Jammed garbage disposals typically make a humming sound as soon as you turn the unit on.

Always disconnect your garbage disposal from the power supply before attempting to remove a clog. Next, inspect your garbage disposal using a flashlight and remove any apparent cause of the jam with long-nosed pliers. Alternatively, you can use a wooden spoon to turn the impeller plate to dislodge a blockage. You'll know you've removed the jam when the plate turns easily.

2. Flush With Cold Water

Avoid running warm water down your garbage disposal during operation. Cold water is more effective for flushing your unit because it will solidify any grease or oil, making it easier for the impellers to pulverize.

3. Keep Smells at Bay

Vinegar is ideal for reducing odors from your garbage disposal, but it's unsuitable for weekly use. However, you can feed slices of fresh citrus fruits, such as lemons or limes, into your garbage disposal if it smells unpleasant between deep cleans.

4. Know When to Call a Pro

You can often troubleshoot minor jams yourself, but you should call a professional if you're experiencing ongoing problems with your garbage disposal that don't respond to DIY methods. Using a faulty garbage disposal can worsen mechanical issues, potentially leading to expensive repairs. Signs your unit needs professional attention include:

  • Your garbage disposal stops grinding food effectively.
  • You can't turn on your unit, or it loses power during use.
  • Your unit clogs frequently or for no apparent reason.
  • You hear grinding, humming or clanking sounds and can't see an obvious jam.

Elocal Editorial Content is for educational and entertainment purposes only. Editorial Content should not be used as a substitute for advice from a licensed professional in your state reviewing your issue. Systems, equipment, issues and circumstances vary. Follow the manufacturer's safety precautions. The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the eLocal Editorial Team and other third-party content providers do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of eLocal or its affiliate companies. Use of the Blog is subject to the

Website Terms and Conditions.

The eLocal Editorial Team operates independently of eLocal USA's marketing and sales decisions.

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Elocal Editorial Content is for educational and entertainment purposes only. Editorial Content should not be used as a substitute for advice from a licensed professional in your state reviewing your issue. The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the eLocal Editorial Team and other third-party content providers do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of eLocal or its affiliate companies. Use of eLocal Editorial Content is subject to the

Website Terms and Conditions.

The eLocal Editorial Team operates independently of eLocal USA's marketing and sales decisions.

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