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Garbage In – Garbage Out: Garbage Disposal Etiquette

September 27, 2010

No one ever told me that you could not grind up all your leftovers in the garbage disposal. (I thought it was a Food Dispose ALL). I am here to give you some good advice and perhaps save you a dime or two. Do NOT grind up your leftovers, the dogs leftovers, or the crap from your refrigerator that’s un-identifiable. Really – no matter what you think and what it says on the box – this is not going to keep your garbage disposal in working condition.

Recently I had a call to fix a disposal. It was wound up tight with strings from the flower vines. What? My customer thought she could prune her plants over the sink and then grind it all up. What a mess. I slowly cut the vines out and put them in the trash where they belong.

So – this is my advice and you can choose to take it or pay me later to come fix the monster under your sink (the one that growls at you from time to time).

  1. Scrape the leftovers into the garbage CAN and then rinse the rest into the garbage disposal. Run cold water during and immediately after putting anything in the hole (ugh – why does that sound disgusting?).
  2. Do not try to ground up fibrous foods such as banana peels, corn husks, celery, or plant vines.
  3. If you want to fix it yourself be sure to unplug the disposal and turn it off. Check out to see if anything is stuck inside and clear it out. Insert the Allen wrench into the socket at the bottom of the disposal and turn it to try and free the jam. Turn it back on and if it doesn’t work make sure you press the red reset button on the bottom.
  4. If you have a disposal with no place on the bottom for the Allen wrench you can stick a wooden broom handle in the hole and try to turn the flywheel. Again, try the reset button.
  1. If the water backs up while the disposal is working correctly, the problem is in the drain pipe – not the disposal.
  2. Do not use a disposal if you have a septic system because too much food waste and interfere with the normal decomposition of septic waste.
  3. To keep the disposal hole smelling fresh grind up lemon or lime rinds every once in awhile (no comments please).
  4. To keep the disposal assembly clean grind up ice cubes every once in awhile.

Remember that the systems we use in our lives (including our disposals) operate under the rule that if you put too much garbage in – you will get a clog or too much garbage out.

75 Comments
  1. September 28, 2010 1:41 am

    Thanks, this needed to be said. We committed most of these sins before we started quasi composting and now we hardly use the disposal. Forgive the link, the but here is a post about what we are doing instead–it’s not as bas as I make it sound!

    http://testazyk.com/2010/08/19/when-green-isn't-necessarily-clean/

    • September 28, 2010 6:58 pm

      Thanks for sending me a note. I can’t believe the number of people (men and women) who think that you can put anything down the garbage disposal. It’s a shame because it causes a lot of issues with the plumbing. I like your post and appreciate your sharing.

  2. October 4, 2010 9:47 am

    Great tips! I did not realize this was a problem.

  3. October 4, 2010 9:53 am

    Oh how I long for the days when I had a garbage disposal.

    Crystal
    http://www.crystalspins.com

  4. October 4, 2010 9:55 am

    Thank you. As a former garbage disposal idiot, I appreciate this post. I now put only a few things in the disposal and I do love the smell of a ground-up lemon in there. I like the composting comment and should be more diligent about doing that too.

    Marie
    http://memoirsandhalftruths.wordpress.com/

    • October 4, 2010 11:01 pm

      I love that smell also. I have had rotten food in there before and it was awful. I was on vacation and I have no idea what the kids put in there but it smelled like someone had died. The lemons got rid of it right away.

  5. October 4, 2010 10:14 am

    I love this blog because my husband knows NOTHING about home repairs. I on my own, baby! Another tip about disposals: never grind coffee grinds, but DO grind eggshells as they scrape the blades clean without harming the mechanism. Plus baking soda poured in there every once in a while keeps it clean and odor free.

    • October 4, 2010 10:59 pm

      Thanks for the tip about the baking soda. It’s must absorb the odors like it does in the refrigerator. I have not heard that one before.

  6. October 4, 2010 10:25 am

    I don’t have one of those things… and I think not having a disposal will change my habits when I eventually do install one. If it is large waste that can easily be scraped into the trash (or better yet the compost heap), then why put it through the disposal? I thought it was cool to shove watermelon rinds into the disposal when I was younger – but really all that does is wear out the disposal and wastes time. The disposal is ONLY for that small crap that you have to pick out of the strainer when you don’t have a disposal.

    • October 4, 2010 10:58 pm

      You got it right. It’s only for the SMALL stuff that you don’t put on the composite pile or in the garbarge.

  7. October 4, 2010 10:32 am

    Garbage disposals are horrible for the environment. I think they should be done away with entirely! Everything that goes down there could be used in compost. Sigh. When will people learn?!

  8. October 4, 2010 10:51 am

    Haha dont forget to NOT drop your metal spoon down there. That was pretty funny actually, luckily nothing was broken.

    • October 4, 2010 10:57 pm

      Makes alot of noise and puts little burrs that your tongue loves to touch on the utensils. Been there, done that.

  9. October 4, 2010 10:54 am

    Haha, what some people put down there is gross. Vines? Really? LOL. Good to know for future reference. 😀

    • October 4, 2010 10:56 pm

      Oh – that was just one of the stories. I even have one that I can’t print. Yes – let your imagination go wild.

  10. October 4, 2010 11:22 am

    In his old apartment, my boyfriend used to throw the whole leftover carcasses of roast chickens down the disposal. It reminded me of the Home Improvement episode when Tim Allen but a tree branch down his disposal to test how strong it was.

    So I can’t believe I had to do it, but I made a new kitchen rule: no bones down the disposal.

    • October 4, 2010 10:56 pm

      Good thing you were there to save him. He’s very lucky because he would have had problems. I would have loved to see Tim Allen do the trick with the tree branch. I can picture him doing that.

  11. October 4, 2010 11:25 am

    You know, it never even occurred to me to put food in the disposal (other than maybe cereal?) until I was visiting my boyfriend’s grandmother – I saw her shove half a hamburger down there, buns and all, and I just stood there in shock. Even more surprising was the fact that it didn’t get clogged. I’ve had so many problems with my disposals, including one unfortunate incident with a broken shot glass (not fun to clean out, btw), so I must be doing something wrong….Thanks for the tips!

    -Sophie
    http://habitualme.wordpress.com

    • October 4, 2010 10:55 pm

      Holly hamburger. I can’t believe she didn’t have issues. I know about the broken glass. I too did that. Hard to pull out the little pieces. It’s not like we can easily take it off and shake it out and then put it back on.

  12. October 4, 2010 1:31 pm

    this really does need to be told to MANY people, myself included. i swear, the dispose-all (as i, too, pronounce it) we had growing up must have been industrial strength, because i recall putting EVERYTHING down it with no issues EVER. then i moved out on my own and proceeded to clog up every sink i have encountered since. i’ve done the flower thing, the corn thing, the rice/pasta thing. it’s AMAZING what they won’t eat.

    • October 4, 2010 10:53 pm

      Yup – Disposal ALL is what I always thought it was. I also remember everything going in there. How come we escaped the plumber? I wonder if disposals are different now or we were just “littler” so things looked bigger, and it really wasn’t a lot of food. At least we are wiser now.

  13. October 4, 2010 1:37 pm

    I learned this the hard way with celery. But that was in a house long ago. My current home does not have one of those devices and I am not sure I miss it.

    • October 4, 2010 10:51 pm

      I learned the hard way about the celery also. I don’t use the one at my house often – just when I rinse the food off the plate – AFTER it has been scraped.

  14. October 4, 2010 1:37 pm

    My mom has clogged her disposal with potato peels more times than she would care to admit. She knows not to do it, but forgets at the key moment. It makes a HUGE mess. Also, I heard that egg shells help keep the blades sharp. Can you confirm or deny? We compost most of our food stuff too and anything else goes into the can.

    • October 4, 2010 10:50 pm

      I checked on the egg shells and you are correct – they work also. I think I prefer the ice since I know it is not food of any kind. I am glad that you compost most of your food. I think it’s funny about your Mom – you can tease her that she is a slow learner.

  15. October 4, 2010 3:05 pm

    You said it, Sister! Good advice.

    • October 4, 2010 10:49 pm

      Glad you liked it. Hopefully my posts will save someone money (and maybe a finger or two).

  16. October 4, 2010 3:08 pm

    Thanks for writing this post. I found it very helpful.

  17. October 4, 2010 3:51 pm

    Thanks for this one! I am a DIY gal myself, and the disposal is something I’ve worried about from time to time. I have a horror of sticking my hand down the drain and having my hand cut to bits. Oh my gosh – freaks me out. I am careful of what I put down there because I never had one until I bought my house and made sure I knew what could and could not be disposed of that way.

    Awesome site. Can’t wait to look around a bit more.

    • October 4, 2010 10:49 pm

      Glad that you have played it safe. They can be dangerous. I have heard some rough stories about people not turning them off and when their hand was in there they leaned against the counter and turned the switch by mistake. Ugh. Glad you like my site. I really want to heolp women (and men) learn more about the basic stuff we need to do around our homes.

  18. October 4, 2010 4:00 pm

    Can you make your comic pic larger or was it copied? cool design/feel for your blog. keep up the good work.

    • October 4, 2010 10:47 pm

      Oops. Sorry – I minimized it so that the whole article was not taken up by the cartoon. It can be made larger if you pull up the post and click on your magnifying glass on the computer. I will take this into consideration for the next time. Thanks so much for letting me know it didn’t work right.

      • Rose Petralia permalink
        October 6, 2010 6:43 am

        Is that a Drew Toothpaste comic? If so, you might want to give the artist credit for using his work.

      • October 6, 2010 7:57 am

        I had a friend send it to me. I have to check where she got it from but I really appreciate the comment. I will be sure to check where future pics come from and place credit accordingly.

  19. blackwatertown permalink
    October 4, 2010 4:10 pm

    I find the whole idea of a garbage disposal unit in your sink very strange. What’s wrong with putting stuff in the bin or recycling or the compost. Why pay to run yet another electrical device. Very odd. But then I am European. Perhaps it’s the trend of the future.
    http://www.blackwatertown.wordpress.com

    • October 4, 2010 10:45 pm

      Most of the houses come with them already installed. It’s not often that I install one in a house that has not had one there before. I think it is good marketing on the part of the disposal companies that makes everyone think they need one.

  20. October 4, 2010 4:28 pm

    I think what confuses people is that terrible roaring noise the disposal makes as it churns food. Listening to it work, you start believing it can digest anything. We’ve actually lost most of our heirloom silerware to it (tragic, I know). Now I usually check inside for any stray table utensil before turning on the mean silver-ware destroying machine.

    Thank you for a useful post!

    • October 4, 2010 10:44 pm

      I know what you mean. I chewed up a silver baby spoon. I cried. It was small so I didn’t see it sticking out. When you hear it grinding you panic and can’t seem to find the switch fast enough to turn it off. I also check now before I turn it on.

  21. October 4, 2010 5:19 pm

    Great post! I am not sure why people think everything can go into the disposal thus your post is timeless (ok unless someone comes up with a disposal with shark teeth or something) 😉 Congrats on Freshly Pressed! LB

    • October 4, 2010 10:39 pm

      Thanks for the note. I don’t know why we think it can eat everything but I guess it is mostly because we hear it called a disposal ALL.

  22. October 4, 2010 5:37 pm

    And throw all your used coffee grounds into the garden!

  23. October 4, 2010 5:57 pm

    I learned alot about disposals when I tried to send onion peels away down the grind.
    Friendly plumber at $80 an hour educated me on the dos and don’ts.
    Last nasty we lost to the disposal was an engagement ring.
    Disposals…ugh!!!!

    • October 4, 2010 10:38 pm

      Oh no! I hate to hear about jewelry getting ground to smitherines. You have learned about disposals the expensive way. Hang in there – your adventures should be over now. You have more than paid the dues.

  24. October 4, 2010 7:14 pm

    Thanks for the tips. A plumber once told me to put ice cubes in the disposal every once in a while to keep it clean ( Your tip number 4). I had never heard of that before but it really does work.
    http://www.moneyprovidesfreedom.wordpress.com

    • October 4, 2010 10:36 pm

      It’s pretty awesome. If you keep it in good shape it will last you a very long time. It’s like a car needing the oil changed. We all know to change the oil but most of us don’t know about these simple kinds of things to do to keep our appliances working well.

  25. October 4, 2010 7:22 pm

    wow i’m definitely going to use numbers 3 and 4! thanks so much!

    • October 4, 2010 10:33 pm

      I am glad I gave you advice you could use. That’s what I am here for. Let me know if you have any questions.

  26. October 4, 2010 7:26 pm

    I used to live where the apartment complex had garbage disposals in every unit. At first I was afraid to put my hand in there if something inadvertantly went down into it, but a flashlight cured my fears of a beast with teeth in there.
    Your advice is pure common sense, and I LOL about the plant vines… Has anybody written abook about how common sense has ended during the past two decades? If no let me know, and I will include your stuff in it.

    • October 4, 2010 10:33 pm

      LOL….I heard a radio program one day about the monster below the sink. It growled everytime they turned on the “light switch” under the sink. And – they could not understand why the light never worked under there. I agree – a book could be written about all the mishaps and misadventures of people because of them not using common sense. I have a TON of stories you could use.

  27. October 4, 2010 8:50 pm

    I put a lot of stuff in the garbage disposal, but some of the weirdly obvious (banana peels) I leave out. *rolling eyes and giggling

    • October 4, 2010 10:30 pm

      Just remember that it is really only supposed to be used for the small food that slips off the plate. It is not a garbarge compactor or grinder. You really don’t want a mess on your hands. It stinks when it backs up so be sure to run the ice cubes, lemons, and as someone else responded – maybe some vinegar now and then. Remember to never put in something that can wind around the blades.

  28. October 4, 2010 9:59 pm

    Vinegar frozen into ice cubes will clean it too. Also gets rid of those pesky fruit fly invasions. (they can infest your disposal)
    Thank you for posting about this, I am going to send this to my little sister. I remember seeing my dad “fix” the disposal with a broom stick as a kid. I was lucky and got “the disposal talk” from my husband not long after we got married. 13 years and no disposal disasters. ::knocks on wood::

    • October 4, 2010 10:27 pm

      NuttyMama – thanks for the addition to my blog post. I had not heard about the vinegar but I would think it would eliminate odors. Yes – knock wood – I can’t tell you how many calls I get about stuck disposals. It’s pretty incredible but I think it is that we are not advised about the “disasters” beforehand. You should thank your husband.

  29. redsue5 permalink
    October 4, 2010 11:22 pm

    I was recently told that rats really like the output from our food disposals. The person called it rat soup, and some communities have outlawed disposals because it attracts the rats. Composting is absolutely the best solution, if you can do it. I am in a condo and we have food waste pickup from the city.

  30. October 4, 2010 11:51 pm

    I will heed your advice. Thanks!

  31. October 5, 2010 2:05 am

    I love that smell also. I have had rotten food in there before and it was awful. I was on vacation and I have no idea what the kids put in there but it smelled like someone had died. The lemons got rid of it right away.

    • October 5, 2010 9:16 pm

      I know that smell all too well. It’s funny that kids can’t smell dead things (smile)

  32. October 5, 2010 2:41 am

    🙂 am i the only one who found you cringing at certain phrases that u used amusing? 😉 thanks for the advice.. the ‘cringe moments’ made it interesting….

  33. October 5, 2010 4:53 am

    Hi! The cartoon was so small I couldn’t read the caption 🙁
    In South Africa we don’t really have garbage disposal systems. I guess we will catch up sometime in the next century!

    • October 5, 2010 9:09 pm

      Sorry about the cartoon. I had a couple of people say the same thing. Now I know to make it larger for the blog. You will catch up in SA but don’t worry you are not missing much.

  34. October 5, 2010 7:11 am

    Wow… I wish I have this disposal thing. Well… we’re in the developing country still fighting with even disposing trashes into the right place. People still throw trashes to the river or even on the street. It’s time to educate them, alright. Meanwhile… I’m longing for the disposal thing.

    • October 5, 2010 9:07 pm

      Thanks for reading from so far away. I hate that people throw trash on the street and I especially hate that they throw it in the river. You aren’t missing much with the disposal.

  35. October 5, 2010 11:07 pm

    Thanks for sharing! These tips will certainly be helpful not just within the household but to our environment as well. Proper disposal of garbage should be executed anywhere to avoid and eliminate pollution.

    Online Parenting Class

    • October 6, 2010 8:00 am

      I certainly agree with the comment that garbage should be disposed of correctly – everywhere. We all need to learn more environment conscious living. Perhaps we should have classes that address these kinds of issues when we are still in school.

  36. Rose Petralia permalink
    October 14, 2010 2:29 pm

    Please link back to TFD and credit Toothpaste For Dinner for the comic: http://www.toothpastefordinner.com/. Drew thinks “that would be awesome!”

    • October 14, 2010 8:31 pm

      I will do this right now. Thanks so much for sending me this. Please let Drew know I LOVED the comic and am glad to have the information.

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