How to clean and maintain your garbage disposal


Having an in-sink garbage disposal is one of those little luxuries that we tend to take for granted in the modern age. Instead of having to worry about clogs or fishing around in the drain for gross, congealed food particles, we can simply flick a switch and it all goes away.

Like any appliance, a garbage disposal requires regular cleaning and maintenance to continue working properly. The parts are simple, so this doesn't take a lot of effort, but neglect it and your sink may start to back up and introduce unpleasant odors to your kitchen.

Food items to avoid
The most important part of maintaining a garbage disposal is knowing what not to run through it. Homeowners frequently think that their disposal can handle almost anything, only to find themselves holding a hefty repair bill down the road.

Anything with the following characteristics should not be put down your garbage disposal:

  • Rocky – Peach or avocado pits are two common offenders
  • Greasy – Sticks of butter, chicken skin or fat
  • Stringy – Corn husks or long stems, like from carrots or beets
  • Starchy – A little bit of starch is OK, but potato or banana skins are too much
  • Bony – As in bones
  • Fibrous – Celery or carrots, avocado skins

Keep in mind that, despite its name, your garbage disposal is there to save you time when washing dishes – not to serve as an alternative trash can. If you're looking for something to do with all of that leftover organic matter, consider starting a compost pile.

Cleaning a disposal
If your disposal starts to smell bad, you can clear away unsavory odors with bleach or drain cleaner, followed by cold water. Cold water will help to lubricate the chemicals as they clean your drain without melting grease deposits, which can solidify down the line and cause a blockage. 

For a more natural solution, fill your sink with a few inches of cold water and apply a liberal amount of baking soda. Just before you unplug the drain to let the water flush through, pour white vinegar to activate the acid-base reaction. The fizzy bubbling effect can help to further clean your drain, though you may still find that chemical cleaners are more effective.

Maintaining your disposal
Once a week, put a few ice cubes in your disposal with a couple pinches of salt. Run the cold water and activate your disposal. You will hear a horrible crunching sound as the ice breaks apart, but this will actually help to sharpen your disposal blades. Follow this up with a wedge of lemon (without the peel) and you can keep your disposal smelling nice and clean.

If your disposal ever gets really clogged, remember not to take any chances. Turn the disposal off on the actual unit – not just at the switch – in order to ensure that your fingers don't get cut. Even still, it is a good idea to avoid sticking your fingers down the disposal if at all possible. Use a plumbing snake or a wooden spoon.

Maintaining your garbage disposal is a small but important part of being a responsible homeowner. Make another responsible decision and invest in a home warranty. A TotalProtect® Home Warranty is a great way to decrease your liability as a homeowner by covering your large appliances and home systems against the risk of repairs or replacement.

The information in this article is intended to provide guidance on the proper maintenance and care of systems and appliances in the home. Not all of the topics mentioned are covered by our home warranty or maintenance plans. Please review your home warranty contract carefully to understand your coverage.