A garbage disposal can quickly turn from kitchen sink convenience to gunky nightmare if you don’t use it properly. One of the biggest mistakes people make is trying to slice and dice the wrong things, resulting in dulled or non-functional blades or a backed-up sink. Some things are better put in the trash can or compost bin. Here are some items you should never put down your garbage disposal:
 
  • An entire head of lettuce. That salad isn’t happening now that the lettuce you bought last week is wilted. But even if you cut a head of lettuce into smaller bits and turn the flow of water to high, it likely will be too substantial to flush. This applies to anything fibrous, like celery, corn husks, carrots and banana or potato peels, any of which can tangle around the garbage disposal blades. It’s best to just keep the produce whole and compost it.
  • Grease drippings. Follow the logic: When grease turns cold, it solidifies. If you pour hot grease down your garbage disposal and wash it down with cooler water, it will clog your drain when it returns to a solid state. Furthermore, as the lingering grease begins to rot, you’ll have a very unpleasant odor to combat.
  • Things that swell. Rice, pasta, potatoes and legumes swell up when they are soaked in water, so steer clear of dumping these down the drain. If they coat the blades of your garbage disposal and then turn to a paste and harden, you’ll have a real mess.
  • Egg shells. There’s a pervasive myth that you can sharpen the blades of your garbage disposal by grinding egg shells, but this is a bad idea. The shells shred down to a sandy grit that can clog your pipes.
  • An entire meal. If you’re cleaning out the fridge and discover a large amount of food to dispose of, stick to using the trash or compost pile. Overtaxing your garbage disposal can cause a stinky mess that backs up your sink drain. Be sure to only dispose of a little bit of food at a time and keep the water running to rinse it away.
  • Non-edibles. It should go without saying, but many a garbage disposal has been ruined with non-food items that can’t break down enough to rinse away. Cigarette butts, sponges, bones, fruit pits or seeds, coffee grounds, glass, plant trimmings and other items that you’d never place in a blender have no place in your garbage disposal.
  • Harsh chemicals. Your garbage disposal has several seals that keep things watertight, and bleach and harsh cleaning products can destroy these seals and cause damage to pipes.
 
Even the fanciest disposal with the largest motor and biggest price tag will suffer from misuse. But if you treat your garbage disposal with care and don’t overwhelm it with inappropriate items, it can last for years. If you’ve already made one of these mistakes, contact a licensed plumber for help. Leave the DIY for things that don’t have hidden sharp blades and motors.
 
What if my disposal is stinky?
Every so often, you can put some citrus fruits (such as lemons, limes or oranges) down the disposal to keep things smelling fresh. You can even make ice cubes from vinegar to kill bacteria and keep blades sharp. If the smell is pervasive, try putting a few tablespoons of baking soda down the drain and letting it sit for a few hours before you rinse. Always rinse your garbage disposal with ample cold water, and leave the water running for a few seconds after you turn the disposal off to flush down any residual material. With a little care and a lot of rinsing, your garbage disposal can stay functional and fresh.