Garbage Disposal Maintenance Tips

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maintaining garbage disposals
Running a garbage disposal after clearing the dishes after dinner is barely given a second thought. However, plumbers often receive calls to clear out, fix or replace the disposal unit that could have been avoided.


A basic unit costs around $100, and can go up to over $250 for high-end home units, so some simple maintenance can go a long way to extending the life of your garbage disposal unit.


Maintaining your garbage disposal unit and using it in the manner for which it was intended is a fairly simple job, and can significantly extend its useful life. Also refer to the page on common kitchen plumbing issues.


Prevent Clogs

1. Before turning on the disposal unit, turn on the cold water.

  • The water will carry small and ground up food particles down the drain.
  • Cool water helps keep the motor from getting too hot.
  • Helps food grease and fat solidify so that it doesn’t stick to the blades and the PVC pipes which carry the waste into the drains.


2. Do not pour large amounts of grease down the drains.

  • Drain as much grease out of your cooking as possible and wipe down the pans with a paper towl to absorb most of what’s left. Put the grease into a disposable container and put into the trash.
  • Some city utility companies will pick up larger quantities of cooking grease. Check with your local city water utility.


3. Do not put potato peels down the disposal

  • Starch from potatoes may turn into a paste-like material and clog up the blades, slowing them down or adding unwanted stress to the motor.


4. Chop up large pieces of food

  • Help the blades out by feeding in smaller pieces of food so that it has to work less to grind up those food pieces.
  • Don’t stuff all of the food waste into the disposal unit at once, gradually feed it in to the opening. Disposals work best and operate lightly when they have a small volume of food passing through at any given moment.


5. Avoid fibrous food

  • Food containing lots of fiber such as celery and artichokes are harder for a disposal to manage due to the tough fibrous material. While tough fibrous food is good for our bodies, it’s not so healthy for the disposal units.
  • Instead, dispose of them into the regular garbage.


6. Small bones ok, large ones not

  • Do not send large bones, ex from chicken, turkey or steak down the unit. Unless you have a very powerful motor, it will clog and possibly burn out the motor.
  • Smaller bones like fish are fine and should be handled easily by most disposal units.

Garbage Disposal Maintenance

1. Freshen up and eradicate odors

  • Rinds from citrus fruits such as lemons or oranges will held to rid foul odors from your unit. Send them down by themselves. You don’t need a lot.
  • Do not use harsh chemicals such as bleach or drain cleaner to remove odors. They can harm the unit and the PVC pipes if not used properly.
  • Freeze some vinegar into ice cubes and send them down the drain.


2. Use your unit frequently to avoid rust build up or accumulation of debris which can put the motor at risk of seizing up.



sink disposal unit tips

underneath the garbage disposal unit

loosen garbage disposal

Allen key to loosen garbage disposal

If you still have a clog, there are a few other ideas you can try.

  • Use a sink plunger. This may not work if you have a seized motor, but is worth a try if done gently.
  • At the bottom of the unit, there is usually a hexagonal hole in which to place a standard 1/4″ allen wrench. Make sure the unit is powered down. Insert the allen wrench and forcefully rotate back and forth a few times until you feel it moving easier. Then retest the unit by running water and then turning on the power.


This picture here shows the red reset button as well as the hole for the allen wrench.


Occasionally, the motor may cut out as a result of overheating or some other electrical problem. If this happens:

  • check to make sure the electrical breakers have not tripped.
  • Do other appliances or outlets in the same area of your kitchen still operate? (Sometimes the garbage disposal runs on a different circuit than, say, the dishwasher)
  • Reset the disposal unit. At the bottom of the unit, there is a small red button. With the power off, just push the button and see if that helps.


If you are still having problems, or are having difficulty getting your garbage disposal to work, call the expert plumbers at Staggs Plumbing. With over 30 years of experience installing, repairing and replacing garbage disposals, we’ll get your kitchen back up and functional right away.

To schedule a service call, or if you have any questions or comments, please fill out the form below: