Here are 7 helpful, yet little known usage tips to get the very most out of your garbage disposal and sink drainage system...
The following tips and tricks will help you to avoid troubles, costly plumbing service calls, kitchen sink drain stoppages, septic tank issues and help your food waste disposal live a long and happy life.
I’ve verbally repeated these hundreds of times during my plumbing career, in the pre-Internet days. You may wish to print or share via the social media buttons above…
1. Use cold water only:
Whenever grinding food, use plenty of cold water (not hot) and then let it continue to run for a few seconds afterwards to assure that all food particles are washed thoroughly away, down the drain.
If food is not properly flushed through, residue can build up inside your pipes over time, eventually hardening, and cause a drain stoppage.
And why cold water instead of hot? Look at the food residue as being “floated” or carried away by the cold water, much like oil on an oil-slick.
When using hot water just the opposite occurs and
the food becomes “soluble” in the hot water. In other
words it mixes in, becoming a part of it, similar to
stirring in the cream and sugar in a cup of coffee.
What happens next is that over time this “mixture”
will gradually coat the inside of your sink drain pipes
and build up a greasy residue until you develop a
sluggish drain (and eventual stoppage). Plumbers
often refer to these as "grease stoppages" and they
can be a real mess to clear (been there; done that).
2. Treat it like a baby:
Treat an old or cheap-model disposal like a baby – do not “over-feed” it and pay particular attention to what you just read in tip #1. In other words, the less food-grinding your disposal does, the bigger the chunks and particles that go down your drain. Naturally, you'll have to feed these just a little at a time and then make sure everything is flushed thoroughly away, even after grinding. (As you are beginning to see, a poor-performing disposal also wastes more water.)
3. Eliminate potential odors:
I’ve owned disposals all my life – and am yet to smell them in my own sink (but I sure have noticed some odors at a few customer's homes)! The internal grinding chamber is similar to a sink strainer which is a catch-all for everything that goes down the drain. Before long it can get very gummy and nasty inside, especially if it's not used very often. These simple tips will do the trick:
- My personal favorite is simply being in the right place at the right time and allowing my dishwasher to clean the disposal for me. You may have already noticed that dishwashers are typically plumbed into the nearby disposal via their drain discharge hose. You can confirm this by hearing the water rushing into your disposal each time the dishwasher is discharging one of its cycles. This is an opportune time to turn on the disposal and let it run for few seconds while all of that nice, hot, sudsy water is flushing through. There you go – a free bath and you didn't even run the faucet!
- No dishwasher? No problem: you can accomplish the same results by simply running the disposal while your kitchen sink is draining after hand-washing a load of dishes. Of course, this only works if you wash them on the disposal-side if it’s a double-compartment sink. Additionally, make certain that all dishes and utensils have been removed first to avoid damage. As a side effect, this is also a good way to flush out your sink drain pipes because running the disposal during draining effectively "pumps" the water out through the drain faster than it could ever do by gravity alone.
- If you’d like to go a step further, try using some “food-grinder deodorant” to freshen it up. Simply grind up your fruit peelings such as lemons and oranges. (This one is easy for my wife and I since we drink lots of lemon water.)
4. Keep your unit from seizing up:
Garbage disposals are internally lubricated and need to run from time-to-time. This is not an issue for normal use but there are a lot of folks who do not use their disposals very often. Perhaps they’re on a septic system, eat out a lot, compost their food scraps or just have a cheap, troublesome model. Regardless of the situation, it’s important to keep it running if for no other reason than to prevent it from gumming up and getting nasty, smelly and full of germs (read tip #3 again).
Note: Always run water while a disposal is operating to avoid burning out the motor! Running it for long without water is similar to driving a car without water in the radiator. Literally, not cool...
5. Guard your septic tank and drain-field system:
Do you have a private septic tank rather than a public or community sewer system? If so, extra care is needed when grinding your food scraps. All leftovers going down the drain should be biodegradable so that it can be broken down by the bacterial action inside your tank. The alternative is to develop more serious problems over time if the bacteria inside your septic tank cannot keep up with the food waste (and other products) introduced to it. Without regular tank-pumping, this could lead to major backups affecting the entire house.
6. Feed your septic tank:
This one is more advice than a tip for those of you who have a septic system as mentioned in #5 above. In case you didn’t notice on a previous page, Insinkerator has a model built exclusively for septic systems, called the Septic Assist®. It actually liquefies food waste and injects a shot of “bacteria food” during grinding. This combination can actually help, rather than hinder a septic system. Learn more on the Evolution page (then scroll about 3/4 of the way down to see the model).
7. Save a service call:
One of the most common service calls I used to get was for a garbage disposal jam. This usually happened due to a foreign object such as silverware accidentally being dropped down the drain during grinding and getting stuck in the rotors. Additionally, the jam caused the motor to freeze up and pop off the inner circuit breaker for motor overload protection.
These were actually very easy calls to make because it only took one little tool, a finger and an explanation (see pictures below). First I would use the disposal wrenchette by fitting it into the socket beneath the housing and working it back and forth until the shaft was spinning freely. I would then remove the foreign object with a “grabber-tool”. (Be very careful if using your hand and make sure the power is off!)
In a worst-case scenario, I would have to remove
the disposal unit in order to work it out. Lastly, I
would press in the small red reset button typically
found on the bottom of the housing. Now, with the
shaft moving freely, and the motor working again,
everything would normally be back in business.
The picture depicts the bottom of the housing
with the small socket in the middle and the reset
button off to the side.
I always carried a wrenchette in my toolbox since
many folks had either lost theirs or were unaware
they had even owned such a tool. If this is the case with you, try
searching around – plumbers often stick it to the disposal itself in
a little pouch that comes with it, or just inside of the sink cabinet.
If unable to locate it, buy one and save a service call; they’re
inexpensive and readily available. As you can see, it's nothing
more than an oversized, offset allen-key wrench (It's also
mentioned on my home page): Note that not all disposals have the features I just mentioned, like the Insinkerator models do. If such is the case you may be out of luck – time for a service call and/or a new unit (and by now you should know the brand to get).
I hope you’ve benefited with these tips. Please share with all of your fellow grinders! Enjoy – and happy grinding!