Jason Best

10 Things You Didn’t Know About…Running Your Garbage Disposal

how to use garbage disposal


Quick, what’s the most terrifying thing in your kitchen (other than that box of leftover Chinese takeout buried at the back of the fridge from last month)? For me, it’s got to be the garbage disposal.


Call me crazy, but there’s just something about that gaping black maw at the bottom of the sink, a seemingly bottomless pit of hungry machine whirring and grinding away, pulverizing whatever comes in contact with it. It’s like the embodiment of a nightmare. There may be no monsters under the bed, but flip that switch, and there sure seems to be one under the sink.


That’s ridiculous, of course; it’s just a machine. But still, I like to keep it happy. Trust me — I learned my lesson once after feeding it a bag’s worth of spinach stems. A backed up sink with water that looked like the Okefenokee Swamp. Now that was a nightmare.




There are no blades! Despite whatever horror-movie visions you may have had about your disposal going all Freddy Krueger on your fingers, your disposal doesn’t work like a Cuisinart, as this strangely mesmerizing video from InSinkErator shows. Instead, two blunt metal “impellers” spin at upwards of 2,000 rotations per minute, pushing food against a fixed grind ring until it’s mashed so fine it can slip down the drain.




Don’t try to grind all your food scraps at once. Instead, turn on the cold water (not hot, which can cause wayward fat and grease to liquify only to harden in your pipes). Now turn on the disposal. Feed scraps in increments down the disposal, then continue to run the water for 15 seconds or so to flush the line.




What should you never put down your disposal? Nothing that’s not food, which should be obvious (but, you know, we all have that one relative who’ll try anything). Also: grease or fat (never, never!). Large bones. Fibrous material, like corn husks, celery stalks, artichokes (and the aforementioned spinach stems — live and learn). Shrimp shells. A large amount of potato skins, cooked rice or eggshells.




You should also never pour drain cleaner, bleach or any other caustic chemical down your disposal.




What else? Your hands! No matter how tempting or how far away the switch (“It’s not like I’ll accidentally turn it on…”), you should never reach into your disposal. If something falls in there that shouldn’t be there, turn off the circuit breaker and fish it out with metal tongs.




What about coffee grounds? That’s debatable. They won’t hurt your disposal, but they can clog certain pipes, and if you’re on a septic system, they’ll cause sludge build up (yuck, I know).




This kind of astounded me: the ice trick. Grinding a few cups of ice once or twice a month will help scour and clean your disposal and prevent icky odors.




If you use ice cubes made from vinegar, you double the effect. You can also grind citrus peels for a lemony fresh scent. For a particularly odoriferous disposal, pour some baking soda down the drain and let it sit for several hours, then run the disposal.




So who do we have to thank for this marvel of modern kitchen gadgetry. John W. Hammes from Racine, Wis., is credited with inventing the garbage disposal in 1927. It took 11 years of tinkering before he went public with it and started a company with his two sons called … In-Sink-Erator! One early challenge? Fighting the bans on garbage disposals that many cities passed in the 1940s, fearing that all that food waste would gunk up their municipal water treatment plants.




Today the industry prefers the term “food waste disposer” to “garbage disposal.” They’ve long abandoned the contraption’s original nickname: the electric pig.




Are you in the know? From boiling an egg to cooking rice, check out all our “things you didn’t know” articles!



14 Responses to “10 Things You Didn’t Know About…Running Your Garbage Disposal”

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  • Brian Ash says:

    The Drain Strainer is an effective and affordable commercial garbage disposal alternative. Invented by a restaurant owner for fellow commercial kitchen operators. Visit http://TheDrainStrainer.com for more information.

  • Marg says:

    Be sure you take out the rubber gasket of the disposal and clean it often. You won’t believe the icky stuff that is lurking there.

  • Jodi says:

    Why not hands? I do it often and have for years. Especially when a spoon or small thing went in that shouldn’t have.

  • Cheryl says:

    Here’s another to add…spaghetti! Do not put large amounts of cooked spaghetti down the disposal. The noodles can actually get sucked down the drain without being processed causing a clog! Yes, I had to learn this one the hard way after leaving my for a pot luck my husband had to clean up after me!

  • Jeanette Parham says:

    Never pour dry Tapioca into your drain!! I put two boxes worth of out-dated Tapioca into our disposal and it set up harder than glue into a compact gunk in the pipes. My husband tried a drain snake to no avail and then had to cut the pipes and spoon the gunk out. I will never do that again!

  • mzaz says:

    I have always used lemon rinds (not a lot maybe a quarter of the rind) to freshen my disposal.

  • Dee says:

    Now you say not to put eggshells down but one of the daytime shows had egg shells as good to put down because it keeps the blades sharpened.

    • Jason Best says:

      Hi Dee,

      A small amount of eggshells are ok, but remember, your garbage disposal doesn’t actually have blades (see #1 above), so any talk about “keeping blades sharpened” isn’t quite accurate. Like coffee grounds, eggshells can get ground fine enough to pass into your pipes, but not so fine that they might not cause a clog, especially if you try to do too many at once.

      Thanks for reading!


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