If you guessed D, all of the above…you’re right! None of those items should be put down your garbage disposal.
Of all the people you expect to invite over during the holidays, your plumber probably isn’t one of them. However, holidays increase your likelihood of having plumbing problems like garbage disposal backups. The day after Thanksgiving is the busiest day of the year for plumbers, with calls jumping 50% compared to a typical Friday, according to Roto-Rooter, one of America’s largest plumbing companies.
The combination of more time spent in the kitchen, often cooking with unfamiliar recipes and ingredients, plus simply having more people in the house using toilets and showering can make pre-existing problems like partially clogged drains worse. All the extra use can overwhelm the system, causing it to fail at the worst possible time.
If you suspect there might be a problem brewing in your pipes, make a pre-emptive appointment with your plumber to ensure your garbage disposal, sinks, toilets and showers can handle holiday guests. Once you get the all-clear, here’s how to keep your garbage disposal running clog-free before, during and after the feast.
What foods should I never put down my garbage disposal?
“Virtually every traditional Thanksgiving dish is a drain-clogging culprit,” according to Roto-Rooter. Watch out for these:
- Heavy starches. Foods like potato skins, stuffing, flour and rice become glue-like when ground up and exposed to water. If not pushed through with plenty of cold water, they’ll thicken and harden in the pipes. Similarly, dry pasta can swell and block pipes.
- Fibrous foods. Celery, corn husks, asparagus and other stringy vegetables wind themselves around blades and dull them.
- Fats and cooking oils. While grease may go down fine at first, it hardens and sets up like wax inside your pipes as it cools. That’s true for any kind of oil that solidifies at room temperature, like pan drippings, shortening and butter. (Some plumbers insist that no oil is OK for the disposal. To be safe, rather than pouring grease down the sink, soak it up from pans using paper towels and throw them away.)
- Meat, poultry skin, fat trimmings. Gristly or raw meat turns stringy and ungrindable in a garbage disposal. Freeze it, instead, and put it out with the trash on collection day. Small amounts of cooked lean meat are OK to put down the disposal.
- Eggshells. Eggshells get ground up so fine that they build up and form a clog-making layer in the sink trap. Save them for the trash, the same as meat scraps.
- Fruit pits and bones. Fruit pits and bones can bend and dull your disposal blades, similar to a small rock.
What else can I do to prevent drain issues?
- Run plenty of cold water when using the disposal. Cold water makes food scraps more brittle and easier to grind. Brittle pieces also are less likely to stick inside your pipes than softer, gummier ones. Start the water flowing before you even turn on the disposal and keep it running for at least five seconds after the food seems to be gone.
- Use caution when removing anything from the disposal. If something like a utensil or bone has accidentally found its way into the disposal, retrieve it carefully. Unplug or flip the circuit breaker for your disposal to prevent injury. Use tongs or pliers – not your fingers. While the blades aren’t exactly sharp, you could still get a painful jab even with the disposal completely powered off.
- Rethink how you use your disposal. Some plumbers say “garbage disposals” are misnamed, leading people to use them for more than they should. Instead, they suggest you stick mostly to getting rid of small bits of food that you rinse off dishes before you load them into the dishwasher. For larger quantities, feed the waste slowly into the disposal, with plenty of cold running water. If in doubt, rely on your compost bin, yard waste recycling container and trash.
My garbage disposal smells bad! What should I do?
Residue buildup in garbage disposals can create odor. Check your owner’s manual or manufacturer’s website for tips on keeping your disposal fresh. And every two weeks, follow this gentle, ecofriendly cleaning routine:
- Run the disposal. Even if you haven’t knowingly rinsed something into the disposal, run it at least three times a week, and always before cleaning. That will remove any unnoticed food particles that may have collected in the disposal chamber. Flush with plenty of cold water.
- Clean the underside of the black rubber splash guard. Decaying food residue can accumulate there. Wear plastic gloves to lift and scrub the flaps with an old toothbrush loaded with dish soap and baking soda. (When purchasing a new disposal, choose a model with a removable splash guard for easy cleaning. Some are even top-rack dishwasher safe.)
- Run a handful of ice cubes down the disposal. The ice provides scouring action inside the disposal chamber to loosen residue. Flush with water and turn off the disposal.
- Pour one-half cup baking soda and one cup vinegar into the disposal. Allow the mixture to bubble and fizz for at least 10 minutes before flushing with cold water. Repeat if you still notice odor.
- Run another handful of ice cubes down the disposal. The ice will provide a final scouring.
- Run citrus slices, including peels, down the disposal along with plenty of cold water. Whether you use lemons, oranges, grapefruit or limes, the citrus will further deodorize the disposal and take some of the bite out of the vinegar smell, too.
Some DIYers recommend adding bleach to the disposal to clean and deodorize it; however, we discourage using bleach or other harsh chemicals that could fly out of the disposal if it’s turned on, potentially splashing you or food-preparation surfaces.
Consider home warranty protection
If you’re concerned that your appliances eventually will leave you on the hook for a big repair bill, consider getting warranty coverage.