14 Things You Need To Know About Using Your Garbage Disposal

Garbage Disposal Do's and Don'ts

Having a garbage disposal can be really convenient for dealing with everyday food scraps, but only if you know how to use it! You can easily create headache-inducing (and expensive!) plumbing problems for yourself by putting the wrong things into your garbage disposal. And unfortunately, I speak from personal experience in these matters. Over the years I’ve learned the hard way that my garbage disposal isn’t as tough as I thought it was… not by a long shot!

In order to help us all avoid disposal-related plumbing mishaps in the future, I thought I’d put together a helpful list of “do’s and don’ts.” These are some general guidelines for using your garbage disposal correctly, including what you can put down there, what you shouldn’t put down there, and how to clean and care for it. Spending a few minutes reading these tips now could save you plenty of time and money down the line! :-)

Do’s And Don’ts For Using Your Garbage Disposal

Garbage Disposal Do's and Don'ts

DO…

Use dish soap. A good grease-fighting dish soap can help clear out gunk and grime that might be stuck inside your disposal. Just squeeze a bit into your disposal, turn it on, and run cold water through it for about 15 seconds.

Use plenty of water. Running water through your garbage disposal is vital for your garbage disposal to run correctly. It also helps flush bits of food through the disposal so they don’t get stuck.

Garbage Disposal Do's and Don'ts

Use citrus to keep it fresh. We ask a lot of our garbage disposals, so it’s no wonder that they can start getting smelly after a while. Pour a bit of lemon juice in your running disposal to freshen up the smell, or use lemon or orange peels for the same effect.

Related: How To Naturally Clean and Sanitize Your Garbage Disposal

Follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Every disposal is slightly different, so make sure you read the User Manual for your specific disposal for the best information.

Garbage Disposal Do's and Don'ts

Run cold water through the disposal. It might seem counter-intuitive, because cold water makes fats and oils coagulate, but this actually helps your garbage disposal break them down. Fats and oils in liquid form may solidify further down your pipes, which can lead to a clog.

Allow water to run after using. After using your garbage disposal, run the water for a minute or so to flush out any remaining food particles. This simple step can go a long way towards preventing clogs!

Garbage Disposal Do's and Don'ts

DON’T…

Use corrosive chemicals. Harsh cleaners like bleach and drain cleaners can corrode and damage your plumbing. Use gentler methods to keep your disposal clean.

Related: How To Clean Your Garbage Disposal With Coffee Grounds

Put hard food items in your disposal. Hard food items like animal bones, shrimp shells, and even nuts can be too much for your disposal to handle. Make sure these items go into the trash, not your disposal.

Garbage Disposal Do's and Don'ts

Pour oils and fats down your drain. Because of the possibility of fats and oils hardening in your drain, it’s best to just avoid putting them down the drain altogether.

Put anything that isn’t food in your disposal. Food scraps only! That means that anything that falls down the drain like metal, wood, glass, sponges, etc. should be fished out (carefully!)

Garbage Disposal Do's and Don'ts

Put eggshells in your disposal. I called a plumber to come out and deal with a clog several years ago, and he informed me that eggshells are a big no-no for your garbage disposal. The shells can easily adhere to the disposal blades and keep them from working properly. Put those shells in the trash or compost instead!

Put fibrous foods into the disposal. Some food have a very fibrous texture or stringy parts, including potatoes, lettuce, onion skins, celery, and more. These fibrous foods can get caught on the disposal blades, so these are better off going in the trash as well.

Garbage Disposal Do's and Don'ts

Put rice or pasta down the drain. Foods like rice and pasta expand as they absorb water, which could lead to clogs further down your pipes.

Put large amounts of coffee grounds in your disposal. A small amount of coffee grounds can help absorb bad odors. But putting a large amount of grounds in at once can lead to clogs, due to the high oil content in the beans.

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Jill Nystul (aka Jillee)

Jill Nystul is an accomplished writer and author who founded the blog One Good Thing by Jillee in 2011. With over 30 years of experience in homemaking, she has become a trusted resource for contemporary homemakers by offering practical solutions to everyday household challenges.I share creative homemaking and lifestyle solutions that make your life easier and more enjoyable!

About Jillee

Jill Nystul

Jill’s 30 years of homemaking experience, make her the trusted source for practical household solutions.

About Jillee

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45 Comments

  1. Disposal rule #1 Never use, or even install one of you are on a septic system. Septic systems are absolutely not designed to handle food waste. As for the first idea using dish soap, it will work even better if you first run hot water, then the dishsoap, then just a bit more hot water, and do it last thing at night so it can sit in the disposal and hoses to really work on them. Then rinse with hot water next morning. Really want to blast it clean? Dump a bunch of ice cubes into the disposal, plug the drain, fill the sink about 1/2 full of cold water, lift the drain plug out, and flip on the switch until everything is gone down the drain. Oh, and cover your ears. Then turn the water and disposal back on to rinse all the nasty gunk that the ice and water broke loose down the drain. The ice cubes also help to sharpen the grinder blades.

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  2. I was told not to put cooked pasta because it would gummy it up.

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    • Sheri, you are absolutely right. I actually have it listed uner the “Don’ts” in my post. :-)

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  3. I have lived in the same rental for 15 years One time while cleaning up the kitchen, I decided to take out old leftovers and get rid of them. ONE of those things happened to be that nice, finely shredded lettuce for tacos. The drain began to clog so I got out my trusty little kitchen sink plunger. The more I plunged one side, the more it came up the other side. Then the rest of the plumbing began throwing a fit. It was a MESS!! My landlord wasn’t real happy with me! I am sure the bill wasn’t cheap on a Saturday night, I guess. I was stupid enough to do this TWICE in my 15 years. That was enough for me! To be honest, I run my dishwater through it after doing dishes. Other than that, I consider them worthless. We actually cook our potato skins and eat them…restaurants charge you money for an order of them!!

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  4. Put everything you can into your compost (if you have it) and/or in your trash to go directly to the landfill. The disposal can take small amounts of food while doing dishes, but keep the rest out. Everything that goes down your disposal goes to either your water treatment facility or your septic system, a burden on those systems you can easily avoid.

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    • Three years since my above comment… My area’s refuse collection service now requires food scraps be put in the green yard waste can instead of the trash.

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  5. Used one for years and never had a problem except when the wife tried to put a lot of potato peels down it without the corresponding running water flush. I have used it with both septic and community waste systems with no problem. Lots of water when using and afterwards. Most disposals I have owned also flush each time you use your dishwasher as the dishwasher pump discharge hose goes through the disposal grind chamber. Common sense and lots of water and they do what they are designed to do.

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  6. Cleaning your garbage disposal regularly will prevent it from blocking. The rubber in the center of the sink gets dirty and emits an unpleasant odor. With the disposal turned off, clean the rubber and wipe it dry. You can also throw some ice cubes to get rid of the debris built up on the blades.

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    • A plumber friend told me you should also unplug the disposal before putting your hand down there.

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  7. I have a compost pile so very little goes in my garbage disposal other than water. I save & freeze my to go water or ice tea lemons in the freezer. Then I will use one or two with water of course to freshen up the drain.

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  8. I love the idea of freezing ice cubes with lemon slices in them! I may try to do that with orange and lemon peels.

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  9. Thanks for this article! I seldom use mine, but did not know about pasta or potato skins. You have just saved my disposal

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  10. jillee

    How do I clean a coloured sink. I have bought the products recommended but they don’t actually get rid of the white that forms on the sink. Thanks

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  11. If you have a septic system…don’t. Soon after purchasing our home, we faced both a failed septic system (10 years old) and a gigantic clog–(10 feet long) in the drain pipe. Both courtesy of the previous owners and their disposal, which was no longer there, but the telltale switch was.

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    • Also no banana peels. I learned the hard way about potato peels.

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  12. My parents used to have one. It was installed in the home we lived in when I was a teenager. I remember them coming home from a dinner with friends having discussed with waste expert how bad for they are. He worked in the treatment of sewage and said it put non digested food in with digested food. The food you put down your waste disposal takes a lot longer to break down and slows the whole system down. Since then I have refused to have one or use one and instead use a compost bin.

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    • Good for you ! I seldom use mine . Left over food goes to possums and skunks , or compost.

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      • It is not a good idea to fee possums or skunks, as they will soon bring along their family and friends. Add to that if you have bears in your area the food is an added attraction for them to “visit.” This practice is unsafe for animals as if they overrun your area, neighbors may shoot them with a shotgun or bow and arrow. Put your left overs in garbage pail or SMALL amounts of potato peels are OK in the garbage disposal. Peas, small amounts of mashed potatoes, but no egg shells or coffee grounds. I use most of my leftovers, putting left over chicken into chicken pot pie using a gluten free Bisquick (sp?) crust. If the chicken does not have gravy mixed in with it, make a chicken salad.
        Left over meat loaf makes a great sandwich served cold with some ketchup or mayo, or even mixed with some mac and cheese.

    • Yes, these “waste” disposal units are wasteful of good compost, not to mention the energy used to operate them. A thing of the last century.

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    • Thanks for this. If you live in a city like Seattle, your sewage and your storm water all drain into the same line, which guarantees sewage overflows into the bay and sometimes into people’s homes. If you can keep it out of the drain, you should, because the multimillion dollar project to address this issue will cost you a lot more than just the seconds to put that stuff in the compost bin.

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      • Some areas disapprove due to the fact that the smell attracts unwanted visitors such as bears, possums and coyotes.

  13. Dawn is not soap – it is dishwashing “liquid”. It is actually petroleum based. And does not list the ingredients on the label. As a “soaper”, It is disturbing of the many products that contain no soap or just enough that they can put soap on the label. Can you pronounce the ingredients of all the lotions, makeup etc of all the producucts for sale?

    I squirt dishwashing liquid or actual 100% coconut oil soap on a brush and scrub the inside of the disposal and especially under the flaps.

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    • Thanks so much for the coconut oil tip , and here I am believing all this years that Dawn was so great. MMMMM

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      • Also don’t forget to clean under the rubber seal occasionally. It gets gross if you don’t. (Replacements are available at your favorite big box hardware store.)

  14. One Christmas my daughter-inlaw put potato skins down my disposal. Big clog! She was afraid my husband would be mad and upset with her so I told him I did it. We all about died holding in our laughter when he started lecturing and scolding me for putting them in the disposal. I told her she owed me one.

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    • It’s OK to put potato skins down the disposal, but just a LITTLE BIT at a time. I do it all the time.

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      • I do it all the time. BUT I also let cold water run for a bit afterwards.

      • Start to be lazy like I am, Noreene, buy the already mashed potatoes, many grocery chains carry their own brand or the Bob Evans brand, both equally as good. LOL, when one gets old one gets lazy, or this old bat does.

  15. No rice or pasta. I did try the ice cubes with the lemon rind for freshening the disposal. This was when my Sister was living with me. She thought it might be bad for the disposal using those lemon ice cubes.

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  16. Put coffee grounds and tea leaves in the garden for roses and other acid loving plants.

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  17. I should mention a friend of mine clogged her drain emptying a box of corn starch down the drain. It expanded and and did just what it’s supposed to in her drain. Big problem. Don’t empty these thickeners down the drain. Just throw them in the trash!
    Kim

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  18. Thank you!! I didn’t know about the eggshells! I’ve also been known to out rice in the disposal. Once I dumped a bowl of leftover salad and within seconds disgusting water started pouring out of the cabinet from under the sink. The romaine and spinach leaves clogged the drain. What a mess!!

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  19. I had a bad experience with putting 5 pounds of potato peels in my garbage disposal on the day I was having a surprise birthday party for my husband. Needless to say I don’t do that anymore. Too much starch build up.

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  20. I use an enzyme drain cleaner that I got at Home Depot every couple of months. No chemicals so it’s safe and even helps my septic system. I leave it overnight and then run water for a few minutes in the morning. It cleans the gunk out of the pipes.
    Thanks for so many great ideas and product reviews.

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    • Another “no no” is asparagus, or parsley, I had to call a plumber to clean our pipes out after I put too much parsley down the drain, live and learn.

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  21. I had a plumber come out for a clogged drain and he told me that throwing scraps off your plate or anything a strainer would catch (that you would normally throw away if you didn’t have a disposal) is considered “line abuse”, lol. My other half argues that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, because he likes to throw everything and anything in the garbage disposal! I’m so glad you posted this article, I’m going to tag him in it, hee, hee, hee.

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  22. So no coffe grounds, egg shells, potatoes, celery, lettuce, onions, rice, pasta etc. – um, is it really worth having !!!!! These are staples that mine eats.
    I understand oil or butter for sure. I think the key is running lots of water after and I use a lot of dawn soap – I have used a garbage disposal for the last 30 years and have never had a problem. Perhaps I’m just lucky for now.

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    • These are tips to keep your garbage disposal in tip top shape for the longest amount of time possible!

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      • If you live in an apartment building, talk to your maintenance team before putting lemon and orange rinds down the garbage disposal. Where I live, I was told not to do this. I was told to mix 2 cups white vinegar with 2 tablespoons baking soda, and use this mixture to clean the garbage disposal. Then use lots of cold water afterward.

      • Great Idea, Sherri, that baking soda and vinegar foam up and make a great cleaner for garbage disposals and any drain in your home.

  23. I recently had a plumber in my kitchen for a repair, He said no egg shells or coffee grounds. Just run the disposal with running water – as you said – for a long time.

    I don’t put onions down the drain, but I didn’t know about the rice or celery. I can compost the celery ends, and will throw leftover rice in the trash! Thanks for this information.

    Another cleaning hint – pull the rubber gasket out to clean underneath it and get all the grooves clean. And while it;s out clean the drain!

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  24. Good article. For years my mom put all of her grounds into the disposal. She was shocked when I told her this was a no-no.

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