Having a disposal in your sink is a must-have for many homeowners, but how do you use this powerful kitchen tool properly? Though the sharp blades and horsepower can keep scraps from clogging your pipes and make cleanup easier, it’s important to know the do’s and don’t of what can go down your sink disposal. Serious damage to your plumbing system and pipes could occur if you utilize your disposal improperly, costing you time and money.

What can’t go down my garbage disposal?

The short answer is, not much. We spoke with Greg Goder of Wilmette Lucke Plumbing, about what his team and other plumbing experts across chicagoland recommend. One thing is for certain: your garbage disposal is not meant to be a dumping ground for food or other materials.

“Honestly, best practice is to not put anything except small food remnants down your disposal. I’m not a fan of the term ‘garbage disposal’, as people often mistake this for meaning you can throw whatever you want down your sink without consequence. This isn’t true at all. If I had to pick a few definite no’s, potatoes, eggs, and vegetable peels are at the top of my list. When you do use your disposal, we recommend filling your sink with an inch or so of hot water, then releasing that down your sink at once to effectively clean your disposal instead of leaving the water running while you are running the disposal. Take care of your disposal now so you don’t end up with the smell of rotten food, a clogged pipes, or sewer flies in your plumbing. If you’re on a septic field, you really shouldn’t use a garbage disposal.”

1. Coffee grounds clump together when wet and will clog your disposal and pipes.

2. Meat and bones cause a rotting stench to emit from your sink disposal if the remnants stick to the sides of your pipes. Throw meat/bone leftovers in the trash before washing your dishes. In addition to a rotting smell, your disposal unit likely isn’t strong enough to grind dense meat and bones.

3. Shells, nuts, and peels can dull the blades of your disposal, and the little bits can cause the garbage disposal to malfunction. Eggshells, fruit cores, and corn cobs/husks should also be composted or thrown away outside of the sink. Some plumbers suggest that flushing finely chopped citrus peels can help freshen the smell of your kitchen, but many argue that the fresh aroma isn’t worth the risk of clogging your disposal over time by doing this.

4. Whether you have a sink disposal or not, grease, fat, and oils should never be disposed of in your sink. These materials, even if liquid at the time of disposal, can solidify in your plumbing and cause an expensive mess that a pllumber will have to resolve.

5. Starchy foods such as rice, pasta, bread, and oats. These foods tend to expand when in contact with water, which can become a sticky, gluey paste in your drain and pipes.

6. Fibrous foods like celery, asparagus, rhubarb, and kale can become tangled in your sink disposal and jam it.

7. Harsh chemicals like drain cleaner and bleach are harsh and aren’t the best for your plumbing. If you need to clean your sink or disposal, it’s recommended to use baking soda, lemon juice or vinegar, or dish soap.

8. Non-food items, like paper towels, wrappers, or utensils should never go down your sink. Before you run your disposal, check your drain to make sure nothing is sticking out that isn’t supposed to be there.

What can go down my disposal?

Soft or liquid foods can safely be put down your garbage spell. Think of it like this – if you can feed it to a baby, you can put it down the garbage disposal. Finely chopped vegetables or fruits with no peels or seeds, in small amounts, are fine to go down your garbage disposal.

It is debated amongst plumbers, but some believe that ice can help loosen the food residue that may be stuck to the blades. However, many plumbers say that the blades of disposals are self-sharpening and ice doesn’t help or hinder that process.

Before you run your disposal, it’s recommended to run water from your faucet and keep it running for about 45 seconds.

While these guidelines are from industry experts, it should be noted that the best way to preserve your sink disposal and prevent plumbing damage is to avoid putting any food or non-food scraps down it. Composting is a great alternative to sink or trash disposal as well.

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