American Discount Plumbing

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Garbage Disposal Basics

Your garbage disposal is the perfect apparatus to prevent your sink from being clogged up.  Many people don’t understand how a garbage disposal works. They scrape every sandwich crust and gob of mashed potato leftover from dinner without realizing that the point of a garbage disposal isn’t to hasten a max exodus of your food waste into the public sewage system. The waste disposal is meant for those bits which resiliently cling to the plates after you scraped them.

Surprised?  Owning a garbage disposal doesn’t mean you can’t use it to dispose of food, but it’s important not to overfill it, or leave food in the unit without running it immediately. Add food bits slowly, let the unit run until the food is gone, and then shut it off before you turn the water off, so the ground food has a chance to run through.

Not blades, but not something you'd want swinging at your fingers at a high rate of speed, either.

Not blades, but not something you'd want swinging at your fingers at a high rate of speed, either.

Another fact people are startled to learn is that there aren’t sharp ‘blades’ in a garbage disposal. We think if we drunkenly stuff our hand down there while the disposal is turned on, it will eat our limb up to the elbow like a wood chipper, but that 's not really true. If you look at the photo, you’ll see a couple of oddly shaped disks which operate by centrifugal force. Yes, it will hurt and cut you up, but no one is going to put their hand in the disposal anyway, right? 

Unfortunately, they don’t grind up soft food or stringy food. So, from that cracked stalk of celery, the hard bit will go down, but the strings will wind themselves around the disks and jam up your disposal. It has the same problem with corn husks, onion, and artichokes.

Raw potato peelings.

Raw potato peelings.

The second thing your garbage disposal isn’t designed to do is handle starch products. Potatoes, bread, and pasta (cooked) are gummy and swell in water, which means after you put them down the sink, even if you get them down past the disposal, they can clog the plumbing further down the line. Please resist the temptation to reach for drain cleaner, as drain cleaner can damage the disposal.

There may come a day when the disposal finally gets clogged up with celery strings, onion corn husks, and random fingers. Or, even worse, a bottle cap or wedding ring can slip down into the disposal by accident.

The first thing to do is to shut off the disposal immediately unless you have one with an automatic kill switch. If your disposal is the plug-in type, unplug the motor beneath the sink. Otherwise, take a pair of needlenose pliers, a pair of tongs, or some other plucky tool, and fish the offending item out.  You may have to reset the unit with the small, red reset button.

*A garbage disposal cannot turn on by itself*

*A garbage disposal cannot turn on by itself*

*A garbage disposal cannot turn on by itself*

Now, for the ‘do’s’:

Do periodically run a tray of ice cubes through. Not because it will ‘sharpen the blades’, but because the hard, sharp cubes will help dislodge old, soft pieces of food from the grinding chamber.

Do clean both the top and underside of the rubber splash guard by scrubbing it with an old toothbrush and some dish soap.

Periodically run pieces of orange or lemon rind through the unit to help deodorize it. Vinegar will also work. Some people make vinegar ice cubes for a double whammy effect. 

If the rind doesn’t work, dump a cup of baking soda down it, let it sit for an hour or so, and then flush it with hot water.

We hope this has given you some insight into the inner workings of your garbage disposal. If there is a problem you can’t solve with these tips, give us a call. 

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