How a Garbage Disposal Works

A garbage disposal with food in it.

Garbage disposal units make great kitchen tools. They fit neatly in the sink and offer the perfect method for disposing of food waste quickly and cleanly. With proper care and maintenance, there’s no reason why a garbage disposal shouldn’t last several years and give good service.

What Not to Put in

Although your garbage disposal is meant to eat waste, it can’t devour everything. Don’t put anything stringy down your disposal. This means asparagus, celery, cooked rice and, the worst offender of all, potato peels. The last two end up forming a glue-like substance that clogs your pipes. Consider composting these instead.

With fibrous material, the fibers wrap themselves around the blades and stop them cutting. Rather than using the disposal to get rid of all your food waste, it’s best to use it for the small quantities left on plates before you put them in the dishwasher.

What the Disposal Does

The blades, known as impellers, in your garbage disposal crush the waste, reducing it to minute pieces that are flushed down the pipes by running water. This is why it’s important to have the water running while using the disposal.

Newer disposals also have grinders at the bottom to ensure the food is broken down into the smallest possible pieces. It’s vital to run the disposal until all the food has gone through. If you don’t, bacteria will grow in the disposal, and it will start to smell bad.

Cleaning Your Disposal

If your disposal does begin to smell, just take a cup of rock salt, mix it with two cups of ice cubes and feed it down the running garbage disposal, keeping the power on for around 10 seconds. This will remove all the sludge from the components. You can also use vinegar instead of rock salt.

Repairing Your Disposal

A sink with a garbage disposal.

At some point, your disposal is going to jam. Unfortunately, it’s bound to happen sooner or later. When it does, locate the large Allen wrench that came with the unit (if you can’t find it, or if it never had one, go to the hardware store as there is a standard size for all makes). Put the wrench in the localized hole at the bottom of the unit and move it back and forth. In almost all instances, this will unjam the disposal.

If there’s something stuck in the disposal itself, you’ll need to use a flashlight to try and locate the object. First, turn off the power to the unit at the circuit breaker. Next, use a pair of tongs to try and remove it. If you can’t, try pushing it through with a long, straight object such as a broom handle. Finally, turn on the breaker and the disposal, with water running, and see if the object goes through.

Fitting a Disposal

It’s easy to fit a new disposal yourself especially if you’re replacing an old one. First, shut off power at the breaker then make sure you have ample room to work under the sink. Loosen and remove the old wiring then release the J pipe under the disposal keeping a bucket underneath to catch any water. Loosen the bolts that attach the disposal to the sink and remove the unit.

Replace the sink strainer and attach the new disposal. Be aware that, if you have a dishwasher, you’ll need to remove the plug on the connector to the disposal. Otherwise, water will back up into the dishwasher and it will stop working.