How Garbage Disposals Work

kitchen plumbing -garbage disposal not workingGarbage disposals: They're convenient, they're easy, and they're terribly misused. In-sink garbage disposals can seem to make your clean-up easier, but if you dump the wrong things down your disposal, clogs and jams will surely result.

Did you know that garbage disposals have been around for nearly a century? But it was only in the late 1940s that municipal sewage systems allowed them to be installed in homes, adding food waste to the sewage pipes. These days, nearly every home has one, and sooner or later, the units need repairs.

Here's How They Work

Below your sink drain and above the drain pipe, there's a metal grinding chamber encased in a metal capsule. A high-torque motor powers the grinding chamber. (There's not a lot of energy used here - maybe 3-4 kWh per household per year.)  Inside the unit, a rotating metal turntable catches food waste, and two swiveling metal fins sit above the turntable. When you flick the switch to start the motor, it turns the fins. The fins throw the food waste against a grooved grind ring. Eventually, the waste is ground small enough to pass through the holes in the bottom plate. From there, it flushes down the drain.

But add rough or fibrous food, or overfill the chamber, and the unit tends to jam. At that point, you can turn off the motor and try to manually force the turntable to move again, or you can insert a hex-key wrench into the motor shaft and cause rotation.

And accidentally dropping cutlery into garbage disposals and then turning them on, means both the disposal grinder and the cutlery can be damaged.

However, it turns out that the worst damage comes from food waste like onion skins, potato peeps and shrimp shells. And, of course, anything left in the disposal will begin to grow bacteria, which can also compromise the proper working of drain and disposal.

How to Maintain A Disposal Unit

  • Keep it clean. This helps the drain work better and keeps the kitchen smelling better, too.
  • Run a few small pieces of citrus peel with a lot of cold water through the disposal every few days to deodorize the unit and freshen the kitchen air.
  • Only fill it with items that will grind easily.
  • If something slips down accidentally, remove it immediately.
  • Once a month or so, plug your sink drain and fill the sink with up to 4 inches of water. Remove the plug, turn on the disposal, and let it pull the water through the drain pipe.

When garbage disposals have jammed solid, home owners may want to try to repair it themselves. Always be sure to turn to power off at the break, because that is the only way to be sure the grinder will not suddenly begin to spin. Most often, a plumber can make the repair and check for any damage more easily than the homeowner.

But sometimes food waste clogs not only the disposal but the drain pipe below. If drain cleaner can't open the clog, you need to call a plumber.  Contact us by email or call us at  970 381-7379. 

We'll have your disposal fixed as good as new. Or we can install a newer, bigger, stronger disposal unit that may be more appropriate for how and what you cook.