What Does--and Does Not-- Go Down the Garbage Disposal
March 16, 2023

What Does--and Does Not-- Go Down the Garbage Disposal

When you have an amazing sink, it can be tempting to use your drain for just about everything. A strong garbage disposal makes this doubly tempting, as it seems that special drain-grinder can take care of just about all your kitchen trash without hassle or the risk of rotting smell in your garbage.

However, as your plumber will tell you with great enthusiasm - there are some things that really shouldn't go down your drain no matter how efficiently your disposal or how wonderful your sink may be. As a team that specializes in sink design, Fossil Blu has had our fair share of drain experiences. You would be amazed what can get stuck, clog up, or even damage the drain lines below your sink.

Today, we're here to share a little expertise on how to get the most from the garbage disposal below your Farmhouse sink, and how to treat it right so that your disposal and drains don't run into trouble.  

What, Exactly, is a Garbage Disposal?

A garbage disposal is, essentially, a set of spinning blades. Like your blender, it chops up kitchen waste until it is small enough to flow neatly down the drains and into the municipal sewer line without causing a clog. When it comes to produce trimmings and quickly scraping dinner plates, your garbage disposal is a lifesaver. Combined with a deep Farmhouse sink, a good garbage disposal can cut some serious hours off your time cleaning up after prep and meals.

But, of course, the garbage disposal is not actually a magic portal down which all food waste can go. It, and the drains below, do have limitations. Little scraps of food can disappear like magic, but things that the blades can't handle or that routinely cause drain clogs can and should be avoided.

What Should Go Down the Garbage Disposal

  • Produce Scraps (not too many peels)
  • Cooked Meat
  • Small Bones
  • Plate Scrapings
  • Leftovers

First, let's start with all the great things that are safe to go down the garbage disposal. When you know what can go down, you can maximize your kitchen time by saving trips to the trash and reducing the food waste that sits in your garbage can until the next bag is taken out.

Pretty much all produce, and cooked foods are safe to go down the garbage disposal - with a few rare exceptions. If you would put it on a plate and a human could eat it, then it can usually go down the disposal. This includes raw and cooked fruits and vegetables, cooked meat, and most plate scrapings and leftovers like but go easy on things that expand when moistened like pastas, rice, bread and oatmeal.

Your garbage disposal can also typically handle small pieces of bone - especially cooked bone. This means that during food prep and cleanup after meals, you can send most of the food waste neatly down the drain without worries. 

The Compost Question

While it's true that many garbage-disposal-friendly items could go in a compost heap, most people don't have the time, and may not be able to compost in their neighborhood even if they wanted to. The garbage disposal also handles many, many food items that couldn't possibly go in the compost heat - like cooked meat.

What Your Garbage Disposal (or Drains) Can't Handle

  • Raw Meat Gristle
  • Chicken Skin
  • Solid Fats – grease and oil
  • Shells - Shellfish or a lot of Egg shells
  • Corn Husks
  • Artichokes
  • Non-Food Debris

Now, what -- in your kitchen-- should absolutely not go down the garbage disposal?

Un-Grindable Solids

Things that will cause your disposal to grind to a halt include shells (both shellfish and many eggshells), large pieces of bone, and artichokes are too tough. Also, overly fibrous vegetables like celery and too many peels can bind things up.

Chicken Skin and Meat Gristle

However, even worse is what happens if you accidentally drop some raw meat gristle or chicken skin down the garbage disposal. If your disposal just won't clear and you've been trimming meat, check to see if the gummy strands have gummed up the works. You may need to pull out chunks of raw skin and fat until the blades can operate again. Something similar happens when you send down stringy corn husks.

Un-Jamming a Stuck Garbage Disposal: If your garbage disposal catches and won't move forward, disconnect the power, and use a hex wrench in the bottom to turn the blades backward until they un-catch on whatever caused the block. Carefully (very carefully and always with the power disconnected) reach in and remove the obstructing obstacle, be it a bit of bone or a fallen spoon.

Drain-Clogging Materials

Lastly, respect your drain. Don't send down anything likely to cause a clog further down the path like cooking oils or solid fats. Your garbage disposal can handle washing up a frying pan, but if you could fill a jar with the oil, let it cool and pour it into the trash instead. A little pasta is fine, but a lot of uneaten cooked pasta can turn into glue on your drains, so toss this as well.

Garbage Disposal and Your Septic System: Is It Safe?

One question that we see often is whether it's safe to use a garbage disposal with a septic system. Technically, yes. However, you will want to choose what goes down the garbage disposal very carefully, as you are still relying on everything in the septic tank being biodegradable.

Most of the time, it's better to keep a separate compost pile for slow-degrading things like orange peels and to throw away proteins like animal bones. However, if you are very attentive and are willing to pump out your septic tank a little more often, it can be safe to use a garbage disposal with your septic system.

Garbage Disposal Tips for a Farmhouse Sink

At Fossil Blu, we also have a little extra insight on how to make the most of a powerful garbage disposal below your Farmhouse sink. If you're planning a sink installation soon, we can help you design a great disposal system and enjoy your well-equipped Farmhouse sink to the fullest.

Use a Drain Catch and Sink Grid

A drain catch or drain basket is designed to prevent unintentional things from going down your drain. A drain catch is a lifesaver for preventing silverware from slipping down the garbage disposal by accident and can also give you more power over what plate and cutting board scrapings are permitted to pass the drain threshold. When the drain catch fills, simply knock it clean over the disposal or the trash (depending on what is in it), rinse the catch, and keep going.

sink grid is also helpful in this way because you can easily stop cookware, silverware, and larger pieces of food debris from slithering into your garbage disposal without approval, while also protecting the bottom of your sink from scratches and preventing dishes from accidentally stopping over the drain.

Always Run Cold Water

When you run your garbage disposal, always include a flow of cold water. The water serves two purposes. First, to provide a "waterslide" effect and help wash down the items being ground and drained. Second, the cold water helps to cool the grinding blades and machinery so that you can get through several long seconds of grinding up things like broccoli stems without overheating the system. 

Always run the cold water a few seconds before and after turning on the garbage disposal, and for the full time your disposal is grinding.

Clean with Ice Cubes and Citrus Peels

Lastly, the best way to clean your garbage disposal is with ice cubes and citrus peels. Ice cubes help to scrub and cool the blades, often clearing up small bits of lingering debris. A few citrus peels should chop up without issue in the disposal while providing a lightly antibacterial effect and a nice scent to your drains.

Including a Garbage Disposal in Your Farmhouse Sink Installation

Here at Fossil Blu, we specialize in beautiful copper and fireclay farmhouse sinks. It is our goal to help create highly functional, comfortable, and efficient kitchens that make every cooking experience more enjoyable. That includes a good garbage disposal. For more tips, ideas, and inspiration for how to make the most of your farmhouse sink installation, contact us today.