The Proper Care and Use of a Garbage Disposal

Garbage disposals are an extremely handy tool to have in the kitchen.  When we first moved into our current home, we didn’t have a disposal.  It was not pleasant!  When we remodeled our kitchen, we added one, thank goodness!

You probably already have a disposal in your kitchen.  But have you ever read the directions so you know exactly how to use it?  If you haven’t, you’re in luck.  Everything you ever wanted to know is here!

Let’s start with what is a garbage disposal? I know we all know the answer but I thought it would be fun to have the technical definition.  So here goes.

A garbage disposal, also known as a waste disposal unit or garburator, is a device underneath a sink that shreds food waste so it can pass through plumbing. A garbage disposal is an effective way to keep the smells of old garbage out of your garbage cans and kitchen.


Now, in case you don’t already know, here’s the proper way to use a disposal:

  1. Turn on the cold water – not hot.  Cold water keeps the motor, bearings and shredder assembly from overheating.
  2. Turn on the garbage disposal.
  3. Feed the disposal a little at a time.  Keep utensils and your hands out of the drain.
  4. Let the food clear the disposal – you can hear when it’s clear.
  5. Turn the disposal off.
  6.  Let the water run a few more seconds more to flush the pipe.
  7.  Turn the water off.

If you want your disposal to last a long time and work well, keep these things in mind:

  • Bones.  There are different opinions on whether it’s okay to put bones down a disposal.  Some say yes, some say no.  To know for sure, you should probably read the directions for your disposal.  If in doubt, don’t.  I do know that the more expensive disposal models are more equipped to handle bones.  Mine is not expensive and I don’t ever put bones in it.
  • Keep the water running.  Keep the disposer and water running for 30 to 60 seconds AFTER the food has cleared the drain because the waste still has a ways to go.  The water also helps the waste go down easier because it’s pushing the food down.
  • Use cold water.  Another reason not to use hot water is because it can melt fat which can then re-solidify as a blockage further down in the drain.
  • Turn it on only if the water is running.

Not everything can be safely put in the garbage disposal.  Here is a list of items you shouldn’t put in your disposal:

  • hard shells from shrimp, crabs and other shellfish
  • unpopped popcorn kernels
  • hard bones
  • banana peels
  • celery
  • potato peelings
  • corn husk or corn cobs
  • artichokes
  • coffee grounds (in quantity) or coffee filters
  • fruit pits and hard seeds from things like avocados or peaches
  • onion skins (unless you completely remove the thin membranes of each which can wrap around the shredder ring)
  • egg shells – they turn into a sand-like substance that clogs pipes
  • Trash, including twist ties, pull tabs, rubber bands, glass, screws, nails, utensils, cigarette butts or bottle caps, paper, plastic, or other trash, fabric, string, rags, or sponges, plant or flower clippings, children’s toys, hair
  • Grease
  • Rice or Pasta – No matter how much water you run or how long you run the disposal, you can never break rice or pasta down small enough.  Both items swell when they are in contact with water, so the small pieces will eventually gather in the trap and swell until it’s closed.

You would think garbage disposals would stay clean since you’re chopping up and disposing of food and there’s a constant stream of soap and water.  But that’s not necessarily the case.  However, you can prevent most issues by running the disposal regularly.  If you leave bits of food in the disposal, you run the risk of having odor problems.  So any time you’re working with food in the sink, run the disposal.

There are a few other things you can do, including:

  • Clean the rubber ring in the center of the sink.  With the disposal off, clean the inner side of the rubber in the center of the sink leading to the disposal.  It gets very dirty and gives off an odor when not cleaned.  Wipe it with a paper towel.

  • Throw some ice down once in a while.  Ice will not sharpen the shredders (as is commonly believed) but it does knock off any debris buildup on the sharp edges that keeps them from grinding food properly.  For even better results, make special ice cubes from pure lemon juice or vinegar, or alternate with biodegradable cleanser.  (Be sure to label them in your freezer!  Cover and seal ice trays used in your freezer for cleanser, and do not reuse trays for food or drink after having been used for cleanser.)  While using the disposal, be sure to run cold water at the same time.
  • Toss orange peels or any citrus rinds in the disposal once in a while to keep it smelling good.  You might want to cut the peels into slices first as large pieces of citrus peel, e.g. half a lime, can jam a disposal.

And despite your best efforts, if your disposal gets jammed, you can read how to unjam it here.

So there you have it – everything and more that you ever wanted to know about garbage disposals.  Let me know if I missed anything!


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  1. I didn’t know that you weren’t supposed to put eggshells down the garbage disposal. Oops! I’ve poured a mixture of lemon juice, baking soda, and water in mine and let it set a bit to clean and freshen it. That’s a great tip to make special ice cubes for it though.

    • Good recipe for cleaning. Thanks for sharing. I read about a few when I was doing my research but I went with the ice cubes. I’ve never actually cleaned mine – I just run it regularly and haven’t had any odor problems.

  2. So helpful! I had no idea you shouldn’t put pasta or rice in the disposal. Hmm. When I was a dumb college kid I went on a little trip to the beach with some friends and we stayed in a condominium there. I stupidly put the shrimp shells in the disposal and felt really bad when we had to call the plumber! I definitely learned that lesson then and began to realize that everything can’t go in the disposal.

    • Yep -no rice or pasta. I already knew about the rice but not the pasta.

      We’re on a septic system at my house so I don’t put much of anything in my disposal – mainly just the leftover bits of food from when we’re doing dishes. Everything else goes in the trash.

      Bummer about the shrimp shells and the plumbing call.

  3. Elizabeth says:

    I didn’t know that about eggshells. Do it all the time. I’ll have to stop. And I usually do warm/hot water.

    I also learned recently that your dishwasher uses the same hose as garbage disposal so it’s always a good idea to run the disposal before you start the dishwasher to avoid the icky food from gunking up the clean dishwasher cycle.

  4. I didn’t know about the pasta or the cold water. Super helpful. I want to try the ice cubes.

  5. What a great article! Thank you.

    • You’re welcome!

      • Randall says:

        For what I read is you can’t put anything down them so what’s it is purpose? If all food is bad like pasta, rice, Vegs etc then why even have one. I never had one before and tiring to figure what can go down it. All I get is a list of everything you buy to eat is bad. So I don’t understand if you can’t put anything down them then why were they made?

        • It does seem like that but you don’t need to worry overly much about it – just use common sense. I’ve always used the garbage disposal for those bits of food left on plates or in bowls. Or small amounts of leftovers. When I have lot, I put it in the trash. My husband, a contractor, says he isn’t worried about the garbage disposal as much as the drains. It’s not good for the drains to have lots of food going down. The pea trap is small and gets clogged easily if there’s a lot of food.


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