Garbage disposals came to the market in 1940. (Fun fact: The garbage disposals used to be referred to as “electric pigs.”) An architect, John Hammes, wanted to find a way to speed up the process of cleaning the kitchen. He tinkered in his basement until he came up with a machine that would grind leftover food into small pieces that can be sent to the sewer instead of being put into a trash can to be taken outside. The premise behind the proper use of a disposer is to effectively regard food scraps as liquid and use existing infrastructure (underground sewers and wastewater treatment plants) for its management. The idea worked and by the 1960s, 75 communities across the country even required disposers. Today, it is estimated that 50% of American households have garbage disposals.
Since its invention, people have tried putting just about everything down their kitchen sink. Some things obviously should not go down the drain but still do despite our best intentions, (like dropping a fork down the sink or a cat getting stuck in the disposal) but there are plenty of things that we put into the garbage disposal without realizing that it can be doing more harm than good.
To truly understand what our disposals can or can not handle, it helps to know how they work. The intention behind the invention has always been to help manage food waste by chopping it up into smaller bits and sending it out with waste plumbing.
So, back to the question at hand. Can you put spaghetti down the drain? You can, but it would not be wise. A small amount very infrequently shouldn’t have many lasting effects, but if you are dumping any type of starch, such as pasta, rice or even potatoes down your disposal on a regular basis or in large quantities you will soon be facing some issues. They have the potential to get stuck to the pipes or the disposal and after time will continue to expand and eventually clog the pipes.
What Shouldn’t Go in Your Garbage Disposal
Starch isn’t the only thing that you can have issues with. To keep it simple, here is a quick list of what you should not put into your garbage disposal:
- Bones – Disposals are not strong enough to ground larger bones
- Eggshells – The thin membranes can get stuck around the blades of the shredder
- Paper towels – While they may get shredded, it is a potential pipe-clogging hazard
- Banana peels – The tough fibers have the potential of getting wrapped around the blades
- Nuts – Like putting peanuts in a blender, this will cause them to become sticky and could clog your pipes
- Onion skins or corn husks – Much like the banana, the tough fibers could get wrapped around the blades
- Paint – latex or oil paint can cling to the disposal or pipes, harden and clog whatever it’s stuck to
- Grease – When you put hot oil down the drain, it eventually hardens, leading to clogs
- Coffee grounds – The grounds will become thick and pasty, and potentially clog the drain
This is not a full and definitive list, and if you end up getting a small amount of anything on this list in the disposal, don’t panic. However, being aware of what you put into your disposal will surely lengthen the life of your disposal and help keep your pipes clean and clear.
Unfortunately, even if you avoid putting the wrong things into the disposal, you may come across the issue of your garbage disposal having a bad smell. The good news is there are very easy, chemical-free ways to clean your disposal.
Hot Water and Dish Soap to Clean Your Garbage Disposal
This simple technique just requires you to fill up your sink halfway with hot, soapy water and then drain it with your garbage disposal running.
Clean Your Garbage Disposal With Ice Cubes and Salt
A couple handfuls of ice cubes mixed with a handful of salt creates a scrubbing action that can help clean off any stuck-on gunk. Just put them into the disposal and run it until clear.
Baking Soda and Vinegar Can Clear Out Your Garbage Disposal
Vinegar is a natural deodorizer. When it is mixed with baking soda, it creates an acid-base reaction that causes bubbling and sizzling that will help to clean the disposal and clear the drain. All you need for this is to pour half a cup of each into the drain, let it work it’s magic for 10 minutes, then run the disposal with hot water for about 30 seconds. (Note: Vinegar is acidic, and this can cause deterioration on the plastic parts of your disposal, so don’t do this too often!)
Lemon Peels for Deodorizing Your Garbage Disposal
This won’t clean the disposal, but it will help with any lingering odors. Cut the lemon peel into half-inch strips and put the strips into the drain, run hot water on low and turn on the disposal. Let the disposal run until you’ve stopped hearing any noise for 10-15 seconds.
If you’re having trouble with your garbage disposal, regardless of what you put down it, we can certainly help. From simple repairs to replacing with a new unit, we can do whatever you need to get the disposal running smooth.
The Heil Difference
We’re dedicated to offering the highest quality residential and commercial plumbing services for every customer. Our plumbers are available to respond to your call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Our residential and commercial plumbers in Columbia and Ellicott City cover every need, from simple fixture repairs to complex drain and sewer problems.
While we are based in Jessup, Maryland, our plumbing contractors also service Catonsville, Columbia, Ellicott City, Odenton, Clarksville, Elkridge, Fulton, Laurel, and Severn.