By Amy DeYoung
Updated Dec 15, 2022
Garbage disposals are valuable appliances that make cleaning dirty dishes and your kitchen a breeze. Rather than heading to the landfill, garbage disposals shred food, passing it through the plumbing system, and allowing it to be treated with human waste in sewage treatment plants. This option allows food waste to be transformed into recycled nutrients while reducing global emissions created in landfills.
However, many of us put the wrong food waste and even non-food items down our disposals, which can cause them to break down much faster. These items also won’t make it to the sewage treatment plant, nixing any environmental benefits in the process. Keep reading to learn about everything you can and shouldn’t put down a garbage disposal.
A typical kitchen hack for cleaning your garbage disposal is throwing a couple of ice cubes down the drain. Experts share that ice cubes can loosen food residue stuck to the garbage disposal blades.
It’s a common misconception that ice cubes will freshen up the smell of a foul garbage disposal. If you want to deodorize your garbage disposal simultaneously, combine the ice cubes with a safe deodorizer, such as baking soda and white vinegar.
You can toss citrus fruits down a garbage disposal with an important caveat: all citrus peels should be cut into bite-size chunks to avoid overworking the appliance.
Citrus fruits can quickly freshen up your garbage disposal, so consider freezing extra fruit scraps or lemon or citrus peels to have on hand whenever you need to freshen your kitchen sink.
As a general rule, if the food is soft enough to be fed to a baby, it can go down your garbage disposal. Make sure everything put in the garbage disposal is chopped into small pieces first.
It’s universally agreed upon that fats, oils, and grease should never go down your disposal or sink drain. This category includes creamy foods, like butter, heavy cream, peanut butter, and ice cream.
You should never put fats, oils, and grease down the drain because these substances will congeal, eventually causing clogs downstream within the water system.
Naturally, it’s impossible to avoid getting some oil or grease down the drain when rinsing dishes with sauteed vegetables or creamy sauces. However, it’s essential to avoid putting small amounts of these greasy substances down the drain as much as possible. Always use cold water when running the garbage disposal, especially when rinsing anything greasy or oily down. Hot water makes it more difficult for the oils to dissolve and creates a much larger mess.
Many homeowners are surprised to hear that they shouldn’t put coffee grounds down their drain because this is a commonly touted hack to freshen a garbage disposal’s aroma.
Coffee grounds can clump and form a large mass in your garbage disposal, which is difficult for the disposal to grind up. A few coffee grounds rinsed out of a coffee cup is acceptable, but avoid dumping large amounts of coffee grounds down the disposal drain.
As a general rule, hard foods, like fruit pits, should never be ground up in the garbage disposal. If you can’t chop the food up easily with a knife, it’s too hard to run through the disposal. Placing fruit pits in the garbage disposal may work the first one or two times, but you’ll soon be left with a broken appliance.
Many fibrous vegetables are soft enough that they won’t harm your garbage disposal. However, this stringy material can quickly ball up inside your plumbing system, creating buildup and blockages.
Avoid placing the inside of pumpkins, corn husks, asparagus, rhubarb, celery, artichokes, and even thin potato peels down the disposal. Thin potato peels aren’t heavy enough to harm your garbage disposal, but they can slip through the grates in the disposal and cause clogs like fibrous veggies, so throw them in the kitchen trash instead.
Yes, saying that you shouldn’t put trash down your garbage disposal seems like an ironic statement. You’d be shocked by how many plumbers find items like paper towels, wrappers, hard rinds, banana peels, and other non-food items in these appliances after they’re called to fix a broken or clogged garbage disposal.
It’s an old myth that eggshells sharpen garbage disposal blades. But, this doesn’t effectively sharpen garbage disposal blades, and the thin membrane inside the eggshell can damage the appliance.
The thin membrane of eggshells or onions often separates from the shell or onion skin as they’re ground up and can get loose and stuck in the drain or around the disposal’s impeller.
While cooked pasta is soft enough to go down the drain, you still shouldn’t put starchy foods or pasta down your garbage disposal.
Starches and pasta absorb water and expand, so placing noodles down your drain results in the noodles soaking in water and expanding within your drain. Like pasta, oatmeal is another risky food that can grow inside the drain, making it a no-no for the garbage disposal.
As is the case with other items on this list, a few stray starchy food scraps won’t hurt your disposal. But you shouldn’t dump an entire pasta bowl down the drain.
Garbage disposals aren’t equipped to handle hard foods like bones. Avoid putting ribs and chicken bones down your disposal to reduce the chance of it breaking.
Again, don’t panic if a small bone slips by and goes down the disposal. Disposals are made to handle a lot and can manage the occasional slip up.
Normal cleaners made for the sink, such as dish soap, are fine going down the drain. However, harsh industrial-grade drain cleaners and drain busters can wear down your disposal and even your drain line faster than expected.
Ice cubes and dish soap are good alternatives to put down your disposal for freshening and sharpening the blades without accelerating the wear and tear on your disposal and drain lines.
Despite this extensive list, garbage disposals can handle most food waste as long as it’s in small pieces. Assess what you and your family are currently putting down the drain and discuss what they should never place down the drain and instead put in the trash can. Making a few changes to what you place down the disposal can save you the cost of replacing your disposal prematurely or dealing with expensive plumbing problems.
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