The Magic Black Hole In Your Sink


All You NEVER Wanted To Know About Your Garbage Disposal

The idea for a post involving a topic pertaining to the upcoming Thanksgiving Day holiday came from my wife. I usually try to ignore any and all advice given to me by people wiser and much more intelligent because let’s face it, that’s just taking the easy way out and I like to make things more difficult on myself. This time though I capitulated. (Maybe I’m learning in my old age?!?!) Anyway, she said, “Why don’t you do an article that will help people get ready for the upcoming holiday?” Great idea! As I pondered this I came across an article about garbage disposals (I truly believe that my life is exciting but as I write this previous line I just might reconsider) and was taken back to a fateful day about 16 years ago. Jul and I were in our first apartment as a couple, cohabitating in sin. Well, jul is the cook I have to admit and she had just finished making something which produced a mountain of potato peels to dispose of. You probably get where I’m going here; things to dispose of, a garbage disposal. Let me tell you this, despite those two similar words in this case, potato peelings are NOT meant to go down the disposal as the surly plumber sent out informed us. Turns out they are too starchy. Hmm.

So while contemplating this direction I came across an article about sharpening your disposal blades by putting ice cubes down the disposal drain and grinding them up. I didn’t really want to…….ok, I really did want to write these people and tell them what a bunch of HOOEY this is. Let me get this rant out of the way and we will continue; There really are no “blades” per se in the disposal. If there were my hand would get all cut up when I reach in to clean out a disposal at home/during a home inspection and it doesn’t. Also, if this theory about sharpening were correct then we could sharpen our kitchen knives by chopping up ice cubes. Think about how sharp ice cream scoops become over time?!?! I digress, enough of being a crotchety old man. Undoubtedly though you will be getting some good use out of this gadget during the holiday and should know how to maintain it and keep it smelling fresh as a daisy to boot.

Let me say first off that most of us view that black hole of the disposal that we see when we are looking down on the sink as a magic hole where we can rid ourselves of absolutely anything unwanted. Not true! There are some definite no-no’s that should not go in the magic hole. As in the example in the beginning of this post, nothing starchy that will turn into a paste (pasta and rice included), no bones (use the wood chipper as in Fargo, just kidding!), meat products probably are not a good idea in general, very fibrous things (i.e. celery, asparagus, etc) and high amounts of grease. A note on grease though. If you do wash a bit of grease down the drain it is best to run COLD water. This clumps it and keeps it from coating the pipes and inside of the disposal.

Sharpening, fact or fiction? Fiction! There are more like teeth in the disposal that work to grind up or pulverize food rather than sharply chop it. It’s kinda like the difference between chewing with your teeth or chopping stuff up in a blender. I will say that there is a use to the ice, but not for sharpening (still can’t get over this logic). When you grind up ice it works to scour the inside of the disposal with a material that will not stick and will actually melt and drain away. The ice shards will dislodge any stuck food stuff caked inside the unit. It cleans the teeth rather than sharpening.  If you really wanted to be a fancy pants, you could multiply the scouring power by making ice cubes with coarse salt in them (if you market this and make a killing I expect a %!).  I have also read about freezing ice cubes out of white vinegar and the vinegar works to cut grease, not a bad idea but PLEASE clearly mark that ice tray. Although now that I think about it, what a great way to get rid of company that lingers a bit too long.

The smell! Sometimes it’s nice to have that excuse as in, “Seriously, it’s not me! It’s the garbage disposal!”. We all know that having extended company gets tough when you can’t have your normal bodily functions happen for extended periods of time……Anyone???…….ok, I guess it’s just me. Seriously though, the disposal gets its stink on sometimes. You can take care of this during the ice-cube treatment by chopping up some lemons into wedges and grinding them up with the ice. It will help to freshen things up a bit.

Finally, let’s assume for the last part that your disposal just freezes up. Don’t panic, yet. First, check to see that it didn’t trip a breaker at your electric panel. Maybe you tried to grind up your Aunt’s leftovers because she said at the table that she was leaving the rest with you and her old world holiday recipe of pickled herring in a wine sauce just had to go. If the breaker is off, leave it off and go up, stick your hand into the magic hole (hey, you were the one that clogged it) and dig out as much of the offending dish as possible and dispose of properly. Now turn the breaker back on and run the disposal to clean out the remainder. OK, it’s not the breaker. Turn off the switch to the disposal OR the breaker if you can find it. First, as before, get your hand in there and clean out any offending material (material sounds so much better than what the stuff will look and feel like). Now you have to find that handy wrench that came with the disposal. The one you hid in some nook and cranny ‘cause you never thought you would need it and can’t remember where said nook and cranny is now. A suitable Allen Wrench will work as well. There is a spot on the bottom of the disposal were the wrench fits. Stick it in there and turn back and forth to free up the stuck teeth. Usually this works and you can feel it unstuck. If these don’t work, you are calling in the plumber I’m sorry to say. You are also paying holiday rates if this is during that time. If you can hold off and no drains are backing up, do so to save some $$ on the hourly rates. Better yet would be to tackle the installation of a new disposal yourself after everyone has left. It would be a good way to release some pent-up frustration from having to listen to your grandma wonder when you are going to finally get a “real” job! TMI? Sorry, just had a little flashback.

Hope this helps. If you need guidance on a new disposal just remember, for the price of a good 6 pack of IPA you can have access to my tools and knowledge and I will come over and guide you through it (more beer needed if the trip is longer than an hour!).

Thanks for reading,

That Home Inspector Guy

About Travis "That Home Inspector Guy" Moyer

I am a certified home inspector, rehabber, landlord, carpenter, handyman and generally inquisitive person who wants to know how everything works. I love to educate other DIY homeowners and potential homeowners about projects that they may be interested in.

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