So, you’re thinking about getting a garbage disposal, or you just moved into a home with a garbage disposal. Maybe you’ve had one in your house your whole life, or maybe this is a first-time experience. Either way, we have a few tips (or gentle reminders) about how to treat your garbage disposal and a handy do’s and don’ts list for what can go in your disposal.

Pros of a Garbage Disposal

I’m a positive person, so I like to look at the good side of any situation first. I didn’t grow up with a garbage disposal, so when I moved into a house that had one, I thought it was pretty neat.

  • It makes cleaning dishes easier. Dishes are my least favorite chore, so anything that cuts down on my cleaning time makes me a happy camper.
  • It keeps the pipes clear of food scraps. No big crumbs means no clogged pipes, and if you can skip raking the crumbs into the trashcan and go straight to the sink, crumbs don’t end up on the floor.

But as far as I’m concerned, that’s pretty much where the benefits of a garbage disposal end.

Cons of a Garbage Disposal

Don’t get me wrong, the pros are strong contenders and probably justify having or buying a garbage disposal; but I feel responsible for giving you not only the benefits but also the downsides of having a garbage disposal.

  • They smell bad. All the food crumbs that you grind don’t just disappear. They sit and decay and eventually, the grit and sludge start to emit an odor.
  • They break. Everything breaks at some point, and garbage disposals are no exception. That is not the point of contention. The biggest problem is that if a single piece of the garbage disposal breaks, such as the seal, you’ll still have to buy a whole new garbage disposal unit.

How to Use a Garbage Disposal

Using a garbage disposal is pretty self-explanatory, but using it properly is important. A conservative estimate for the life of a garbage disposal is eight to ten years, and given that they usually only run between $75 and $125 per unit—plus the cost of installation—ten years isn’t too bad of a lifespan. And the better you treat your garbage disposal, the longer it will last.

The first step in taking the best care of your garbage disposal is being selective about what you put down the drain. This is where the Do’s and Don’ts come in.

what you can and can't put in a grabage disposal chart

Here’s what you CAN put in your garbage disposal:

  • Very small food particles, like bread crumbs
  • Small pieces of eggshell
  • Small chicken and fish bones
  • Small amounts of coffee grounds
  • Select vegetable scraps

The key here is to only put small items down the sink. A garbage disposal is NOT equipped to deal with huge pieces of anything, and even some smaller scraps are bad for a disposal. The list of what you can’t put in a garbage disposal is much longer than what you can put in a garbage disposal.

Here’s what you CAN’T put in your garbage disposal:

  • Anything whole
  • Large bones
  • Grease (I can’t stress this enough. It’s so bad for your pipes. Maybe even worse for your pipes than for your arteries.)
  • Fruit and vegetable skins—they are usually too fibrous or starchy, or get tangled in the blades.
  • Pasta
  • Rice
  • Seafood (Why waste such good food anyway?)
  • Coffee beans
  • Metal (You’d be surprised how many bottle caps, and the occasional spoon, slip down when you aren’t looking.)

Questionable items for your garbage disposal:

  • Pieces of lemon/citrus peels (some people do it for a fresh scent, but too much is a bad thing)
  • Too many coffee grounds is also bad, even if it improves the smell

My general rule of thumb: I don’t put anything in the garbage disposal that I wouldn’t put down a sink. I still scrape my plate off over the trashcan, and whatever crumbs fall down the drain won’t be detrimental.

Additional tip: When using the garbage disposal, run cold water.

How to clean a garbage disposal

Cleaning a garbage disposal is not hard, and it doesn’t take long. Just use some dish soap while running cold water and the garbage disposal. It’s not a perfect method, but it’s better than not cleaning it at all.

Garbage Disposal Repair

plumber fixing a garbage disposal

Depending on what’s wrong with your disposal, you might have to call a plumber, and you may have to replace the unit.

If you just have a clog, try a drain cleaner first. If that doesn’t work, you probably put something down the drain that you shouldn’t have. Turn off the breaker switch for your garbage disposal, and carefully reach into the drain to see if you can retrieve anything from the drain. If that still doesn’t work, you may need a professional opinion.

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Garbage disposal installation and replacement

If you feel like you have to have a garbage disposal, you can always replace it or have a plumber do so.

The other method of “repair” is to replace the garbage disposal in favor of PVC pipes. It can be done in two or three hours, and although you won’t have a garbage disposal, you also won’t have a smelly, sludgy collection of grime sitting underneath your sink.

To do this, you’ll need a screwdriver to take out the garbage disposal. You’ll also need varying lengths and shapes of pipe, a p-trap, a file, some plumbers putty, and a sharpie. Luckily, the packaging at the hardware store has pictures so you can match the packs of pipes to what your sink looks like. It’s always good to buy extra, just in case you cut a piece too short.

Conclusion

The bottom line is this: if you have a garbage disposal, you need to take care of it. Just like any other appliance in your home, it has limitations. Don’t put anything in the garbage disposal unless you would put it down the sink. If you aren’t sure about putting something in the disposal, consider other options. Compost it if you can, and if not, throw it in the trash.

When it comes to repairing a garbage disposal, be prepared to replace the unit entirely or take it out. The repairs are fairly simple, but if you’re unsure about what to do, you can always call a professional.