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What's Eating Your Garbage Disposal? 7 Common Mistakes

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Is your kitchen sink backing up with smelly, soupy water?

Is your garbage disposal making that odd whirring noise that tells you the lights are on but nobody’s home?

Are you worried you might need a new disposal?

Don’t give up on your disposal yet; there might be an easy fix.

It’s good to know how to maintain your garbage disposal before you’re dealing with a backup. Some common garbage disposal mistakes can cause that frustrating backup, those awful odors, and stop your disposal in its tracks.

Troubleshooting Common Garbage Disposal Mistakes

Garbage disposals are built tough — tough enough to handle your leftovers and even small chicken bones, but they’re not indestructible. Some maintenance issues and common kitchen items can damage the blades and motor or clog your pipes and drains.

  1. Improper steps — It may be tempting to just flip the switch without turning on the water, but following the proper steps when using your garbage disposal will help it work better and last longer. It’s important to always start and end with cold water. Turn on the water first, then the disposal. Add food slowly and gently, and let the disposal run until the food is gone. Then shut it off and continue to run cold water for 10-15 seconds to flush out all the bits of food.
  2. Using hot water — Hot water may be the default for cleaning everywhere else, but it causes more problems than it solves in your garbage disposal. Hot water initially melts grease, but that liquid grease will eventually solidify and build up inside your pipes, causing clogs. Running cold water with your garbage disposal, instead, helps chunks of fat and grease stay solid enough to move through your pipes.
  3. Grease or fat — Speaking of grease and fat, it’s best not to put it down your sink at all. It will eventually solidify somewhere in your pipes and cause slow draining or clogs. Dispose of grease in a good old-fashioned grease jar, instead.
  4. Improper cleaning — You might be surprised to know that ice is one of the best cleaners for your garbage disposal. It not only helps break up grease deposits and remove trapped bits of food, but it also helps sharpen the blades. For an anti-bacterial boost, make ice cubes from vinegar. Another natural option is to sprinkle baking soda into your drain, and follow up with lemon, lime, or orange slices and ice cubes. The citrus will help clean your blades and will leave your kitchen smelling fresh.
  5. Taking “garbage” literally — Despite its name, your garbage disposal is really only built to handle food and water. Non-food items like paper wrappers and toothpicks should never be disposed of in your sink.
  6. Risky foods — Some foods are just not meant for the garbage disposal. Large animal bones, foods that expand with water, and starchy foods like potato peels can jam your blades and clog your pipes. Fibrous foods like celery, onion skins, and artichokes can tangle around the blades and jam your disposal.
  7. Disposing of chemicals — Bleach, drain openers, and other chemicals can damage pipes and blades, as well as pollute the environment. If you use chemical products, it’s important to dispose of them safely. Natural cleaning options are an even better bet for your disposal.

Can I Fix My Garbage Disposal Myself?

Sometimes there’s an “easy” fix when your garbage disposal stops working.

  • Reset the disposal — If the motor became overloaded and the disposal shut down, it may need to be reset. On the bottom or the lower back of your garbage disposal, there is a red reset button that will pop out if the disposal shut down. Make sure your disposal is turned off and give it a few minutes to cool down. Then press the reset button.
  • Un-jam the disposal — Your disposal may have a hole in the bottom where you can insert an Allen wrench and rotate it to un-jam the blades.

When to Call for Help

Whether you’ve tried the fixes above or you’re just more comfortable letting a professional fix your garbage disposal, Washtenaw Plumbing & Heating is here to help. We can take a look at your garbage disposal and assess the problem.

We have 30+ years’ experience, and we’re here to help. Call us at 734-222-3620.

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