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You Love Your Garbage Disposal, But Do You Know How it Works?

If you had to pick the unsung hero of your kitchen, that honor might go to your garbage disposal. Not only does this appliance help keep your home more sanitary (and free of lingering food odors), but it also makes other chores, like washing the dishes and taking out the garbage, that much easier. However, because it lives under your sink, it can be easy to take your garbage disposal for granted — until, of course, something goes wrong with it. So how does this appliance actually dispose of garbage?

garbage disposal

How does a garbage disposal work?

Probably the most common misconception about a garbage disposal is that it uses spinning blades (much like a blender or food processor) to finely dice the materials you feed it. Actually, a garbage disposal more closely resembles a supercharged cheese grater. It pulverizes waste using metal impellers (also called lugs), which are rotor-like protrusions mounted on a revolving plate. When you switch on your garbage disposal, the impellers create enough centrifugal force to drive food particles into repeated contact with a stationary grind ring. The grind ring liquefies the waste, and running water from your faucet moves it down the drain. 

What is the right water temperature to use when running a garbage disposal?

When grinding kitchen waste, you should always run cold water into your garbage disposal. Cold water solidifies any grease or oil that may have gotten into the unit, making it easier for the impellers and grind ring to break them down. You should never deliberately pour grease or oil down your disposal, as these substances can clog your plumbing.

Tips to keep your garbage disposal working

With repeated use, the inside of a garbage disposal can become coated with sludge, grease and unground materials. The following tips should help your garbage disposal work efficiently.

  • Clear debris out of the disposal. First, trip the circuit breaker connected to the disposal to make sure no power is being directed to the unit. Then use tongs or pliers to remove any non-disposable items. If you must use your hands for this task, make absolutely sure the power is disabled.
  • Clean the grinding elements. Fill the disposal with ice cubes and pour rock salt over the ice. Run cold water and turn on the disposal for five to 10 seconds to scour the grinding elements. If you don’t have rock salt, you can substitute vinegar. The mild acid in vinegar is effective at breaking up grease and sludge.
  • Deodorize the disposal. Over time, your unit can become a source of unpleasant odors. Citrus peels – oranges, lemons, limes or grapefruit – can keep your disposal smelling fresh. Drop a handful of peels into the disposal, run cold water and turn it on. As always, let your faucet run for about 20 seconds after switching off the disposal itself.
  • Sharpen the grind ring. To prevent clogging, keep the grind ring sharp by occasionally running ice cubes through the disposal.  
  • Unjam the disposal. If the impeller plate should become jammed, first locate the hex head slot (a small hole) at the bottom of the unit. Insert an Allen wrench (available at hardware stores) and move the tool back and forth to loosen the jam. Run cold water and turn the disposal on to flush the unit. 

What is the average lifespan of a garbage disposal unit?

With some basic care, your garbage disposal should serve you well for more than a decade. But inevitably, and like any other home appliances, your disposal will need servicing and even replacement.

To avoid straining your budget, consider purchasing an American Home Shield Warranty. We offer a wide variety of plans and work with expert contractors. Call us today at 866-223-7938 or contact us online and let us give you a free, no-obligation estimate on the American Home Shield Warranty that’s best for you.


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