Garbage disposal dos and don'ts
June 16, 2006 12:46 PM   Subscribe

We just rennovated the kitchen and now have a garbage disposal and dishwasher that neither of us ever had before. Dos and don'ts for what we should put down the disposal?

I googled this and searched AskMe for the topic as well, but I'm finding conflicting things. For example, many sites say DO put coffee grounds in the disposal and others say DON'T.

As an example, we just got a Melitta Mill & Brew coffee maker that grinds the beans and therefore requires cleaning after each use. Right now I shake out as much of the grounds out of the basket into the garbage as possible and rinse the residue with cold water with the disposal turned on. Is that OK or should no coffee detritus reach the inner sanctum of the Dispos-All? Or can I just dump it all down the drain and grind away?

Any other recommendations for garbage disposal virgins will be greatly accepted.
posted by AstroGuy to Home & Garden (45 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Trust me on this: No potato peels. Don't make me tell you about The Time I Ruined Thanksgiving...
posted by Failure31 at 12:50 PM on June 16, 2006 [1 favorite]

Next to nothing.

Sure, the leavings of the coffee grounds, but not the whole mess. And whenever you prep vegetables, avoid sending all the peals and pieces.

Disposals are great for getting rid of scraps from plates, but avoid putting big, tough stuff down there. And say absolutely no to pasta, fats and grease in quantity, anything you wouldn't want to clog up your drain. Because it will. Let's say, on Thanksgiving. Which I learned the hard way.
posted by cptnrandy at 12:53 PM on June 16, 2006

Potato peels and celery stalks. Fibrous veggie matter can clog up a disposal. Ice cubes once in a while helps clean it out.

I wouldn't dump a coffee basket full of grounds into a disposal, but cleaning something with a few grounds is not going to kill it.

Your dishwasher probably dumps into the disposal; bear this mind when loading. The one thing I try to avoid putting into the diswasher is spaghetti sauce; it turns all my plastics red.
posted by Doohickie at 12:53 PM on June 16, 2006

Fats and grease in quantity: I find I have no problems if I mix in a bunch of Dawn greasecutting dishwashing soap.
posted by Doohickie at 12:54 PM on June 16, 2006

No string-fibrous vegetables - I had personal experience with collard green stems, but this also goes for the stems of any greens. I think the worst thing is rice according to the plumber who had to come out because I had put... rice... down the disposal. Oh, well.
posted by Slothrop at 12:54 PM on June 16, 2006

Some of our own house rules are ...

Does Go:
- Vegetable Matter. Go wild.

Does Not Go:
- Your fingers or hand. Ever. Just don't.
- Paper, Plastic, so on.
- Coffee Grounds, though I doubt it would really hurt. The only concern is that the teeth of the disposal might ignore the grounds entirely, leaving you with a collection of sludge in your p-trap.

Might Or Might Not:
- Meat Products. Bone (poultry) might be okay, but bone (other) might be too much. Some meat might drain in during clean-up or prep and that is probably okay, but too much could leave your sink smelling unpretty rather quickly.

Interesting Tips:
- Always have the water running into the disposal when it is running. Always.
- Every week or so, chuck some ice into the disposal to knock anything away that might be jammed or stuck in the teeth. Sounds horrible, but it is harmless.
- Every month or so, chuck some lemon slices in there to freshen it up.
(The last two came from a reputable plumber-type person.)
posted by grabbingsand at 12:56 PM on June 16, 2006

Second the stringy foods like corn husks and celery. Never heard anything about coffee grounds being dangerous. Always run cold water while grinding, not hot. Also, when my garbage disposal started to smell a little off, I chopped up an entire orange or lemon (small pieces), including the skin and it eliminated all the odors. If you can get under the sink to see even the brand of the disposal, then go to the manufacturer's website and look up the old manual. It will tell you exactly what that specific model can and can't do.
posted by Ugh at 12:56 PM on June 16, 2006

No bones.
And no tableware.
You'll be amazed how easily (and often) a teaspoon drops in there.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:57 PM on June 16, 2006

Er ... maybe not so much on the going wild on vegetable matter.

We're more of a peppers, asparagus and spinach household, so peelings just aren't an issue.
posted by grabbingsand at 12:58 PM on June 16, 2006

I've sent sponges, dead flower arrangements, glass, rice, coffee grounds and the plate scrapings of any meal you can imagine down our disposal and never had any problems.

The sadly mangled spoons and forks had to be removed, but everything else just went on down the drain without a problem.

So you should be careful, but don't worry about it too much.
posted by MasonDixon at 12:58 PM on June 16, 2006

Onion peels are generally bad.

My general rule, when I had a disposal, was that anything mushy but not too starchy was probably fine.
posted by occhiblu at 1:02 PM on June 16, 2006

1/4 HP? Practically nothing. 3/4 HP? Practically everything. Makes a huge difference.
posted by peep at 1:13 PM on June 16, 2006

What? No rice, no coffee grounds, no pasta? I run all that into my sink daily and I don't even have a garbage disposal. What's the point?
posted by StickyCarpet at 1:18 PM on June 16, 2006

As most people say, you can dump just about anything down there.

You realize of course, that this stuff has to get processed somewhere right? And that the sewage treatment plant isn't really designed for this? I mean, yay, dump stuff down, go wild, but when everybody does it, it adds a significant amount of solid waste which has to be disposed of at the other end.

Just something to think about.
posted by defcom1 at 1:18 PM on June 16, 2006

My own personal philosophy?

Just because you *can* put it down the disposal, doesn't mean you *have to* put it down the disposal. I'll scrape my plates into the trash, my husband will walk past the trash to put into sink. I peel vegetables into the sink but then scoop out most of the peels before using the disposal. I don't get too anxious about it though. I do always check for things like spoons and bottlecaps though.

I grew up on septic systems which makes me more cautious.
posted by Jazz Hands at 1:21 PM on June 16, 2006

It's a 3/4 HP GE continuous-feed Disposall.
posted by AstroGuy at 1:22 PM on June 16, 2006

Lobster shells. They may be a lot of fun, but believe me they don't go down so well...
posted by Gungho at 1:30 PM on June 16, 2006

If you're disposal is functioning properly you should be able to put nearly anything down it, including bones, peels, vegetables, grounds, etc. Don't pour grease down it though, it hardens up in the pipe.
posted by puke & cry at 1:35 PM on June 16, 2006

In my old apartment over the course of several months I basically gunked up a perfectly nice new garbage disposal and when they plumber came to fix it he told me no pastas, generally raw vegetables are a no no becuase they dont really break down well, especially fiberous stuff. What he said was ok was essentially cooked meats and veggies, no bones and you should be fine, and for the coffee grounds and raw veggies if you do so sparingly and make sure to do the ice thing every so often you be fine.
posted by BobbyDigital at 1:35 PM on June 16, 2006

There are some little round yellow things called Plink that are pretty good for keeping the smell down. You have to use them regularly, but they're a lot better than the alternative.
posted by EllenC at 1:38 PM on June 16, 2006

Potato peels have clogged us up twice. May I just say the dishwasher and garbage disposal will change your life, but nothing like a trash compactor!!!
posted by maloon at 1:40 PM on June 16, 2006

If you shine a flashlight down into it, you'll see how it works: A central plate spins at high speed. Mounted near the edge of the plate are a couple of bent pieces of metal. They pass close to a series of scoops (shaped sort of like cat-ears) around the outside of the space. centrifugal force (OK, inertia) pushes stuff to the outside, where the metal pieces bash it against the scoops. Each scoop feeds into a hole that leads to the drain. As the stuff spins around, the scoops take pieces out of it, and the running water flushes it down the drain.

Things that it won't eat: big bones; silverware; corn husks (or other fibrous stuff, as noted before), plastic, fat.

It will eat things like watermelon rinds, but make sure all such things are cut up small enough that they don't stick out the top when they hit bottom. If they do stick out,they will spray all over the place, and may beat up the rubber splashguard in the throat of the disposal.

My mom said they used to be called "kitchen pigs".
posted by Kirth Gerson at 1:44 PM on June 16, 2006 [1 favorite]

I love my garburator and send pretty much everything down it - incuding the paper filter full of coffee grounds every morning. Never seen it jam up but now that everyone says its bad, I'm sure it will.
posted by jeffmik at 1:47 PM on June 16, 2006

no banana peels
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 1:50 PM on June 16, 2006

A contrary view:

Nothing. Compost your starch and vegetable scraps. Junk the rest. Don't waste water.
posted by Good Brain at 2:02 PM on June 16, 2006

I don't throw anything too hard down there: peach pits, cherry pits, bone... because not only do they just make (a lot of) noise, you end up having to pick them out anyway (I don't like putting my hand down there).

I found that banana skins don't do well. Most of the skins get eaten, but the little stalk part at the end just turns into little knots of fibrous string which again you have to pick out (and might cause clogs if they make it into the pipes).

And as this is your first one and I hadn't seen it mentioned, I was taught not to run the disposal without having water running into the drain.

And man, when you have to put your hand down there to rescue a spoon or something you're like turning off the breaker, going next door and asking the neighbors not to use their phone... it's the domestic equivalent to putting your hand in that tree thing in Flash Gordon.
posted by blueberry at 2:08 PM on June 16, 2006

Unpopped popcorn kernels definitely don't go down well with our disposal. They never get ground up completely and I've had to fish them out with my hand.
posted by zsazsa at 2:13 PM on June 16, 2006

I second putting slices of lemon down there every once in a while to freshen it up. It smells great too.
posted by gt2 at 2:14 PM on June 16, 2006

I always used to dump orange rinds in there, which would make a lovely smell. Of course now I'm in the UK where we don't have many (any?) garbage disposals. :(
posted by grouse at 2:16 PM on June 16, 2006

Grape stems are bad.
posted by Airhen at 2:34 PM on June 16, 2006

When my plumber installed the garbage disposal he said the number one no-no (as mentioned in this thread) was potato peels.
posted by jca at 3:43 PM on June 16, 2006

Never, never, EVER put artichoke leaves down there. Also, be very careful about cleaning the fishbowl around the sink because those little pebbles will stop a garbage disposal cold.

The hardware store has a disposal wrench that is invaluable. It's basically an allen wrench that fits into the bottom of the disposal and acts as a hand crank. Get one today; you'll thank me later.
posted by faceonmars at 5:20 PM on June 16, 2006

Yes, if the disposall ever won't run, even thought it hums and seems to be trying, it means something hard is jamming one of those metal pieces I mentioned against one of the scoop-things. If you don't have faceonmars's wrench (to turn the disposall backwards), turn the disposall off and use a long screwdriver to dislodge the hard thing. You might be able to see it using a flashlight.

You didn't ask about the dishwasher, but here's a tip for that: When it gets stained from use (because your municipal water has minerals in it), Dump a cup of Tang in with a load of dishes and your regular detergent. It'll be clean when you open it. Really - I'm not making this up.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:47 PM on June 16, 2006

Oh, and diswasher detergent turns aluminum dull, and carbon steel rusty. Also etches glass, but not right away. Don't put the crystal in there.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:50 PM on June 16, 2006

If you're of the same ilk as Bill Bryson, put in everything you can play a game called "Vesuvias".
posted by plinth at 6:16 PM on June 16, 2006


and other small change like objects.

they get stuck underneath the "blades of crushing death" causing them to stop...well, crushing all death like.

and they are pain to try and pry out.

which involves sticking your hand in there. All Ray Bradbury scary!

we use the "if you can't chew it, it can't chew it rule". seems to work well.
posted by jeribus at 7:14 PM on June 16, 2006

Rice is about the only food I don't toss in there.

Your coffee maker sounds like it's a pain in the ass. (Clean the coffee maker/grinder after each use? Gah!)
posted by notyou at 7:17 PM on June 16, 2006

I've heard lots of people talk about "slices of lemon." Don't be a wuss. Put the whole lemon in there. Mmmm Mmmm, now we're talking.
posted by matkline at 11:02 PM on June 16, 2006

One measly lemon? How about a grapefruit? A bag of them!

We use and abuse our disposal with many of the things listed above, including coffee grounds, with no problems. Then again, I suspect they vary wildly in power and abilities so proceed with caution.
posted by empyrean at 4:46 AM on June 17, 2006

Your coffee maker sounds like it's a pain in the ass. (Clean the coffee maker/grinder after each use? Gah!)

It's really not bad at all. It doesn't use disposable filters like normal drip coffee makers do. It has a metal mesh basket in place of the filter with the grinder blade in it, so after the beans grind, the water flows through the basket. After the brewing is finished, the basket is removed, grounds dumped in the trash, and the whole thing is rinsed off and put in the dish drainer. I can never go back to canned coffee now. The difference is night and day. I'm sipping a cup right now as I type this. Mmmmmmmmm...
posted by AstroGuy at 7:11 AM on June 17, 2006

Seconding "nothing".

Compost worms eat everything (including coffee grounds, filter papers, potato peelings and grease) very quietly, cost no electricity and no water, and make excellent garden fertilizer that smells like clean damp earth.
posted by flabdablet at 8:04 AM on June 17, 2006

I have put everything down there but the kitchen sink...!
posted by peglam at 8:58 AM on June 17, 2006

In my experience, melon or squash seeds (flat, skinny enough to pass through unscathed) can go through the disposal and then clog up the dishwasher drain pipe, making it all go out the overflow on the top of the sink.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 11:08 PM on June 17, 2006

My dad goes apeshit upon seeing cherry pits, peach stones, peanut shells, or unpopped popcorn kernels going down the disposal. Everything else is fine, and we've never had a problem.
posted by booksandlibretti at 7:01 AM on June 19, 2006

I recommend not putting shrimp shells down there. My husband did and we quickly found a use for that handy-dandy allen wrench that someone mentioned up-thread.
posted by chrisubus at 8:35 AM on June 19, 2006

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