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Garbage Disposal Dos and Don’ts: How to Keep your Disposal Healthy

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Keeping your garbage disposal healthy isn't a difficult task. Many homeowners never question what should and should not go down their disposals, but this can create a lot of issues down the road. 

Knowing what not to put down the drain, and a few other realtively simple tasks, can keep your garbage disposal running healthy for years to come. This will not only save you money, but it'll also make your time in the kitchen much more enjoyable.

Keeping Your Garbage Disposal Healthy and Happy

Caution Tape

What NOT to Put Down Your Garbage Disposal

What you can and can't put down your grabage disposal isn't as easy as you might think. It actually depends more on the garbage disposal unit you have than the item you're trying to grind.

Older or basic disposals often struggle, where a newer, higher-end unit will be able to grind a larger spectrum of foods.

Another limitation is the cities' plumbing system. The majority of municipal plumbing systems are simply not designed for large amounts of food waste.

So, just because your garbage disposal is capable of grinding the most challenging food waste, doesn't mean that the plumbing in your house or the cities' waste system will be able to deal with it.

More often than not, when a garbage disposal is clogged it's typically not the unit itself. But rather the plumbing has accumulated enough food sludge and grease to cause the blockage.

Although, this list is not exhaustive, these items should never be put down a garbage disposal, regardless of the units' capability.

Fats, Oils, or Grease

Fats, oils, or grease are a big no-no and should never be put down your garbage disposal . . . regardless of the type. Although, you may be able to "get away" with it, it will eventually catch up to you.

These materials collect inside your houses' plumbing system and eventually create a clog. They can even damage your sewer system. Here's a suggestion on how to properly dispose of cooking grease.


Bones are one of the hardest items around, and they should never be put down your garbage disposal. Some units are able to handle bones, but it's a better idea to dispose of them in the garbage. Grinding them up will only dull your blades and shorten the disposal's life span.

Pasta, Rice, and Bread

These items are probably a suprise. But think about how much water they can absorb. Your garbage disposal should be able to deal with them, but your pipes may be a different story.

If by accident any of these items do go down your drain, simply run cold water for 30 seconds. The cold water will encourage the noodles to flush into the main line and prevent any future clogs.

Coffee Grounds

You may have heard the advice to drop coffee grounds down your garbage disposal to keep it smelling fresh. Although, this actually does help control odors, down the road, you could face a larger, more serious problem.

Most garbage disposals can handle coffee grounds without a problem. But that doesn't mean your household plumbing can.

If too many are put into the disposal at any one time, the plumbing may become restricted and eventually form a clog. This is because coffee grounds have a sedimentary nature.

Although, it's a better idea to put them in your garden, you can gradually feed the coffee grounds into the disposal with a strong cold water flow. This will help flush the grounds thru the plumbing.

Onion Skins

Onion waste isn't typically a problem for a garbage disposal. However, if the thin, wet membrane isn't removed to could cause an issue.

In most cases the membrane, along with the onion skins, are removed during prep or while cooking. These items should be thrown into your trash instead of the garbage disposal.

The onion membrane can miss the blades entirely and become wedged within the drain, or it can wrap itself inside the disposal. 

Egg Shells

Putting eggs shells down your disposal is a mix between coffee grounds and onion skins. Many garbage disposals won't have a problem, but the thin membrane within the shell can become entangled in the moving parts.

Egg shells can clog your pipes in the same way that coffee grounds can. This is because both have a sedimentary nature. However, should you choose to put egg shells down your disposal, just make sure you chase it with plenty of cold water. 

Stringy Vegetables and Fruits

Vegetables such as celery and asparagus are difficult to grind and shouldn't be put down the disposal. These types of veggies break down and leave fibrous, stringy strands which tend to wrap around the moving parts.

Pumpkin, particularly the inside, bananas, and corn husks are other examples of common food waste that should not be put down your garbage disposal.

Nuts, Shells, and Pits

Nuts, shells (even seafood shells), and pits are very dense and hard. Although, many garbage disposals may be able to handle them, putting these items down the disposal will cause the blades to dull and shorten the unit's lifespan.

Potatos and Peelings

Potatoes and potato peels should stay far away from your garbage disposal. The starch from the potato can create a huge headache as it forms into a dense paste and becomes a sticky, clogging mess. It can even clog up your plumbing.

Vegetable and fruit peelings can also cause problems as they can stick to the sides of your disposal or slip into your pipes and create a clog.

Non-Food Items

Only food should be sent down your garbage disposal. Items such as plastic, wood, glass, metal, sponges and even paper can cause trouble. All these items, including cigarette butts, should go into the garbage.

Man slapping his head over making a mistake

Garbage Disposal Do's and Don'ts

Beyond what you shouldn't put down your garbage disposal, there's a few other things that can help keep your garbage disposal healthy.


  • Before running the disposal, use tongs to check for spoons, or other foreign objects that may have fallen inside.
  • Always run cold water when you're using your garbage disposal. The cold water will help coagulate fats so they can be ground. 
  • To prevent odors, clean your garbage disposal on a regular basis. Toss in a couple lemon slices every so often to help give it a clean and fresh scent. 
  • Even if you don't use your garbage disposal, you should run it on a regular basis to prevent rust and corrosion.

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  • Never put your hand into the garbage disposal. If you suspect something has fallen inside, turn the power off and use a pair of tongs.
  • Your garbage disposal is not a garbage can! Only food scraps should be ground. If you have large amounts of food to throw away, it should be put in the trash can . . . not the garbage disposal.
  • Do not use hot water when running your garbage disposal. Over time, grease clogs will form.
  • Never put too much food in your garbage disposal at once. Gradually feeding the disposal will allow it to properly process the waste. 
  • Never pour drain cleaner or bleach down your garbage disposal.
  • Don't turn off the cold water or garbage disposal until it has completely ground the food. When the disposal is done grinding, turn the motor off first and wait at least 15 seconds before turning off the cold water. 
Cleaning supplies

How to Clean Your Garbage Disposal

Cleaning your garbage disposal is not as difficult as you might think. In fact, you probably already have the cleaning supplies in your kitchen! Here are three different methods to try.


Give your garbage disposal and pipes a nice flush.

  1. Place the stopper in the drain.
  2. Add a small amount of dish soap into the water once the basin is a quarter full.
  3. Give the water a quick swirl to mix the soap.
  4. Remove the stopper and turn ON the garbage disposal at the same time. 

Ice and Salt

As the disposal grinds the ice cubes, the ice cubes will scour difficult to reach areas. Accumulated grease build-up and grime will break-up and be flushed away.

  1. Toss 3 or 4 ice cubes with rock (or table) salt into your garbage disposal.
  2. Turn ON the unit while running cold water.
  3. Once the ice cubes are gone, continue to run cold water for 15 to 20 seconds.

Baking Soda and Vinegar

Give your garbage disposal a nice scrub.

  1. Pour one cup of baking soda down the garbage disposal.
  2. Slowly pour one cup of vinegar on top of the baking soda.
  3. Be prepared. This homemade mixture will bubble and fizzle!
  4. After things settle down, run cold water for 15 to 20 seconds.
Woman holding her nose

Preventing Nasty Smells in Your Garbage Disposal

On those days when you notice your garbage disposal just needs a quick "touch-up" to keep it smelling fresh, there's a couple of simple things you can do:

  • Lemon or Orange - Simply grind a lemon or orange in your disposal. The juice and skin oils will not only give you a long-lastng fresh scent, but it'll also clean the walls of the disposal!
  • Frozen Vinegar - Keep a ice cube tray of frozen vinegar in your freezer so that you can grab a cube anytime. The vinegar will kill odor-causing bacteria and the ice will give your disposal a quick cleaning.
  • Baking Soda - Toss some baking soda into your garbage disposal and allow it to sit for a couple of hours. Then run water to flush it down the plumbing.
  • Borax - Borax is great for stubborn odors. Pour 4 tablespoons of Borax into the drain and let it sit for about an hour. Then flush it out by turning on the hot water.

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