Garbage disposals are convenient appliances that can help minimize food waste and keep kitchen sinks clear of clogs. Unfortunately, we often take them for granted until they stop functioning properly

Like any appliance, disposals require proper use and maintenance to function at their best. Follow these tips to get the most out of your garbage disposal while avoiding problems.

Run Disposal Regularly

For optimal performance, run your garbage disposal several times per week — even if you don’t have food waste to grind. The motion helps keep the disposal parts clean and lubricated. Grinding ice cubes periodically helps remove grease and keeps blades sharp. Neglecting to run your disposal regularly can lead to corrosion, clogged drains, and foul odors.

Avoid Harsh Chemicals

Avoid pouring fats, oils, grease, harsh chemicals, and detergents like bleach or drain cleaner into your garbage disposal. These substances can corrode and damage grinders. Opt for disposal cleaning products specifically designed to be safe for septic systems or make your own cleaning solution from baking soda and vinegar.

Use Cold Water

Always use cold water when operating your garbage disposal. Cold water hardens fats and grease, allowing the grinders to pulverize them more effectively. Hot water melts fats and grease, causing them to cling to pipes. Cold water saves energy and maintains the grinders’ sharpness. Let cold water run for at least 60 seconds after grinding to flush waste completely down the drain.

Cut Food into Small Pieces

Cut or break down food waste into small, pea-sized pieces before putting it into your garbage disposal. This allows the appliance to grind and drain food efficiently. Whole food items like corn cobs, eggshells, and fibrous fruits can jam the disposal.

Cutting food into bite-size morsels prevents clogs and potential damage from overworked motors. Never put paper, plastic, glass, or metal into a garbage disposal.

person pushing food down a garbage disposal

Avoid Expandable Foods

Knowing what you can and can’t put into your garbage disposal helps keep your unit functioning properly. Starchy foods like rice, pasta, and potatoes can expand when wet and clog drains. Avoid putting large amounts of these foods down your garbage disposal. Small amounts should be cut up and run with lots of cold water. Allow expandable foods to dry out before grinding them. Composting these foods is an eco-friendly alternative to putting them down the disposal.

Use Citrus Rinds and Ice

Run citrus fruit rinds through your disposal periodically to help deodorize and keep drains clean. The oils in citrus rinds sanitize and degrease. Grinding ice helps sharpen disposal blades and removes odors. Using citrus and ice to clean disposal blades reduces the need for chemical cleaners. Let citrus rinds and ice grind with cold water for one minute.

Inspect and Clean Regularly

Routinely check your garbage disposal for obstructions like broken glass or utensils that could damage blades. Proper cleaning helps your disposal work its best. Clean the sink drain strainer basket weekly to prevent food particles from entering the disposal. You can regularly use a disposal cleaning product or bleach-free cleaner to sanitize and deodorize the unit. Be sure to inspect blades for nicks and replace damaged blades immediately.

Lubricate Appropriately

Today’s Homeowner Tips

Use a specifically formulated disposal lubricant to keep your unit unclogged and running smoothly. Regular lubrication prevents overheating and corrosion. 

To use it, put lubricant in the disposal while running cool water. Avoid using cooking oil, grease, or dish soap as lubricants — they’ll quickly turn rancid and clog drains. Consult your owner’s manual for lubrication recommendations.

Know When to Call a Pro

If your disposal stops working completely or makes loud grinding noises, unplug it and call a professional for repairs. Disposals contain powerful motors with fast-moving blades that can cause serious injury. Only qualified technicians should attempt to unclog jams or replace parts inside the grinding chamber. Most plumbers can quickly diagnose issues and perform repairs.

Is your garbage disposal stuck beyond repair? Read our guide to the cost of a new garbage disposal before getting a new system.

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So, Should You Perform Maintenance for Your Garbage Disposal?

Absolutely. Taking a few minutes to maintain your garbage disposal properly will extend its lifespan significantly. Regular care prevents leaks, damage, and costly repairs. 

Following manufacturer instructions for usage, cleaning, and lubrication will keep your disposal grinding smoothly for years. Caring for your disposal is easy when you make it part of your regular kitchen routine.

Not sure whether or not you should install a garbage disposal in your kitchen? Read over these pros and cons before making a decision.

FAQs About Garbage Disposals

What should you not put in a garbage disposal?

Avoid fibrous and starchy foods like corn husks, potato peels, pasta, egg shells, coffee grounds, and rice, which can clog drains. Never put plastic, glass, metal, paper, or grease in a disposal, as these can jam the unit.

How can you unclog a garbage disposal?

Turn off and unplug the disposal before attempting to clear a clog. Use a hex wrench to rotate the flywheel back and forth — this may dislodge debris. Insert a disposal wrench to rotate the blades. You can also try using a drain snake, plunger, or baking soda and vinegar treatment — just avoid chemical drain cleaners.

How often should you run your garbage disposal?

Run your garbage disposal at least once a week to keep it clean and lubricated. Let water flow for 60 seconds after grinding to flush waste. To keep it in tip-top shape, grind ice cubes periodically to sharpen the blades.

When should you replace your garbage disposal?

If your disposal is over 10 years old, replacement may be worthwhile, as disposals have about a 10 to 15-year life span. Signs your disposal needs replacing include frequent jams, leaks, loud grinding, electrical issues, and corrosion. Replacement costs are around $185 to $350 on average.

Editorial Contributors
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Jordan Tyler Quinn Farkas

Expert Writer & Reviewer

Jordan Tyler Quinn Farkas is a globetrotting content writer hailing from the USA. With a passion for pest control, he brings a unique perspective to his writing from his early years working for one of the largest pest control companies in America. Throughout his early 20s, Jordan gained valuable experience and knowledge in the field, tackling pest infestations head-on and ensuring the well-being of countless homes.

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Jeff Zoldy

Jeff is a writer, editor, and marketer based in Charlotte, North Carolina. He has been editing on the Home Solutions team for over a year and is passionate about getting homeowners the information they need when they need it most. When he’s not working, Jeff can be found at baseball games, golfing, going to the gym, reading, watching movies, and playing video games.

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