Your garbage disposal plays an important role in disposing of unwanted leftovers, expired food, and discarded peels. It keeps your kitchen smelling fresh and clean. It makes cleaning up after dinner easy, and it reduces the amount of garbage that can end up in landfills. Yet, we often take our disposals for granted. 

Like with every appliance, the longevity of a disposal depends on how you maintain it, and one common problem all disposal units face is clogging. 

Clogs can lead to the early demise of the unit’s motor, shredders, and other key parts. If your garbage disposal isn’t working, even if there’s power, a clog may be to blame. 

You can prevent the premature failure of your disposal by addressing clogs as soon as possible. 

How do you tell if it’s a clog causing your kitchen disposal headaches? Here are common indicators:

  • Humming sounds – You may feel it vibrating within the sink, but its shredder doesn’t actually turn.
  • Loud grinding noises – That sound you hear may mean the shredding blade is having a hard time grinding an object. It may also mean food is stuck in the flywheel or any other part of the grinding chamber.
  • Clanking sounds – You will hear these sounds briefly when the disposal starts. After a few seconds, though, both the noise and the unit will stop.
  • Bad smells – A stinky sink often results from clogs or food stuck in the grinding chamber. There could be up to 500,000 species of bacteria in your kitchen sink. All these microorganisms speed up the spoilage of food particles, and the longer you leave food debris in your disposal, the more the bacteria will multiply. Depending on what’s rotting, your entire kitchen could smell like sewage. These unpleasant odors could also be a sign of clogged drain lines.
  • Problems with the power or reset mechanism – A clog can burn out your disposal’s motor, and if this happens, it will no longer turn on. Even if the motor doesn’t die, the power build-up caused by the clog may trip your circuit breaker. This occurs when the motor overheats and, as a safety precaution, it automatically shuts down. If overheating happens too often, your motor may end up burning out early.
  • Water leaks – Over time, water may seep through some of the areas where the disposal connects to the rest of your plumbing system. By the time a leak becomes large enough to be noticeable, it will generally require a complete replacement. 

On average, a standard kitchen garbage disposal system can last up to 12 years. With proper use and care, you can make yours last even longer — an important goal given it can cost $500-$700 to replace this appliance today.  

The following tips will help preserve the integrity of your current disposal:

  • Use cold water – While hot water won’t damage the parts, cold water is better while running the disposal. Hot water will liquefy greases and fats. When they are in liquid form, grease adheres to the blades and builds up.
  • Run the disposal longer – Operate the disposal until food is completely gone. Thirty seconds is usually enough. Turn it off and let the water run for another 10 to 15 seconds. This running water will carry any remaining particles out of the disposal, and do a better job of flushing pipes.
  • Carefully choose objects put into your disposal Your disposal is designed to grind food scraps and nothing more. Some of the objects you should avoid are large animal bones, grease, fat, oil and objects made of glass, plastic and metal. It’s also best to stay away from grinding food that expands such as spaghetti and rice.
  • Cut waste into small pieces – Give your unit a helping hand by breaking up large food scraps into smaller pieces and grinding separately.
  • Occasionally grind citrus fruit – Lemon and orange peels naturally freshen up your unit.
  • Grind ice cubes – Grinding a few ice cubes once a month will help sharpen your unit’s blades and clear away waste stuck on the walls of your disposal.
  • Keep your disposal clean – After using your disposal, pour a small amount of dish soap down the drain with cold running water. This helps clean it and prevents bad smells from developing.

For any major issues with the garbage disposal, such as a clogged drainpipe, you should leave the job to a professional plumber. A certified professional can help you evaluate the state of your disposal, and decide whether or not you need a new unit.

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