Use Care And You Won't Trash The Garbage Disposal

By Tim Torres

January 4, 2008 6 min read


Use care and you won't trash the garbage disposal

By Tim Torres

Copley News Service

Garbage disposals have been a staple in American kitchens since the 1970s. They are a quick way to dispose of food waste and typically last 10 years, if taken care of.

For most people, a one-half-horsepower engine is sufficient, says Perry Williams, president of 1-800-Appliance in San Diego. You can spend money for a bigger engine, "if you're one of those people who throw crazy stuff down there."

In choosing a garbage disposal, you need to determine what amount of foodstuff will be going through it. If you foresee light use, a one-half-horsepower engine will do. If you cook a bit and think you'll be grinding a lot of material, you might want to buy a three-fourths-horsepower disposal. And if your family is so large that each night at dinner your spouse looks at you and asks: "Are these all ours?" then think about buying a $600 stainless-steel, 1-horsepower unit with a reversible blade.

Maintenance is easy. You can grind small bones and egg shells to scour the inside. Or, throw in a quarter of a lemon or frozen orange peels to clean it and tackle sink odors as well. Grinding a little ice, if you can stand the ruckus, is another way to clean out deposits and eliminate odors. Ice scours the canister, cleans under cutting blades and then melts. Ice is best, says Perry, "Because no matter what you do, you're not going to jam it for more than 10 minutes."

Always run cold water when grinding in order to move waste all the way through drain lines, recommends Fats and grease congeal and harden in cold water, and can then be flushed through the system. Hot water can dissolve fats and grease, which may then accumulate in the drain line.

Almost all biodegradable food waste can be fed into disposals. However, do not throw in:

- clam or oyster shells

- corn husks

- celery stalks

- onionskins

- peanut shells

- banana or potato peels

- pasta

- artichoke leaves

- any other material with a high fiber content.

Never put in glass, plastic or metal through a disposal. This includes tin covers or aluminum foil.

A garbage disposal is a simple machine. It is basically a motor connected to a flywheel inside the canister with impeller arms that spin and shred whatever you throw in. Sometimes, though, the machine can jam on a bottle top or other debris, or trip a circuit breaker when it's overloaded. If that happens, you just need to take a quick step or two to repair it.

You'll need long-nose pliers, a broomstick and a one-quarter-inch (6-mm) Allen (hex) wrench (which often comes with the disposal and is probably at the bottom of your kitchen utensil drawer).

Step 1 - Turn the garbage disposal wall switch on and off quickly and check to see if the unit has power. If the machine hums, power is on but the impeller is jammed. Turn the wall switch off. Move on to Step 3. If it doesn't hum, it may have overheated and tripped a circuit breaker. Go to Step 2.

Step 2 - Restore power to the machine. Most disposals have an overload switch that trips when the motor starts to overheat. To reset the switch, look for a small red button on the bottom of the housing, and if it's there, push it. If your disposal doesn't have an overload switch or the machine still won't run after you reset the switch, reset the house circuit breaker that serves the disposal. You should now hear the hum when you turn on the wall switch.

Step 3 - With the power off, clear the jam from underneath. On many disposals, you can insert the hex wrench into the bottom housing and manually move the motor shaft and flywheel to dislodge the jam.

Step 4 - Or, clear the jam from above. From the top, with the power off, press the end of a broomstick against one of the impellers at the bottom of the canister, and jab in one direction and then the other until the jam breaks loose.

Step 5 - Remove debris. Turn off all power that controls the garbage disposal, even if you have to unplug it to make sure. Reach inside with a pair of long-nose pliers and pull out whatever jammed the machine but is now free.

Step 6 - Turn on the cold water - this hardens any grease inside and helps the disposal chop it up - and run the disposal until all remaining garbage is gone.

No matter what you do it seems there is always some drama surrounding the garbage disposal.

It reminds one of the true story of Rudy the adventure cat, a Pennsylvania gray that went after salmon skin in the disposal and got his head stuck in the sink. He just about killed his poor owners with his screaming, biting and scratching into the night. They ended up calling the disposal maker, a plumber and the police, before they finally tore out the sink and, with police escort, rushed the sink, with the cat still attached, to an all-night vet. A police reporter later heard the call, and well, the rest is Page One history. There's even a song about it; part of it goes:

The night that Rudy was detained

a thousand bucks went down the drain

And the stalwart vet can now exclaim

he's seen the kitchen sink

- "Rudy's Big Adventure" (Cindy Mangsen)

For the whole story, and another reason to take care about what you throw into your disposal, see

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