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All About Garbage Disposals

Garbage disposals are one of the most wonderful inventions in our modern world! After all, the ability to put leftover food or scraps down your sink drain is pretty awesome, right? Have you ever wondered how exactly a garbage disposal works, or why some homes have them and others don't?

all about garbage disposals

Where is it?

Although the "mouth" of your garbage disposal is technically the drain of your sink, the "body" of the disposal can be found mounted underneath your sink. It can be identified as a round, cylinder-like container.

How A Garbage Disposal Works

Many think that a giant blade at the bottom of a garbage disposal is responsible for chopping up everything tossed down the drain. In reality, a very different process is at work. When something is put down the sink drain, its first encounter a splash guard. This is a rubber lining with flaps around the mouth of your sink that prevents crushed waste from flying back up into your sink. After pushing scraps though the splash guard they will land in the upper hopper.

The upper hopper is where you will find a shredder ring, flywheel and impellers. These three elements are responsible for grinding up scraps. An insulated motor found at the bottom of the garbage disposal cylinder moves the flywheel which has two impellers attached keeping scraps pushed up into the shredder. The flywheel and impellers move against the outer shredder ring which has tiny, sharp grooves. Once the water has been turned on and the garbage disposal is activated, the flushing of water paired with the spinning motion grinds all scraps into waste and flushes them into the waste line. From here it's flushed out of your home and into the sewage plant like any other waste from your home.

how a garbage disposal works

Sewer or Septic?

Curious why some homes sport a garbage disposal and others don't? After all, it's a marvelous invention that makes cooking and cleaning up so much easier. So why doesn't every home have one? It all comes down to the type of water system your home is utilizing. If your water comes from the county and is removed into the public sewer system then chances are your home may have a garbage disposal, or at least is a good candidate for having one installed.

While it's not completely unheard of to have a garbage disposal when your home is on well water or septic system, it is not suggested without checking with a professional first. The waste generated from the disposal is flushed out of the waste line and into the septic system which is much more delicate than a public sewage system. So be warned! If you decide a garbage disposal is too nifty to pass on even with a septic system, you could end up with some pretty nasty (and costly) plumbing issues. It's best to ask a trusted plumber for advice if you have a septic system at your home.

What to NOT put down a disposal

Although a good garbage disposal should be able to handle most scraps you care to flush down the drain, some items are strongly discouraged as they can cause issues for your disposal system.

Never put any of the following down your garbage disposal:

  • Coffee grounds
  • Fruit pits
  • Banana peels
  • Bones
  • Nuts
  • Grease
  • Butter
  • Fibrous items such as asparagus, celery or corn husks
  • Pasta or rice
  • Oats/oatmeal
  • Eggshells
  • Starchy vegetables or beans
  • Seafood shells

How to Clean a Disposal

It's a good idea to regularly clean your garbage disposal to help keep the system running smoothly, the pipes clear and to avoid unpleasant smells. Here are some different ways you can go about cleaning your disposal.

how to clean a garbage disposal

Options for a Quick Clean:

  • Add ice to the disposal followed by a cup of either salt or vinegar. Turn the water and disposal on and let it run for a minute or until all of the ice mixture has washed away.
  • Place a stopper in the sink and fill with hot water and dish soap. When your sink is mostly full, unplug the drain and let all of the hot water drain. This should help flood out the garbage disposal removing debris and smell.
  • Pour half a cup of baking soda down the garbage disposal followed by a cup of vinegar. Let it sit for 5-10 minutes and then pour very hot or boiling water down the disposal.
  • Add a tablespoon of bleach to a gallon of water and pour down the disposal. Let it sit for a few minutes before turning the sink on and letting it run for another minute or two.
  • To specifically reduce odor in a smelly disposal place pieces of citrus fruit down the disposal and turn it on along with running water.

Options for a Deep Clean:

To complete this deep clean you must first make sure the power is completely turned off. Either unplug the whole system or turn off the power from the breaker box. Even with the power completely turned off, it's still not recommended to put your hand down into the disposal. Use a sponge or scrub brush with dish soap to clean in and around the splash guard. Grab a flashlight and some tongs (or similar tool) and get to work pulling out anything in the upper hopper that hasn't been flushed out. Lastly, use a scrub brush with a handle to do a thorough scrubbing of the upper hopper.

Helpful Garbage Disposal Tips

  • Always make sure to run the sink water while you use the disposal
  • Never force scraps down into the disposal
  • Make sure to run the disposal for at least 30 seconds once scraps are placed inside
  • Make sure the disposal is unplugged before attempting any maintenance
  • Never put tools or other utensils into the disposal (unless it's been unplugged)
  • Don't ever put your hand down into the disposal (even when unplugged)
  • Run your disposal regularly

Well, there you have it — the anatomy and science behind the awesome kitchen invention we know as a garbage disposal. Although they can add an extra layer of cleaning and possible repairs to your sink, most feel that the helpful benefits a disposal brings are worth the extra trouble. And for those feeling left out without a garbage disposal, don't! May we suggest composting as a great alternative for extra scraps in the kitchen. Regardless of how you dispose of your kitchen scraps, we can all appreciate the convenience a garbage disposal brings to the kitchen.

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