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How to clean and maintain your garbage disposal

Vegetable scraps lie in a sink

Addressing garbage disposal issues can seem scary, but we’ve got the know-how you need to keep yours in good condition. Use these garbage disposal maintenance tips to easily keep yours grinding and handle small concerns when they arise.

What can go down the drain?

Though it may be tempting to put certain items down your kitchen drain, the smoothest path to a healthy garbage disposal is the path that directs most food and non-food items to the trash. By not feeding your garbage disposal the items below, you can help it work for longer and avoid potentially large kitchen drain repair costs.

Better off in the bin

Put these items in the bin to get more use out of your garbage disposal.

  • Anything with a lot of fat or grease
  • Bones
  • Eggshells
  • Pasta or rice
  • Pits and seeds
  • Packaging material

How to clean your garbage disposal

Garbage disposal maintenance only takes a few seconds every 1-4 weeks. With regular maintenance, your garbage disposal can continue to grind food bits without issue. That why it’s important to run it regularly to prevent corrosion and resulting damage. Whenever you finish using your garbage disposal (or at least once a week), flush it with cold water for 15 seconds to help it stay healthy.

Even when your garbage disposal is working, it can quickly develop smells. Use the following tricks to keep it smelling rosy when it’s time for a refresher.

  • Grind citrus peels
  • Run your disposal with ice once a month to keep the blades clean and sharp
  • Make your garbage disposal sparkle with store bought garbage disposal cleaner and follow the instructions
  • Use a homemade mix of ½ cup baking soda and chase it slowly with the same amount of vinegar

Signs and symptoms to watch for

There are a few different ways your garbage disposal can signal for attention. If you notice any of the following signs, it may be time for maintenance or repair.

  • Your garbage disposal won't turn on
  • Your garbage disposal is humming but not grinding
  • Your garbage disposal has leaking pipes or fittings

Pro Tip: Disconnect or turn off your garbage disposal’s power source before initiating repairs. Refer to your owner’s manual to learn how to reset your garbage disposal.

If your garbage disposal won’t turn on, it could also be due to your garbage disposal overheating. In this instance, wait five minutes, then reset it. If your disposal plugs into an outlet, test the outlet with another appliance, like a toaster. If this doesn’t work, reset the circuit breaker. You may need to call a professional if these tips don’t do the trick. 

A common cause of garbage disposals that hum, but won’t grind, is a food jam. Food jams often result from feeding your garbage disposal the wrong types of waste (see list above). Using your owner’s manual and a wrench, you should be able to turn off the electrical circuit the disposal connect to before accessing the inner flywheel to use utensils and remove any food products that could be causing the jam.

Once finished, reset it according to your manual’s instructions to resume using normally. If your disposal’s motor is burned out, you will likely have to purchase a new one; these are available at most hardware stores.

If you notice that your garbage disposal has leaking pipes or fittings, track down the source of the leak. For smaller leaks, you may be able to address the problem yourself by tightening the bolts and referring to your owner’s manual. For larger or more complicated issues, it’s best to call a professional.

Congratulations! You’ve mastered the essentials of garbage disposal maintenance.