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Down the drain: Garbage disposal do’s and don’ts

Birds-eye view of a white sink with garbage disposal and whole-home water filtration systems

A garbage disposal is not a trash can. It’s also not a blender, and certainly not a hazardous waste dump.

According to our certified technicians, improper use is the No. 1 reason for disposal-related service calls. There is a common belief that garbage disposals can handle any type of food waste. They cannot.

Pro-Tec Plumbing & Drains has installed, repaired and replaced thousands of garbage disposals in residential and commercial kitchens across Southwest Florida. Our technicians have seen it all in broken disposals – a rotisserie chicken carcass, banana peels, silverware, plastic wrap… you name it.

Want to know what you can and cannot put in the garbage disposal? Let’s start by examining one of the premier residential disposals on the market right now.

InSinkErator’s Evolution Excel

A premium residential disposal, InSinkErator describes the Evolution Excel as “the best grinding, quietest line of disposals we have ever made.” It has a 1-horsepower motor, 3-stage grind technology and 40-ounce grind chamber capacity. The unit comes with a 10-year “We come to you” in-home limited warranty.

The Evolution Excel is the crème de la crème of garbage disposals. Yet, its 16-page manual contains a lengthy list of don’ts:

  • Don’t pour grease or fat down your disposal or drain.
  • Don’t use hot water when grinding food waste.
  • Don’t fill the disposer with a lot of vegetable peels at once.
  • Don’t grind large amounts of eggshells or fibrous materials like corn husks and artichokes.
  • Don’ts for standard disposals

A blender has sharp blades that slice, dice and annihilate food. A garbage disposal, on the other hand, has impellers that are blunt to the touch, similar to a rotating cheese grater. It lacks pulverizing power.

If such a powerful disposal like the Evolution Excel has a long list of don’ts, then imagine the list for standard disposals. Below are items to avoid:

  • Starch: Food waste like pasta, rice and potatoes turn gooey after time. Uncooked pasta and rice can expand once wet, eventually causing a blockage that clogs pipes.
  • Eggs: All eggs contain a soft membrane that can get stuck between the impellers, eventually causing future damage. Ground shells don’t quickly decay and particles can clog pipes.
  • Bones and shells: Chicken, ham, pork and steak bones might be ground into small chunks, but they don’t dissolve like other foods. The same holds true for clam or oyster shells and shrimp carapaces.
  • Coffee and popcorn: Coffee beans and grounds, popcorn kernels, seeds and nuts can get stuck between impellers and in the drain trap. Eventually, that can cause water to back up into a kitchen drain.
  • Cooking oil and fat: Used oils and fats are liquids while hot, but solidify as they cool. That hardening might happen in your kitchen drain, plumbing system or municipal sewer. But it will happen at some point.
  • Stringy foods: Celery, corn husks, asparagus, onion layers, banana peels, rhubarb and even meat have fibrous strands. Those strands act similarly to hair in a vacuum cleaner. Eventually, they become entangled.
  • Ice: There is a myth that grinding ice sharpens disposal blades. As mentioned above, there are no blades. You’re just wasting ice.
  • A general rule is if you wouldn’t eat something, the garbage disposal shouldn’t eat it, either.

Do’s for a garbage disposal

All disposals, even 1/3-horsepower economy models, are effective at clearing soft food waste. Below are some do’s for your garbage disposal:

  • Fruit and vegetable scraps: If you can’t clean your plate, small amounts of strawberries, bananas, peaches, tomatoes, mushrooms, cucumbers and other fruits and veggies are OK.
  • Leftovers: Food portions too small for tomorrow’s lunch are perfect for a garbage disposal. That includes cooked chicken, fish, pork and beef.
  • Water: Start running water into the sink a few seconds before flipping on the disposal. This creates a water flow through your pipes to carry food items into your plumbing system.
  • Keep it clean: Ice cubes, as mentioned above, won’t sharpen anything, but they can dislodge particles stuck on impellers. Vinegar, baking soda and dish soap can help keep it clean.
  • Make it smell good: Grind a lemon, lime or orange peel to leave your sink smelling “lemony fresh.”

Garbage disposals are a luxury. They are perfect to dispose of small crumbs and uneaten food and help control odor so food isn’t rotting in the trash can. However, small mistakes become costly problems that can result in having to buy a new garbage disposal, or worse, repiping a home.

Garbage Disposal Tip

Buy a sink strainer. These usually cost a few dollars and catch larger food particles before they enter your plumbing. Strainers also are a great way to catch silverware before it slips down the drain, often unnoticed. Once you flip on the disposal, it’s too late to save that fork, and sometimes too late for your disposal.

Looking to upgrade your garbage disposal? Call Pro-Tec Plumbing at 239-261-1000 or click the button below.