How to Clean, Maintain, and Repair Your Garbage Disposal

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Posted June 1, 2017

We’re expecting a lot of garbage disposal (waste disposal unit and garburator) service calls next week. Thanksgiving and Christmas are behind us, but another major celebratory gathering will take place this weekend. Although not an official holiday, the Super Bowl is considered a great American secular holiday by most. While many advocate for the day off on Super Bowl Monday, this will never happen for plumbers!

Second only to Black Friday, Super Bowl Monday is the busiest time of year for plumbers across the United States. Why? Whenever large numbers of people gather to cook and consume food, plumbing systems are forced to work overtime. This may explain part of the problem, but most modern plumbing systems can easily handle the larger load.

The main problem? People’s neglect.

Most plumbing problems associated with holiday parties are caused by improper plumbing maintenance and overestimations of your plumbing system’s abilities. Although it’s best if you have a professional plumber inspect your system before any large gathering, many plumbing problems can be prevented with a little knowledge and preparation before the big day. Remember, the best offense is a good defense. Schedule annual plumbing maintenance to keep your entire plumbing system healthy and efficient. Current problems will be addressed and future problems will be detected.

Sign up for the Happy Hiller Club for annual electrical, plumbing, heating, and cooling inspections and tune-ups.

Whether you are a host or a guest for Super Bowl 50, avoid a plumbing interference by learning some garbage disposal tips before kick-off! If, however, you want to discuss the big game with one of our football-loving plumbers on Super Bowl Monday, feel free to disregard these tips.

Looking for tips to unclog your drains? Check out our blog post on unclogging your drains

Garbage Disposal Tips for Parties and Large Gatherings

#1 Tip: Don’t let your guests use the garbage disposal! Either assign one or two people to take care of all the dishes and leftovers, or instruct everyone to scoop their leftovers into the garbage. You can even put a “Do Not Use” sign on the disposal switch.

Some garbage disposals are more sensitive than others and your guests probably won’t know what your waste disposal unit can or cannot handle. It’s best to play it safe and mark the garbage disposal as out of bounds.

While some things, such as metal and plastic, are obviously bad for your disposal unit, there are plenty of unexpected materials and objects that can cause breakdowns, clogs, and other damage to your plumbing system.


NEVER Put These Items down the Garbage Disposal:

  1. Glass, metal, plastic, or paper (including cigarette butts, fruit stickers, string ties, etc.).
  2. Grease, oil, or fat (including meat fat and cheese). Put your grease in a metal or glass container and either save it for reuse or throw it out in the trash.
  3. Stringy, fibrous, or starchy vegetables (celery, corn husks, artichokes, onion skins, potato skins, etc… small amounts are probably fine, but it’s best to avoid these tough vegetables).
  4. Pasta or rice (foods that expand when water is added).
  5. Hard stuff (bones, pits, and seeds… although small fish and chicken bones are OK).
  6. Large amounts of anything (large amounts of anything will cause a garbage disposal clog).

garbage disposal tips


Walking on Eggshells:

Some plumbers say that you should avoid putting egg shells and coffee grounds down the garbage disposal, while others argue the exact opposite – that egg shells help sharpen and clean the garbage disposal unit and the coffee grounds help eliminate odors.

While this may be true, it is also true that egg shell membranes and coffee grounds can clog your drains and pipes, especially if you have a septic tank. It’s best to walk on eggshells and avoid putting eggshells and coffee grounds in the disposal; however, a small amount every once in a while should be perfectly fine.

For specific instructions on what you can and cannot put down your garbage disposal, check your disposal’s user manual.


Garbage Disposal Don’ts:

  1. Don’t turn the water or garbage disposal off until grinding has finished. Then, turn the garbage disposal off and let the water run for 10-15 seconds before turning water off.
  2. Don’t use harsh chemicals, such as bleach or drain cleaners.
  3. Coffee grounds and egg shells are commonly put down the garbage disposal, but they can actually cause clogs and other problems. It’s best to avoid.
  4. Remember, your garbage disposal is not a trashcan; use it only for food scraps and never feed it too quickly.
  5. Never put your hand or utensils down the disposal! If you need to remove something, shut off the electrical power switch first, located underneath the garbage disposal itself. If you can’t find the switch, turn off the disposal at the main breaker box.


Garbage Disposal Do’s:

  1. Grind food waste with a strong flow of cold water (it helps solidify any grease or oil).
  2. After you turn off the garbage disposal, rinse with hot water for 10-15 seconds.
  3. Cut large items into smaller pieces and feed them in one at a time rather than all at once.
  4. Use your garbage disposal frequently to avoid rust and corrosion.
  5. Remove small objects from around your sink to avoid them accidentally falling into your garbage disposal.
  6. If you have to remove anything from your garbage disposal unit, make sure it is turned off at the source, by either flipping the switch underneath your unit or turning it off from the breaker box.


How to Clean and Deodorize Your Garbage Disposal:

Ice and Citrus:

If there is an unfavorable smell emanating from your InSinkErator, or other disposal model, use a handful of ice cubes and a citrus wedge or two to help clean and deodorize the disposal. No more than half a lemon is necessary. Do this whenever your garbage disposal starts smelling.

The ice helps remove gunk from the walls and blades of your unit, while the citrus wedge serves as a wonderful natural freshener.

Baking Soda and Vinegar:

Another method for cleaning and deodorizing your disposal unit is to sprinkle some baking soda in your unit and rinse it with about a cup of vinegar. This will create the bubbling “volcano effect” that kids love to watch so invite them in on this cleaning project. After allowing your mixture to sit for about 5 minutes, run hot water down the disposal until everything is thoroughly rinsed.

Old Toothbrush:

Sometimes the underside of the disposal’s splash guard gets gunked up and slimy. The good news is that you don’t even have to remove it to clean it.

  1. To clean the splash guard, make sure your disposal is turned off at the source.
  2. Once the disposal unit is turned off, grab an old toothbrush and add a little detergent to the bristles.
  3. From there, simply clean the splash guard as shown.

how to clean garbage disposal with toothbrush



How to Repair a Broken Garbage Disposal

Despite your best efforts, sometimes your garbage disposal will become clogged or fail to turn on at all. If your garbage disposal is clogged, humming, or won’t turn on, follow these steps and call your local plumber if you have any difficulties:

  1. Turn off the disposal unit at the main electrical panel or unplug it from the electrical outlet. Double-check it is off by flipping the disposal switch. Once you have confirmed the unit is off, move on to the next step.
  2. Take a flashlight and shine it into your unit. Look for any obvious materials that are causing the clog. Use tongs (NEVER your hands) to remove the source of the clog. If you think this has solved your issue, turn the disposal back on to test it. If this doesn’t fix your problem, keep your disposal plugged in, and move on to step 3.
  3. If there is nothing visible clogging your disposal unit, the flip switch on your garbage disposal unit may have turned the unit off. This little red switch is located underneath your unit and protects against overheating and arcing situations. You can try pushing the red switch to reset the garbage disposal unit. Test your unit by turning it on. If it still won’t turn on or makes a humming noise, unplug the unit or turn it off at the breaker box, and move to step 4.
  4. While you were testing the red switch at the bottom of the unit, you may have noticed a small opening in the center. If the unit is clogged or humming, you can try to free up the unit by using the wrenchette (Hex-Torx key) that came with your unit or a 1/4 inch allen wrench. Simply place the wrench into the center hole and move it back and forth until the whatever is clogging your unit is dislodged. Once your unit is moving freely, turn it back on to test. If the unit still won’t turn on, it may be necessary to take the unit apart.
  5. Watch the video below for tips on fixing your garbage disposal unit, including instructions for how to take it apart. If your unit still won’t work, then you probably have a burned out motor or an electrical problem, which requires the expertise of a professional. This is when you’ll want to call a plumber to replace your garbage disposal unit. It’s a fairly difficult DIY project to replace your garbage disposal unit, but if you’re up to it, here is a DIY guide for garbage disposal replacement.

When you are done with these troubleshooting steps, turn on a strong stream of cold water and hit the disposal switch. If it still won’t turn on, give Hiller Plumbing, Heating, Cooling & Electrical a call at 844-MyHiller (694-4553).


Additional Super Bowl and Party Plumbing Tips

  1. Call a plumber before the big event to inspect your plumbing.
  2. Remove all wet wipes, tissues, sanitary napkins, paper towels, and anything else in your bathroom that you wouldn’t want someone to flush down the toilet. Despite the marketing claims that wet wipes are flushable, they are known for causing clogs and other plumbing problems. If someone needs these materials, they will ask, which will give you a great opportunity to explain what can and cannot be flushed down the toilet.
  3. Consider replacing your plush toilet paper with thin single-ply paper and removing any objects near your toilet that could accidentally fall in.
  4. Leave a plunger right next to the toilet.
  5. Empty your waste basket and place near the toilet.
  6. Learn where your isolation and main water shut-off valves are located in the event of an emergency. Don’t waste time googling it when you have a leak; Learn how to shut off the water beforehand here.
  7. If you are hosting an event during subfreezing temperatures, you may also want to learn how to prevent and thaw frozen pipes.

Toilets and garbage disposals will be working overtime this weekend. If you have any questions or need the services of a plumber, don’t hesitate to contact Hiller – we’re available 24 hours (Super Bowl included)!

For more advice on hosting the Superbowl or any other large gathering, read our Party Checklist.

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