Garbage Disposal Maintenance: Tips for Extending Your Disposal’s Life Span

A garbage disposal is a great way to reduce how much trash you contribute to a landfill. It can also make your life a bit easier by at least slightly reducing how often you have to take out the trash. While they are handy, garbage disposals can also experience various issues if not used correctly.

You can also greatly increase the chances of clogs and other drain and sewer issues if you don’t use your garbage disposal as intended. In this article, we’ll give you some simple tips on how to get the most out of your garbage disposal and how to prevent it from contributing to plumbing issues.

Turn Off the Disposal Immediately If It Gets Jammed

Many people think that garbage disposals work by chopping up food scraps using sharp blades. The reality is that they pulverize or grind up food. They do this using a grinding ring and a spinning disc. On top of the disc are metal impellers that pivot or rotate as the disc spins.

The disc spins extremely quickly, which results in the impellers essentially pushing food scraps up against the stationary grinding ring. As the scraps come into contact with the ring, they quickly get ground up into extremely small pieces so that they can easily get washed down the drain.

As the disc spins, sometimes harder items can get lodged between an impeller and the grinding ring. This results in the garbage disposal jamming up and preventing the disc from being able to spin. You’ll easily be able to tell if your disposal gets jammed since the motor will hum but you won’t hear the disc spinning or food being ground up. Any time this happens, you should immediately shut the disposal off and then try unjamming it before turning it on again.

The reason that you need to shut the disposal off is that its motor can quickly start overheating if continues running when it’s jammed. A garbage disposal will usually shut off automatically if it overheats and then need to be reset before it will work again. However, there’s also the risk that the motor will burn out if it overheats and ruin your disposal altogether.

If your disposal ever does get jammed, you can usually manually unjam it by using the disposal wrench. The wrench fits into a hole in the bottom of the disposal, and you can then turn it to manually spin the impeller. Turning the wrench at least a full turn in each direction will usually free up the object and unjam the impeller.

However, you may still need to remove whatever object caused the disposal to jam using kitchen tongs or else it may just jam again once you turn it on. Before sticking the tongs into the disposal, it’s important to unplug it so that you can’t accidentally turn it on and ruin it.

Be Careful About What Goes in Your Garbage Disposal

The biggest mistake many people make when it comes to their garbage disposal is that they treat it like a trash can. Despite the name, garbage disposals aren’t meant to be a place where you get rid of most of your kitchen garbage. Instead, they’re really only designed to handle small scraps of food and only certain types of food.

The main things you want to avoid to prevent your disposal from jamming are any hard or fibrous items. That means things like bones, nut shells, fruit stones and pits, banana peels, celery, squash, etc. Fibrous items are an issue since the fibers can sometimes get wrapped around the impellers and disc, which can also stop the disc from spinning.

Anything that is overly hard is extremely difficult for the disposal to grind up, which means it can easily get stuck and jam the disc. Another thing to note is that hard items can dull the grinding ring. This can lead to the disposal not working as effectively or potentially even prevent it from really working at all.

You should also never put any type of starchy food or nuts in your garbage disposal. This is important not for preventing it from jamming but for preventing the drainpipe or the disposal from getting clogged. It’s also important to never put fats, oils and grease down the drain or into your garbage disposal since they are also major contributors to drain and sewer clogs.

Make Sure You’re Not Overloading Your Disposal

Overloading a garbage disposal makes it work harder and also increases the chances of it getting jammed or clogged. If you normally use your disposal to get rid of the scraps left over when you’re prepping food, you should make sure to chop them up into fairly small pieces. You also only want to add a few scraps at a time and listen to make sure most everything is ground up before putting more into the disposal. It also helps to make sure you turn the disposal on before putting anything in it.

Never Run Your Disposal Without the Water On

Part of the reason you should always turn the water on before starting your garbage disposal is to ensure that all of the ground-up food bits get washed away. That’s also why you should always leave the water running for 10-20 seconds after you shut the disposal off. If you run the disposal without the water on, the scraps will get stuck and increase the chances of the disposal or drain clogging.

Having the water on when using your garbage disposal is also important for preventing it from being damaged. There is a seal inside the grinding chamber that makes it watertight and ensures that water can’t leak out. As the disc spins, it creates friction that can lead to this seal becoming extremely hot. The only way to prevent the seal from heating up is by running water through the disposal to help keep it lubricated.

If you run your garbage disposal for more than a few seconds without the water on, the seal can get damaged and lead to water leaking out of the grinding chamber. This is a fatal issue since the internal seal can’t be repaired or replaced, meaning your disposal will constantly leak whenever the water is on. In some cases, a damaged seal can also result in water leaking into the motor and destroying it.

Always Use Cold Water When Running Your Disposal

Another thing to note is that you should never have hot water running when your garbage disposal is on. Using cold water helps keep any fat and grease that goes into the garbage disposal solid so that they can easily get ground up and washed down the drain. Hot water will cause the fat and grease to melt, which can result in them sticking to the impellers and grinding plate. The fat and grease can then prevent the disposal from working as effectively, which puts extra strain on the motor and can shorten the disposal’s life span.

Since 1998, Ready & Able Plumbing, Heating & Air has been helping customers in Harrisburg and the surrounding areas with all of their HVAC and plumbing needs. We specialize in garbage disposal repairs and installation and can help you tackle any issues you’re having with the disposal in your home. Contact us today for more information or to schedule any plumbing, heating or air conditioning service.

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