The care and feeding of a garbage disposal

As a property manager, one of our biggest maintenance calls is dealing with garbage disposals.  They are a maintenance manager’s pain in the you-know-what.  Here are a few tips to help you keep your disposal running smoothly.

  1. The garbage disposal is not a composter!  So don’t use it as one.  Put most food waste in the garbage (or in Seattle, the recycling).
  2. Always run LOTS of water while your disposal is running to keep it from overheating and to flush chopped parts down the pipes.  Keep the water flushing for at least 10 sec. after turning off the disposal.  My plumber friend says this is THE most important tip!
  3. Don’t put grease down your disposal.  OK, this is more of a plumbing thing than a disposal thing, but in any case grease and oil clog up the pipes big time.
  4. Don’t put stringy stuff down the disposal.  You know, stuff like celery, banana peels and things like that.  They will just bind up the disposal.
  5. Keep the cover over the disposal.  Marbles, screws, spoons, anything hard and inorganic will dull the blades big time.  Little items can get under the disposal blades and bind them up.
  6. Do not turn the disposal on for long periods of time when it isn’t working.   If it hums then this is a good way to burn out the motor.
  7. Do not stick your hands down a disposal.  It is a good way to lose a hand.  Use needle nose pliers, a coat hanger, or something else to dislodge or pick up whatever it is you see down there.


If your disposal has stopped working you can do a few things to troubleshoot the problem.  First of all, does it hum when you turn it on?  If not then try pressing the (usually red) reset button on the side or underneath the unit and see if that gets it working.  If not then the motor is probably shot and you need to replace the disposal.

If it is humming then you are in luck.  The motor is working and the blades are probably just jammed.  You will need to get an allen wrench and stick it up in the hole in the bottom of the disposal.  Move the wrench back and forth and free up the blades.  Be sure to take the wrench out before trying the disposal again!


You can clean your garbage disposal.  That’s right!  To clean it, run some ice cubes down it (with a little water).  The ice will scrape the disposal and pipes clean.  And once every month or two you can fill your sink up with hot water and then pull the plug while running the disposal.  This will give the drain a good flushing.

The garbage disposal is a good friend, and easy to take care of….if you do a few simple things on a regular basis and follow a few simple rules.  Be sure to share this with your roommates and children!

Peter Nelson is the author of this article.  He can be reached at              

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