Garbage Disposals: The Ultimate Guide for Homeowners
We all need somewhere to put our trash, the physical trash, and all the other types of trash we accumulate in life. Unfortunately, many of us do not have the proper outlets or appliances to dispose of our trash in healthy ways, including our physical trash ending up in a landfill. However, in the US, some devices are changing that, including garbage disposals. Food waste continues to be a problem around the world, with around a third of the world’s food wasted, which works out to over 1.3 billion tons of food. The good news is that many households in the US have a solution for food waste: garbage disposals. So, what should you do to make the most out of this machine?
Owning garbage disposal is a good idea for many homeowners in the US. Interestingly, garbage disposals are not common outside of the US, and despite over half of US households owning them, many are unaware of how disposals can reduce food waste. In order to utilize this appliance, it is a good idea to understand how to keep it in optimum condition, so you do not have any issues with your garbage flow. Read on for everything you need to know about garbage disposals.
How Do Garbage Disposals Work?
Garbage disposals are based underneath a sink, between the sink drain and trap, collecting food scraps in a chamber with a shredder ring. A disposal works by using a shredder ring to break down food scraps; then, water is used to wash the waste through small holes in the chamber walls. Your plumbing system can then handle the waste and operate as usual.
Continuous-feed Garbage Disposer
Continuous-feed garbage disposals are the most common type of disposal available. It means there are a variety of different models available, including budget-friendly options. They are convenient because you can put food waste in while they are running. However, these garbage disposals risk other objects falling in and damaging the disposal, including utensils. Also, usually, they need a switch, which a professional electrician will install.
Batch-feed Garbage Disposer
Batch-feed garbage disposals only work when the drain is covered and do not require switches. There are fewer models available on the market, and they tend to be more expensive. You put scraps in, then cover the drain with a stopper to start the garbage disposal.
Myths About Garbage Disposals
Despite many households owning garbage disposals in the US, there are many misconceptions and myths. Awareness of these myths is essential to avoid damaging your disposal or missing out on owning one. These myths about garbage disposals include the following:
- That garbage disposals are bad for the environment
- That you need hot water
- That you can put all your food waste in the garbage disposal
- Garbage disposals have sharp blades
You do not need hot water to operate a garbage disposal. However, you should be mindful of the food waste you put in your disposal, as some types of food waste can quickly break down your garbage disposal. Garbage disposals do not have sharp blades, but you need to know how to take care of your appliance to ensure it stays in optimum condition.
Benefits of Garbage Disposals
There are several benefits of garbage disposals, which is why many households in the US own them. It is also important to maintain your garbage disposal so you can reap all of the benefits. Some of the top benefits of garbage disposals include the following:
- Cost savings
- Less kitchen odor
- Environmentally friendly
A well-maintained garbage disposal can last a decade or longer, meaning you get substantial returns on your investment. You also are disposing of food waste in a way that reduces odor in your kitchen and helps the environment, avoiding trash making its way to a landfill. It is also a great way to dispose of food waste correctly, avoiding plumbing issues.
What Are Garbage Disposals Made Of?
A garbage disposal is an electrically powered device with several different parts. These parts include:
- The hopper chamber
- Flywheel and shredder ring
- Motor and impellers
- Waste line connector
It is helpful to familiarize yourself with the different parts of your garbage disposal so you can quickly troubleshoot any issues. The hopper chamber is the hollow cylinder you can see under your sink. This has two sections; the upper grinding chamber, which collects food waste, and the lower section, where the food waste goes once, it is shredded. Usually, the lower chamber is where the motor and waste line is located. The flywheel and shredder ring sit between the upper and lower chamber. The shredder uses sharp groves to grind food, and the flywheel prevents food from passing before it is finely ground.
The motor helps power your garbage disposal and comes with different horsepower depending on the garbage disposal you own. The impellers help force food into the shredder. Once this process is complete, the ground food waste travels through the waste line connector before entering your plumbing system.
What Is the Difference Between a Good and a Bad Garbage Disposal?
Not all garbage disposals are created equally. It can be hard to select the right garbage disposal for your home without research, and the wrong type can cause many issues. The good news is that there are several differences to look out for between a suitable garbage disposal and a bad garbage disposal.
Signs of a Good Garbage Disposal:
Investing in a good garbage disposal can reduce the chance of errors and ensure your food waste can be disposed of in a timely manner. It is not always the case that the cost of the garbage disposal indicates the quality. Instead, it is important to look out for certain features:
- A disposal with stainless steel components that last longer
- The right amount of horsepower and size for your needs
- Warranty and useful features
- Septic system enzymatic reservoir
- Brand reputation and reviews
These are some of the signs of a good garbage disposal. You want the right size for your space, the correct horsepower for your needs, and a warranty in case you have any issues with the appliance. If you have a septic system, an enzymatic reservoir aids your system by providing additional enzyme treatment. This helps the system stay healthy and reduces issues.
Stainless steel parts are great as they last longer, and are easier to clean, which helps you get the most out of your appliance.
There are some features you can look out for to help manage the noise of your garbage disposal. These include nylon-coated grinding parts, sound baffles, and other sound-insulating technology. You can also look out for anti-splash features and corrosion protection.
Always check customer reviews and the brand reputation. You want to ensure the brand’s promises about their garbage disposal match reviews. Also, be aware that certain garbage disposals do not include the power cord, which you will have to buy separately.
Signs of a Bad Garbage Disposal
There are several signs of a bad garbage disposal. Some of these signs occur over time, indicating your disposal is failing. However, poor-quality garbage disposals can also cause issues from the beginning:
- Abnormal noises
- Strange odors
- Frequent and unexplained clogging
- Slow performance
- No power
- Regular resets
If you recognize signs of a bad garbage disposal, there are several steps you can take. First, if your garbage disposal is new, it is worth contacting the manufacturer directly. If your garbage disposal is older, it doesn’t necessarily mean you need a replacement; first, you may require some maintenance work to fix the disposal.
What Is Safe to Put Down a Garbage Disposal?
The term garbage disposal can be misleading, as it is only specific types of food waste that you can put in this appliance. It is essential to know what is safe to put down the garbage disposal to avoid problems. Safe items to put in a garbage disposal include:
- Dairy products
There can be mixed responses regarding what is safe to put down in a garbage disposal, but a general rule is soft or liquid foods. Fruit scraps, pits, small bones, leftovers, cooked meats, and ice cubes also work well. Certain food waste works better in the compost, which you can learn about below.
What Is Bad for Your Garbage Disposal?
While garbage disposals can grind different food scraps, certain items can cause problems immediately or over time. If these problems are not addressed, it can lead to costly issues that may result in the need to replace your disposal. Some of the items you should avoid putting in your garbage disposal include:
- Coffee grounds
- Grease or fat
- Fibrous vegetables or peels such as onions or potato peels
- Dry expandable foods
- Large bones
- Oyster and clam shells
It is never a good idea to pour grease down the disposal because grease or fat can solidify and cause issues, potentially damaging your garbage disposal. Use cold water on food scraps to avoid any remaining fat clogging your disposal and plumbing system. Eggshells are one of the most common items homeowners put in the garbage disposal and then experience issues. The thin coating inside the eggshell is the issue, causing sticky residue and blockages.
Fibrous vegetables and peels such as onion skins or potato peels have a similar membrane to eggshells. These types of peels can get through the blades without being finely ground.
If you put dry expandable foods in the garbage disposal, they will start to expand once water enters, causing blockages. You should be okay if it is a tiny number of leftovers; however, large amounts can cause substantial blockages. Foods include oatmeal, rice, popcorn kernels, and pasta.
Large bones and other hard foods can be too difficult for the garbage disposal to grind, damaging the disposal. You can check with your specific make to see if it has the technology and power to manage certain foods. Shells, trash, utensils, and coffee grounds also cause issues with your garbage disposal. For example, coffee grounds can form a thick paste, slowing or blocking the disposal process.
Garbage Disposal Troubleshooting
It is never fun when appliances experience issues, especially if you have a pile of food waste to process. However, there are common problems that may arise with your garbage disposal. If you know how to manage these problems, you can quickly deal with them before they escalate.
Here are some common questions we receive.
What Should You Do If Silverware or Broken Glass Gets In Your Garbage Disposal?
Safety is your priority if broken glass or a utensil gets inside your garbage disposal. It can be tempting to act as the adrenaline kicks in, but instead, channel that energy into switching off the unit. Do not put your hands inside the garbage disposal; instead, take these steps to prevent the issue from worsening.
- Switch Off the Garbage Disposal
First, switch off the garbage disposal so the broken glass does not go further into the appliance and cause more issues. You also reduce the chance of shards of glass coming out of the disposal if you do not have an anti-splash accessory. Double-check that the garbage disposal is off before doing anything else, and ideally, unplug the entire unit.
- Check if You Can See the Glass
You can use a light to see if the broken glass is visible. Never put your hand directly into the garbage disposal. If you can see the glass or utensils and have the correct tools, you can retrieve large pieces, such as with a wooden spoon or tongs. Most garbage disposals come with tools such as a wrench to reverse the blades if objects get stuck.
- Manually Reverse the Blades or Call a Professional
If you feel comfortable, you can manually reverse the blades. However, only do this if you have the right tools. You do not want to risk hurting yourself or damaging the disposal further.
The best option is to call a professional plumbing service to reverse the blades and inspect the disposal for glass or utensils.
- Address the Drain
If the broken glass is in small pieces or shattered, it is also essential to check the drain. If you have called a professional service, they will manage this. Alternatively, you can dry it using a wet/dry shop vacuum.
- Run the Garbage Disposal
Once all the glass or utensil is removed, it is time to run the disposal. If there are unusual sounds, such as grinding, or the disposal is not operating as usual, it is likely there is still broken glass or utensils in the disposal. At this point, call a professional plumber who can inspect the entire disposal and remove any remaining pieces.
How Do You Unclog a Garbage Disposal?
Do you suspect your garbage disposal is blocked? There are several techniques to unclog a garbage disposal. The first step is to understand why your garbage disposal is clogged. Common reasons include the following:
- Putting incorrect food types in the garbage disposal
- Too much food waste at once
- Non-food items
- Not letting the water wash away food waste
First, ensure your disposal is off and use a flashlight to check if you can see what is clogging your garbage disposal. You can see if it is possible to remove the cause of the clog manually.
You can then clean your garbage disposal with baking soda and vinegar to remove food clogs. Plungers can also help; just be sure to fill the sink with water first. You can then recheck the disposal and try running water to see if it is now flowing smoothly. You can also use tools to check, such as a wrench in the shredder ring, to get them moving freely. If it moves freely, it is a sign the clog has gone. Alternatively, call a plumbing expert to deal with blockages efficiently.
Prevention is also crucial with blockages. Steps such as:
- Use a sink strainer
- Be selective about what food waste goes into the disposal
- Read the disposal manual
- Reduce food size before putting it in the disposal
- Run the disposal
- Slow down your pace
- Run the disposal regularly
- Use cold water after use
These steps will help reduce the chance of your disposal clogging. An unused garbage disposal can corrode due to rust, so it is helpful to run your disposal regularly and use cold water to help keep all the disposal parts lubricated.
Why Does My Garbage Disposal Smell?
There are several reasons why your garbage disposal may have an unusual smell, but the most common one is that it is not functioning correctly, meaning the food waste is not being disposed of properly. Cleaning your disposal, using it regularly, and not putting incorrect items in the disposal will reduce the chance of unpleasant smells.
If My Garbage Disposal Is Not Working Correctly, What Are a Few Simple Things I Can Try To Fix It?
There is nothing worse than going to use your garbage disposal and then finding out the miracle worker is not functioning correctly. Common issues include the garbage disposal making noises, not turning on, or frequently resetting. The good news is that there are several steps you can try to rectify it:
- Check the Power Source and Outlet
Unplug the power and check the power source. A circuit breaker could have tripped on your electrical panel or the appliance’s internal breaker. You can try the reset button on both of these to see if this helps start your disposal again.
It is also worth checking the outlet and trying a switch-controlled outlet to help manage the garbage disposal.
- Clean and Reset
Garbage disposals do an excellent job of removing food waste from your sink. However, some scraps can end up stuck in the chambers and start to decay, which can also be the reason why your garbage disposal smells or stops working correctly. A slimy substance can also be left if you dispose of certain vegetables that your disposal cannot fully break down, such as potato peels.
Do not try to unclog the appliance with your hand. Instead, try a solution such as half a cup of baking soda the white vinegar. Let it sit before turning on the garbage disposal and using hot water to rinse the solution.
- Identify Leaks
If you suspect there is a leak, you can try to secure it by tightening the pipes. More significant leaks will require professional plumbing knowledge and attention. It is vital to take action fast, as leaks can quickly become costly and damage your home. It is estimated that around 10,000 gallons of water is wasted every year due to leaks.
- Give It Time
Sometimes, your garbage disposal may not work correctly because of overheating or if you have put too much food waste through at once. You can also try to unplug the device and let it cool down before trying it again. You can also try to rotate the impeller plates while you wait manually, but it is best to consult a professional for this task if you don’t feel comfortable, as it can cause more issues and poses safety risks if done incorrectly.
When Should You Call a Plumber for a Garbage Disposal Issue?
While there are several steps you can take to fix your garbage disposal, there comes a time when you should call a professional plumber for assistance. If you try the solutions above and are still experiencing problems, call a professional. A professional can assist you if you suspect a substantial leak, hear abnormal noises, or cannot remove a clog. A professional plumber will assess the issue and fix it promptly if possible. They will be able to advise if you also need a garbage disposal replacement. Do you need help with your garbage disposal? Atomic Plumbing is here to help, with a team of skilled professionals to manage all your plumbing needs. Contact us today to get started.