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Garbage Disposal Use & Maintenance Guide

Man using a garbage disposal to get rid of vegetable food waste.

If you’ve never had a garbage disposal before, you’re in for a treat. Garbage disposals are an incredible appliance, reducing the amount of biodegradable food waste that winds up in your trash, also making cleanup before and after meals a breeze.

As with any appliance, garbage disposal maintenance is important for ensuring it works properly and lasts as long as possible. This guide covers everything you need to know about using your garbage disposal and keeping it working at its best.

How do you use a garbage disposal?

Using a garbage disposal is fairly straightforward.

  1. Insert the splash guard into the drain.
  2. Turn on the tap and keep it running with cool/cold water.
  3. Flip the switch to turn on the garbage disposal.
  4. Feed waste into the disposal carefully.
  5. Wait for the waste to finish grinding.
  6. Turn off the disposal.
  7. Let the water run for a few seconds before turning it off.

It’s important that you always run your garbage disposal with cold water when you grind food scraps. This helps everything flow down your drain pipes more easily. Hot water, on the other hand, can lead to waste buildup and clogs.

How do you reset a garbage disposal?

Occasionally, your garbage disposal may stop working without warning. In most cases, it just needs to be reset.

This is due to the triggering of a safety system that works a lot like a GFCI outlet. When this safety system is set off, it causes a small button on the unit to pop out. To get it working again, you simply need to press this button.

To find the button:

  1. Open the cabinet under your sink to find your garbage disposal.
  2. Look for a red button on the bottom or side of the unit.
  3. Go ahead and push it. Your garbage disposal should be working again.

A frequent need to manually reset the unit could be a sign your garbage disposal is dying. If you’re having problems with your garbage disposal and already have home warranty coverage, it’s important to submit your claim.

Don’t have a home warranty? Get an instant quote from one of the most trusted names in the business.

What can you put in a garbage disposal?

The food waste your garbage disposal can grind varies based on your make and model. However, for the most part, all garbage disposals will have no trouble handling things like fruits, vegetables, and meats.

You can even put ice cubes or citrus peels into your disposal to aid cleaning and deodorization.

Some brands – including InSinkErator and Waste King – can safely take on tougher food waste, including small bones and fruit pits. Read your garbage disposal’s manual to learn more about your unit’s capabilities.

What should never go in a garbage disposal?

While there’s plenty of food waste your garbage disposal can handle, there are a few things to avoid sending down the drain.

Non-Food Waste

While it may seem like common sense, it bears repeating. Non-food waste should never go down the drain. This includes plastic packaging, aluminum cans, disposable coffee cups, and kitchen sponges.

Essentially, if it’s not food waste, take that as a sign to keep it out of the disposal.

Grease, Fats & Cooking Oils

Grease, fat, and cooking oils should never be sent down your garbage disposal. These materials can build up and clog pipes over time. This can lead to some terrible, expensive damage that’s not worth the trouble.

To dispose of fats, oils, or grease:

  • For small volumes, wipe it away using paper towels and throw it in the trash.
  • For larger volumes, pour it into a disposable lidded container (such as a coffee can), wait for it to harden, and throw it away.

Of course, some people like to freeze leftover fats and grease for use in future cooking recipes. That’s completely up to you!

Fibrous Items

While not a hard “never,” anyone planning on grinding up fibrous foods, such as celery, kale, asparagus, corn husks, or artichoke leaves, should check the capabilities of their model beforehand.

While some of the more “premium” models can take on these materials, the stringy nature of fibrous foods can lead to clogs in the machinery for those not prepared to handle them.


While eggshells may be safe to grind infrequently, it’s best to avoid grinding them at all. They’re unlikely to harm the disposal. However, due to how long it takes eggshells to decompose, it’s easy for them to build up in your pipes over time, especially if you’re grinding a lot of them.

Coffee Grounds

Much like eggshells, coffee grounds are unlikely to harm your disposal, but they can build up and clog your drains over time. For the sake of your plumbing, avoid sending coffee grinds down the drain.


It’s a bad idea to send crab, lobster, clam, and oyster shells down your drain. Like eggshells and coffee grounds, they simply won’t decompose quickly and can cause serious problems for your home’s plumbing down the road.

Caustic Chemicals

Never pour corrosive, caustic chemicals down your disposal. They can be terrible for the device and cause serious damage over time. This includes bleach, drain cleaners, and similar products. When it comes to cleaning your disposal, stick with more natural cleaners.

Popular options that are safe for cleaning garbage disposals include baking soda and vinegar.

Looking for cleaning tips? When it comes to cleaning your garbage disposal, there’s a bit more to it. Check out our guide on how to clean your garbage disposal.

What else do I need for my garbage disposal?

Beyond a sink stopper and splash guard, there’s not much else you’ll need to use your garbage disposals. At the end of the day, they’re relatively low maintenance. Just clean them regularly and watch what you send down the drain. Hopefully, you’ll get a very long life out of your appliance.

Sadly, even the most carefully maintained appliances won’t last forever. Unexpected issues do occur, and sometimes there’s little you could have done to prevent it.

To protect yourself, consider investing in a home warranty. Select Home Warranty has coverage plans that cover kitchen appliances, including garbage disposals, greatly reducing your financial burden in the case of a malfunction or breakdown.

A home appliance warranty is a great value, with garbage disposal coverage safeguarding all components, parts, and modules necessary to a garbage disposal’s functionality.

If you don’t have a home warranty already, rest assured, it’s super easy and a great value. Getting a free quote only takes a couple minutes. Follow the link below or call us at 860-288-4791.