7 Garbage Disposal Myths (and 3 Things That Are Definitely True)

updated Apr 8, 2021
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Credit: Lauren Kolyn

While in-sink garbage disposals are an everyday convenience —making it easy to dispose of extra waste — they can be puzzling. Can disposals handle ice? Is any food waste okay to go down the drain? Without answers to these questions, you might be unintentionally abusing your drain by disposing of items that lead to unwanted build-up (plus costly damage and repairs).

So what’s true and what’s not? What can your disposal actually handle? I chatted with Stephany Smith, part of the garbage disposal team at Fantastic Handyman, to clear up some of the mystery about how to properly use and clean your in-sink garbage disposal. Now you can ensure you get the longest lifespan possible.

Credit: Cat Meschia

False: You can’t put ice or anything frozen in the disposal.

Grinding up ice cubes will not harm your in-built sink appliance. It is not only safe but can also be an effective way to clean your disposal. For an eco-friendly grime-fighting solution against gooey food left-overs on the blades, Smith recommends using a combination of ice cubes, lemon slices, and cool water.  

True: You have to run water whenever you run the disposal.

Running water while using your disposal is a must. It ensures that all particles are broken up and sent down the drain. “Just like a toilet flushing, running water carries out food particles through the garbage disposal into the U-bend and down your drainpipe without leaving a sticky residue on the impellers or the cutter,” says Smith. 

By running water before and while grinding, and then at least half a minute after you turn off the disposer, you can prolong the life of your in-sink appliance. And don’t worry about the water bill; according to Smith, garbage disposals use less than one percent of the overall household water usage. 

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Apartment Therapy

True: You shouldn’t run your disposal with hot water — only cold.

While on the topic of water, you should always use cold water when running your disposal — it helps keep fats congealed and solid inside the appliance. This allows the fatty bits to get chopped up and sent down your drainpipe. Hot water, on the other hand, keeps fats sticky and will lead to build-up. “By running cool water, you reduce the risk of oil or fat clinging into your pipes,” says Smith. 

True(ish): The sink has to be totally empty of dishes to run the disposal.

While dishes in the sink won’t interfere with the disposal doing its job, removing them reduces the risk of unwanted items like silverware making their way into the drain. It also helps to keep your disposals running efficiently. Smith explained that if you have pots or a stack of plates in the sink, running water may end up filling those items instead of flushing the waste food down the garbage disposal.

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Apartment Therapy

False: Any food waste can go down the disposal.

Many food items can go down the disposal, but certain food remains, like potato peels, coffee grounds, rice, bread, bones, nuts and shells, onion layers, eggshells, and grease, can gum up or clog the in-sink machine. “Garbage disposals use multigrind technology, allowing you to quickly process whatever food wastes you think of: leftover meals, meat, fruits, veggies, etc.,” says Smith. “But some foods — such as flour, pasta, bread, macaroni, or other pastry — just don’t belong to your kitchen plumbing.” 

Credit: Joe Lingeman

False: Sending flour down the drain is fine.

When combined with water, flour expands and forms an adhesive film that will stick to the grinder in your disposal and prevent it from performing as it should. “Remember, these ingredients keep on swelling even if they are thoroughly cooked,” says Smith. “And when they mix with the other trash, it’s likely to form a gunky ball of flowing, non-dissolving junk, resulting in major blockages that will likely need an emergency plumber’s help.”

False: Fiber-rich vegetables and fruits won’t harm the disposal.

A few pieces of corn or grains of oatmeal won’t harm your disposal immediately, but over time, the gunk could fill the disposal trap and cause major problems. “High-fiber vegetables — such as broccoli, potato peels, lettuce, etc. — can occasionally wrap or stick into the grinding teeth and prevent your device from operating smoothly,” says Smith. “Plus, fiber-rich vegetables and fruit pits are a garbage disposal clog-generating culprit before they even reach the U-bend.”

False: Eggshells help sharpen the blades.

Eggshells in the garbage disposal will do nothing but cause slow drainage and clogged pipes. That is due to the thin inside membrane, which like high-fiber vegetables, can wrap around the grinding ring.

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Apartment Therapy

False(ish): Use soapy products to get your garbage disposal sparkling clean.

Check the ingredients in your soap. Products with talc and wax are a no-go. The tacky soap scum leads to a hard-to-clean residue that builds up in your garbage disposal over time. Smith says eventually, that leads to blockages, sink overflows, and reduced garbage disposal efficiency and lifetime.

False: Leaving the fruit stickers when washing fruits and veggies isn’t a big deal.

Most of the time, those little stickers on fruits and veggies are a pain to remove. But on the off-chance that they or other non-food elements accidentally fall into your garbage disposals, you have a problem. As Smith puts it, they can turn into one of the worst enemies of your machine if they stick on its blades. She went on to say that “any non-food items that slip inside your pipe might not dissolve [and] prevent your garbage disposal from efficient grinding.” Save yourself the hassle by inspecting your produce for stickers, price tags, or labels.

This post originally appeared on Apartment Therapy. See it there: 7 Garbage Disposal Myths That Too Many People Believe (And 3 That Are True)