What are best practices / tools for non-disposal sink
June 25, 2013 2:13 PM   Subscribe

I really really like having a garbage disposal, grew up having one, and have had one in most of my apartments, but I'm moving to an apartment that is great in every way but doesn't have a garbage disposal. In the past when I've used non-disposal sinks (regular sinks I guess) my main gripe is that even when I scrape off plates and pans, particulate food matter gets into the sink, into and around whatever catcher is in the drain, and is just disgusting. My question is, what do people generally do to keep their sinks pretty clean when they don't have a disposal?

Do you empty the catcher into the trash every time after you wash dishes? How do you get all the food off? Just bang it? What do you do if you forget to clean it and it gets all gross and smelly?

Do you use a fine filter catcher? How do you keep that clean? How often do you replace it?

How much harm does it actually do the sewer system (I'm not on a septic tank system) if particulate food matter gets down there? How likely is it that my sink will clog if I don't keep every scrap of food particles getting in there? Will it smell bad?

I know this question comes from a place of disposal privilege but I'm hoping people might have some good tips on this. Thanks!
posted by permiechickie to Home & Garden (25 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: When I had no disposal I used a fine mesh drain filter that I emptied out at least a couple of times per dishwashing session. The filter thing does get gross, but you can get it pretty clean by tossing it in some warm water with a couple of denture tablets; if it's still gross, use a brush to get the gunk off. If I had to do it over again, I would probably get two drain filters--one to use and one to clean, so I could rotate accordingly.

I also used to use this stuff every week to keep crud from accumulating in the drain, and crud will accumulate in the drain no matter how careful you are. And yes, it smells bad.

Not having a disposal is kind of a pain, but it's manageable.
posted by corey flood at 2:22 PM on June 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I used to tap the sink strainer on the trash can to get the bulk of the debris off and then toss it in the dishwasher with each load. I can't really answer the rest of your questions except to say that food debris really, really stinks when it rots inside the drain pipe of your sink.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 2:23 PM on June 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've only had a garbage disposal in one of the many apartments I've lived in. I LOVE HAVING A GARBAGE DISPOSAL. That said, it really, really isn't that big of a deal not having one.

The trick is to scrape all the plates off into the garbage before putting them into the sink. Peel veggies over an open paper sack instead of the sink. Have the garbage can nearby so that you're not tempted to toss eggshells or crumbs or whatever into the sink.

It's infrequent, but if something does get into the catcher, I just tap the cruft off into the garbage can and then blast the sink down with hot water. Every few weeks I'll sprinkle some baking soda on the drains and flush it with some vinegar just so there isn't any weird stink that'll build up.

Hasn't ever been a problem.
posted by phunniemee at 2:26 PM on June 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I use a mesh drain catcher, empty it out after every use of the sink, and replace it 1-2 times per year, depending on how gross it gets. To empty it, I just bang it on the inside of the trash can. If I forget to clean it right after washing dishes, it might attract a few fruit flies, but it's not hard to empty -- I just bang it on the side of the trash can. If it gets slightly grody, I either soak it in baking soda and vinegar or scrub it with a toothbrush or a nail brush. If it gets really grody, I just replace it. Simple drain catchers cost like $2, so it's not a big deal.

If your apartment's plumbing is reasonably well-constructed, the occasional tiny food particle won't be a big deal -- it'll just wash down the drain, and your sink won't smell bad or back up. Some people recommend pouring boiling water down the drain once a week to help keep the pipes clear; I've personally found that these drain zippers are cheap and easily clear out the line if you're having a minor problem. If you're having frequent problems with the sink smelling bad, attracting fruit flies, or backing up, that's something to talk to your landlord about -- it may be a problem with the plumbing or with a pre-existing clog.

I think you'll be fine. To be honest, the worst plumbing disaster I've ever seen was in an apartment with a garbage disposal. It involved hours of snaking and a whole lot of horrible muck that was still clogging the pipes DESPITE the fact that the garbage disposal had ground it up. Yuck, yuck, yuck. After that experience (and after talking to the plumber about the many garbage disposal nightmares he'd seen), I've never felt the desire to use a food disposal again -- a sink without a disposal is much tidier.
posted by ourobouros at 2:27 PM on June 25, 2013

Not a direct answer to your question, but the last apartment I lived in did not have a disposal, which was the only real hangup for me in an otherwise fantastic place. I asked the landlord if I could have one professionally installed, as it was that important to me, and I planned on staying there several years (which I did.) He approved, and I got what I wanted. Can't hurt to ask!
posted by xedrik at 2:27 PM on June 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I have a strainer, no fine filter catcher. I wash dishes by hand with those yellow gloves, then as the last step I empty the strainer into the garbage. Usually just bang it on the edge of the garbage, sometimes you might need to scoop it out with your hands. If you have gloves on it's not gross at all.

Honestly I dreaded not having a disposal when I moved in, but it hasn't been that bad. I am pretty vigilant about keeping the strainer clean, and haven't noticed any clogs or odors from the miniscule bits of food that surely occasionally slip through (been here two years). However, I'm not using my sink for anything else other than washing dishes, which, as phunniemie says, are scraped into the garbage first. If I'm cooking I'll use a huge bowl as a scrap catcher instead of the sink--that gets scraped in the garbage, then washed.

I also dump the leftover boiling water from my coffee routine down my sink every morning--that probably helps.
posted by stellaluna at 2:29 PM on June 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have one of these OXO drain catchers, and you can flip it inside out to empty it in the trash. I clean it by either soaking it in baking soda and white vinegar (foam!) or water and soap with some Borax.

I haven't had a disposal in years and I haven't had any clogging problems. Honestly my experience with disposals has been worse because no matter how much you tell roommates/family members that you aren't supposed to shove vegetable cuttings, random leftovers, etc, down the disposal, they always put way too much stuff down there and then the disposal clogs or worse, throws up all over the place.
posted by radioamy at 2:29 PM on June 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

Put your garbage in the trash can instead of in the sink.

Empty the little basket into the trash when it has stuff in it.

Wash the little basket if it's dirty.

Your pipes will actually be less likely to clog without a bunch of ground up food in them, and you never have silverware or other things fall into the disposal. I found the sink was much less smelly without a disposal, the kitchen was quieter, and didn't miss having a disposal at all.

I have no idea what a fine filter catcher is.

If you are worried about the sink clogging, pour a kettle of boiling water down it once a week.
posted by yohko at 2:32 PM on June 25, 2013 [5 favorites]

When I lived in a disposal-less apartment I just banged out the mesh thingy on the edge of the trash can every time I washed dishes. Gloves make this task infinitely less nasty than it would otherwise be, so get some if you don't use them already. I lived in that apt. for nearly 7 years and don't recall ever having had a slow drain in the kitchen...you really just need something to catch the big food-debris chunks, hence the mesh thingy.
posted by aecorwin at 2:36 PM on June 25, 2013

I've been without a garbage disposal for eight years and have never once had a problem with clogs or smells. Mostly I try to scrape directly into the trash and avoid getting food bits in the sink, but it does happen occasionally, especially when washing pots and pans. Tiny bits of food going down the drain are usually not a problem, I don't worry about anything that is small enough to make it past the strainer.

Every night while cleaning up, I bang the strainer into the trash cash to knock off as much food debris as I can. Then I wash the strainer with a mesh scrubber as part of scrubbing down the rest of the sink. Takes two seconds. Every so often I throw them into the dishwasher if I feel they need it.

You will learn to avoid getting certain substances in your sink AT ALL COSTS. My husband made pizza last night and what a nightmare that is, trying to clean the sticky dough-covered bowls. It doesn't escape down the drain but it does gum up every little hole in your sink strainer.
posted by anderjen at 2:40 PM on June 25, 2013

The only bits of food that get in the strainer are the little bits that don't come off the plates when you knock the big stuff off into the trash. Other garbage goes into the trash.

Growing up, we never had a disposer, but we did have a "secondary trash" plastic flowerpot with a plastic bag on it, on the counter, for peels, shells, etc...anything wet or nasty or great-for-compost. Indeed, mom did compost it.

I've never lived in a house with a disposer. Only one house with a dishwasher, really. You just scoop out those last bits from the strainer when you're done.

As a former plumbing engineer, really, garbage disposers are one of the worst inventions ever: wet garbage which should be either compost or organic feeder material in landfills instead becomes extra, heavy biomass for the sewage treatment plant. It also coats the pipes with biofilm, and in the case of cast iron pipes, contributes to shortening the life of the pipes. For a tiny bit of convenience, it's lose-lose from a public works standpoint.
posted by notsnot at 2:59 PM on June 25, 2013 [7 favorites]

Scrape dishes into the trash as thoroughly as you can before putting them into the sink, and there will be less crud caught in the strainer.

To minimize grossness, I don't just tap the strainer contents into the trash can, but rather use a paper towel to wipe out the inside of the strainer into the trash (and wipe the outside/backside if necessary, too).

If the thing gets kind of slimed up and smelly, then I give it a scrub under running water with some dish soap and a dish brush that I reserve for "dirty" jobs like scrubbing out the sink. I also scrub around the opening where the strainer sits.
posted by Orinda at 3:11 PM on June 25, 2013

Make sure you have a trash receptacle, even if it isn't your main kitchen trash, in or right under the sink to make it easy to scrape junk out before you wash. If there's no room under the sink you can get an over-the-cabinet door thingy for a few bucks that will be big enough for this purpose (mine was $4 from Ikea.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 3:55 PM on June 25, 2013

radioamy mentioned it above, but this OXO sink strainer is a game changer. It is so much better to use than any other one I used before that it's not even comparable. I empty it basically every time it catches something, so functionally every time I do dishes on anything other than glassware. Though I've also gotten better at scraping off plates and pans before I wash them.
posted by brainmouse at 4:55 PM on June 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Scrap your plates, bowls etc into the bin before putting them in the sink. Use a strainer, empty it in the bin after you wash the dishes and give it a quick rinse. I soaked it in bleach when I soaked my dishclothes (so every few days). Get family members trained to scrap their own plates before putting them in the sink. Honestly never had a garbage disposal before I moved to the US, they just scare the hell out of me, stink and eat my teaspoons.
posted by wwax at 5:17 PM on June 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

I totally spelled scrape wrong and feel like a fool, though scraping your plates and getting new ones for every meal would also work.
posted by wwax at 5:43 PM on June 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

I use those mesh strainers too except mine cost like a dollar at the bodega. Every time I do the dishes I walk it outside and wham it against the foundation of the house. Some people smack theirs into a countertop compost jar, which they then empty into their worm composter. Ymmv.
posted by toodleydoodley at 6:18 PM on June 25, 2013

I find this question utterly mysterious! I have never had a garbage disposal and I've never had to go to any great lengths to keep crud out of my sink or drains. I just scrape big food chunks off dishes into the compost bin, then wash them in the sink with the little food bits, sauces, crusty leftover goo, etc. still on them. I don't use a fine mesh thinger or even leave the strainer plugs in the drain when I let the water out. If something is bigger than the holes in the drain, I'll pick it out with my rubber gloved fingers and put it in the compost, but even that virtually never happens. (And sometimes when it does, I'll just jab whatever it is down the drain.) My drains drain just fine. Honest, I've lived in probably fifteen different homes in the past 23 years and have never had a clogged drain or anything.
posted by looli at 6:33 PM on June 25, 2013 [4 favorites]

I've never had a garbage disposal (I think maybe they're less common around here). We just scrape our plates into the garbage and whatever food is left on the plate has never clogged the drain (or smelled funny). I don't use a strainer or anything, but that would be a good idea if you can't scrape your plates off well enough for some reason.
posted by randomnity at 6:34 PM on June 25, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks for the great answers! I never really used a garbage disposal for peelings or things like that - I just never worried too much about scraping plates thoroughly, and the little bits of gunk were stressing me out. I'm definitely going to work on my scraping skills and pick up one of those OXO things though - I think that will help a lot.
posted by permiechickie at 6:46 PM on June 25, 2013

What looli said. They are rarities in Canada -- I was amazed when I lived in the States and every apartment seemed to have one -- never had one here, never missed it. If something doesn't quite fit down the drain, kill it with hot water or a spoon until it does. 'Fine mesh strainers' etc must be for people conditioned by disposals to think that disposals are necessary; I have never seen anybody using such a thing in my largely disposal-less nation.
posted by kmennie at 1:38 AM on June 26, 2013

I have never had a disposal (or even seen one outside of TV) or had a strainer or drainer or any sort of thing in my sink in any of many many houses or apartments, both old and new. I scrape big bits off plates before washing them.

After doing the dishes, when I drain the water, there are some bits caught in the plug hole, and I grab them and throw them in the bin. Anything small enough to fit down the plug seems to go down the pipes fine too.

I have never had or seen a kitchen sink clog, and have never even had to use drain cleaner on them. They don't tend to smell either, but I've never live anywhere hugely hot. Maybe once a year or so I scrub the sink and plug hole with bleach, but most of the time it stays clean just from having dish detergenty water swooshed around in it when I am washing up.

Maybe Australian and New Zealand drains are more robust than yours, but I don't think so.
posted by lollusc at 2:09 AM on June 26, 2013

I re-purpose milk cartons when living disposal-free, because (to me) mixing garbage in with the trash is gross. (Many don't realize that 'garbage' technically means 'food waste' - a distinct sub-set of trash.) When the milk carton's empty, instead of going into the trash, it sits on the counter next to the sink. Any garbage goes into the milk carton. When a newly empty milk carton becomes available, the old one's top is folded up, and discarded (or emptied into your compost bin -- how I wish I had a garden, so I could compost too!) This keeps the trash clean enough you can paw around through it, in case you toss something in by mistake.
posted by Rash at 3:30 AM on June 26, 2013

I grew up without a garbage disposal as well, and am kinda baffled by the responses here. I am definitely in the "mash it down the drain" camp. You name a food, I've probably mashed it down my drain. Saving bacon grease in a tin can and putting it in the fridge? Whaaa?? Straight down the drain. Maybe followed by some hot water if I'm feeling magnanimous. And I've never had a clogged kitchen sink.

Don't get me wrong, I love me a good garbage disposal (my mom has one now, it's so much fun!). But.... isn't it basically mashing things up for you and putting them down the drain? Does the detritus from a garbage disposal go somewhere other than down the pipe?
posted by Grither at 5:03 AM on June 26, 2013

Grither: "And I've never had a clogged kitchen sink."

Oh yeah, and I've never had a stinky sink, either. In fact, my mom with her fancy garbage disposal seems to worry more about stink than I do, as she'll always try to "dispose" a lemon wedge or something in the thing at the end to keep it from smelling.
posted by Grither at 5:09 AM on June 26, 2013

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