Garbage Disposal Basics

Your garbage disposal takes a beating on a regular basis.  Not just because the job is a grind, but also because many people really don’t understand the limits of the garbage disposal until there is an unfortunate event.

These two small swinging disks are what grind up the food. There are no 'blades'.

These two small swinging disks are what grind up the food. There are no 'blades'.

How it works

A garbage disposal has two metal disks, which swing fiercely by centrifugal force, which grinds the food up into small pieces that can then go down the drain. These discs are blades are by no means sharp, but they do swing fast and will hurt you if you put your fingers down there.
The rules:

  • Only put a small amount of food down the disposal at one time.
  • Be sure to run plenty of cold water while you do it.Cold water has the advantage of solidifying small amounts of grease and oil which baby in the food.
  • Do not put fibrous, starchy, or non-food items in the unit.
  • Clean your disposal fairly frequently--every few days.

Things not to put in the garbage disposal

Anything fibrous that can wrap around the metal discs and cause them to stop spinning should be avoided. The taboo list includes the following:

Corn husks, 
Banana peels
Artichoke leaves
Raw meat or gristle

Anything that can clog the pipes whether it's ground up or not should not be put down the garbage disposal. 



All of these will clog your pipes, even if sent down with copious amounts of cold water. Because we live in the Phoenix area, ‘cold water’ is relative, but do your best.

Tough items will also damage the unit unless they are tiny:

large bones, fruit pits, shrimp shells

Starchy foods-- potatoes, rice, pasta, bread, flour 

These gummy foods clog up the guts of the unit and will clog the pipes beyond the disposal.

Coffee grounds

Many people believe that coffee grounds are also in the ‘do not’ category. We think that it depends on the amount of coffee grounds that you produce. If you have an espresso machine and only make one cup at a time that probably won't hurt it,  but if you make pots of coffee on a regular basis those grounds should be put in the trash 

Non-food items

Non-food items should never be put down the garbage disposal this includes paper, metal, cigarette butts, glass, and plastic 


If you find that your garbage disposal has become jammed or stuck,  unplug it or turn it off at the fuse box. Using a pair of tongs or needle-nose pliers, reach in and remove the offending object. You will probably need a flashlight to see inside.


Your garbage disposal needs to be cleaned on a regular basis: use some dishwashing soap and an old toothbrush or scrub brush to clean the rubber flaps. Because a disposal can make a p-trap with old food bits, it can begin to smell. So, every few months you should fill your tea kettle with water to boil, and pour a tea kettle full of hot water down your garbage disposal to help get rid of odors. Follow the hot water with 2 cups of vinegar. Grinding up some ice cubes will loosen clingy food bit. In fact, some people make vinegar ice cubes which also works.