Ask The Contractor: Do’s and Don’ts of garbage disposals

On a regular basis, we (my husband) clog the garbage disposal. I cannot seem to convenience him of what should not be put down a garbage disposal and consequently, we have a local plumber on speed dial. I have learned quite a bit about what you are NOT supposed to put down a garbage disposal, but my husband, says that is nonsense and what is a disposal for but to grind and dispose of food items. Maybe if I can show him your answer, together we can convince him and stop the plumbing help calls.

— Myrna and Tom, Prescott.

We have all been there and “done that” as they say. Learned the hard way about what to not put down a disposal and most of the time the “hard way” comes in the middle of a Thanksgiving dinner or major celebration gathering.

Throughout the ages, people have used the garbage disposal to rid the kitchen of slimy, sticky and stinky things. Well not really throughout the ages, just since its invention in 1927. Since that exciting day, the garbage disposal has become an appliance of legend and wonder. Despite what you may have heard, not everything can go into a garbage disposal. It’s called a garbage disposal, not an in-sink trash can.

So here are the items NOT to put down a garbage disposal. There are limits to what a garbage disposal system can handle; it’s not equipped to process everything you might want to put in it.

• GREASE OR OIL. Just because it is out of sight does not mean the garbage disposal “disposed” of it. For the most part, garbage disposal systems can handle liquids. The problem with grease is that, when it cools down, it solidifies inside your drain and creates clogs. For that reason, you should avoid putting oil and fats in your disposal unit as well. Pour the grease or oil into another container and toss into the garbage.

• VEGETABLE PEELS. They can leave you with a soupy backfilled mess in your sink. Garbage disposals do not do large qualities of veggie peels, so it is best to divide them up and grind in SMALL batches or better yet – dispose of in the garbage and do not even take the chance. Fibrous foods such as celery, asparagus, artichokes, chard, kale, lettuce, potato peelings, and onion skins should all be kept out of your garbage disposal unit. These items can easily entangle the blades, causing it to jam.

• EGG SHELLS. The membrane on the inside of the egg shell just loves to wrap around the blades and crate a clog. Don’t even attempt to grind egg shells – garbage can them.

• COFFEE GROUNDS. The first few times they might go down fine, but over time, those pesky little grounds build up in the pipes and will causing all sorts of trouble. Again, garbage can them!

• BONES. I have heard it from the plumbers. Folks actually attempt to grind bones — I know seriously?

When you do use your disposal, put items down in small batches. Do not bulk feed the disposal. You are just asking for trouble. Grind up the material well, with cold running water and then add more. I do use my garbage disposal, only with care and caution. Most everything goes into the trash after having learned my lesson with coffee grounds and egg shells. Use the disposal with common sense.

• RICE AND PASTA. I was unaware of this, but a plumber mentioned a problem with grinding rice and pasta. Basically, every time you turn the water on, the pasta and rice will continue to expand — even after you supposedly ground it up.

I clean my disposal every week with lemon rinds and baking soda and vinegar once a week to keep it clean with no

buildup of grease or food. So remember to love your insinkerator and most everyone is the proud owner of a garbage disposal. They are convenient, they get rid of excess kitchen scraps, but keep in mind we should not think there’s nothing a garbage disposal can’t do.

Now that you have a list of what not to put in a garbage disposer, let’s talk about the things your disposal is designed to handle.

• COLD WATER. For it to function best, you should always run cold water through your garbage disposal unit for 20-30 seconds before and after you grind food stuffs. This ensures that all of the food will be flushed down the drain. You don’t want a few decaying scraps sitting at the bottom of your disposal unit, stinking up your sink.

• LIQUIDS AND SOFT FOODS. Here’s a good rule of thumb: if a baby can eat it, the garbage disposer can handle it without any problems

• CHOPPED FOODS. When you want to process solid foods, chop them up thoroughly before feeding it to your disposal unit.

• DISH SOAP. No, you wouldn’t use your garbage disposal unit to dispose of dish soap, but putting soap inside will help you clean the disposal unit. Once you pour a little in, turn on your unit and run cold water through it. Your disposal unit will thank you.

• ICE CUBES. Throwing a few of these in occasionally will knock off food residue that has built up on the unit’s blades.

Follow this list of do’s and don’ts, and your garbage disposal unit should live a long and happy life.

Remember to tune in to YCCA’s Hammer Time twice each weekend Saturday and Sunday at 7 a.m. on KQNA 1130 AM/99.9 FM or the web Listen to Sandy and Mike talk about the construction industry and meet your local community partners and contractors.