Few things can ruin a family gathering like a kitchen sink out of commission due to non-functional garbage disposal. Never fear! You can prevent garbage disposal clogs, aka disaster, from messing up family get-togethers with our sensible tips. Knowing what shouldn’t go down the kitchen sink drain is crucial to properly using this appliance and keeping it operational. If, despite your best efforts, your garbage disposal becomes “indisposed,” there are steps you can try before calling a plumber. Here’s what you need to know about maintaining your garbage disposal and troubleshooting when issues crop up.
Prevent Garbage Disposal Clogs
It’s important to know that while your garbage disposal is powerful, it’s not designed to take in all types of food waste. Here are the types of food products you should never put down your kitchen sink drain:
- Fats, oils and grease – Solid at room temperatures, liquid fats and grease harden when they cool, quickly gunking up the rotor blades and the drain chamber. All three can clog pipes and snag additional food particles, causing the blockage to grow.
- Bones and fruit pits – Garbage disposals are not capable of grinding up dense objects such as bones of any size, nor can they handle fruit pits either. The end result will dull or completely damage the rotor blades, prevent the garbage disposal from running and may cause need for a system replacement.
- Eggshells – While delicate, the membranes in eggshells wrap around the impellers and gears, preventing them from turning as they should.
- Coffee grounds – Over time, dumping coffee grounds down the drain will cause blockage and buildup since it takes so long for this item to decompose.
- Fibrous foods – Stringy, fibrous vegetables and fruits will tangle the blades and get caught in the moving parts of the disposal. This list includes but isn’t limited to: mangos, corn husks, banana peeks, celery, artichokes, asparagus and more.
- Starchy foods – This group includes potato peels as well as pasta, rice and grains (which expand with water) – all of which grow mushy and clump up to clog your drain and disposal.
For additional items that should never go down any drain in your house, kitchen or otherwise, read our blog post here.
When you do turn on the garbage disposal, make sure you’re running a steady stream of cold water. Any residual fat or grease on dishes that gets rinsed down the drain will stay solid, allowing it to be chopped up and carried down the drain line.
If you notice your garbage disposal starts getting smelly, here’s how you can freshen it up and clean it at the same time: cut up a few orange or other citrus peels, then add a small handful of ice then turn on the garbage et voila – cleaner and better scented already. You can find our guide to maintaining your kitchen sink drain here.
How to Fix Your Garbage Disposal
Either a clog or jam can cause your garbage disposal to stop working as it should. A clog in the drain itself will cause the water in your sink to drain more slowly, or not at all. This signifies that a significant blockage has built up over time, and that you’ll need to address it. Since chemical drain cleaners can corrode your pipes, natural solutions are best: try boiling water, then a mixture of vinegar and baking soda.
In the other scenario, a jam means something has gotten caught in your garbage disposal and brought it to a grinding halt – no pun intended. Do not, we repeat, do not attempt anything until you have turned off the garbage disposal and unplugged the unit from the outlet. For hardwired units you’ll need to instead turn off the disposal’s circuit breaker at the breaker box. Keep your fingers and hands very far away from the disposal until you have completed this step.
Then, use a flashlight or headlamp to inspect the disposal inside of the sink drain. In most cases, you’ll be able to see the food item causing the jam. Remove it with a utensil such as pliers or tongs if you’re able. If this does not work, you can use the wrench that came with your garbage disposal (or a standard alternative – usually a quarter inch Allen wrench) to remove the impeller assembly to get at the blockage. On the bottom of the garbage disposal, insert the wrench into the socket in the motor housing, which is connected to the impellers. Turning the wrench frees the impellers and removes the blockage, which you can then fish out of the disposal unit. Now that it should work properly, you can plug the system back in. Press the red reset button on the underside of the unit, then test the appliance by turning the garbage disposal on (be sure to run water any time you turn on the unit). Repeat the process if the unit does not spin as it should. If it still doesn’t work afterward, this may mean your unit has burned out or that you need professional plumbing assistance for garbage disposal repair or replacement.
Professional Assistance for Garbage Disposal Issues and Plumbing Problems
With many years serving as plumbers to the Northern Virginia community, we’ve seen more than a few kitchen sink clogs and garbage disposal blockages. Our tips for helping prevent such issues from happening could very well extend the lifespan of your disposal unit and prevent clogs for many years. But if your kitchen sink drain, garbage disposal or another part of your home’s plumbing system ever give you problems you can’t solve yourself, don’t hesitate to call us. Our team of professional, licensed plumbing experts can diagnose any plumbing issue you have and perform the repairs or replacements you need. Contact us at Atlas Home Services today.