Do Garbage Disposals Need To Be Emptied?

Like dishwashers and microwaves, garbage disposals are common in millions of kitchens. Garbage disposals offer a degree of convenience, effortlessly whisking away leftover food scraps. They offer an array of benefits, but in order to reap the benefits, the correct maintenance is necessary. 

So, aside from cleaning, do garbage disposals need to be emptied? We’re here to tackle this question, so stick around to learn more!

Do Garbage Disposals Get Full?

No, garbage disposals don’t fill up. Since they don’t fill up, they don’t need to be emptied. This is part of the convenience of these handy little appliances. The system grinds food waste and then sends it on its way. 

How Often Should You Empty Your Garbage Disposal?

Given that food waste doesn’t remain in the garbage disposal, you don’t need to empty your garbage disposal. While it doesn’t hurt to clean the system regularly, just to ensure no food scraps are caught in the disposal or drain pipes, you don’t necessarily need to ‘empty’ your garbage disposal. 

How Do You Empty A Garbage Disposal?

Garbage Disposal

While you shouldn’t need to empty your garbage disposal, clogs may occur every now and again. When food waste builds up, either because it’s a food item that shouldn’t go in the drain or the disposal isn’t working correctly, it can clog the disposal.

In some cases, the disposal’s impellers will freeze due to food caught around them, halting progress altogether. When this happens, you need to free the clog before you can continue using the disposal. 

Since the kitchen sink drains into and through the garbage disposal, a clog may cause your sink to back up with water. On top of that, food waste sitting in your garbage disposal will release unpleasant odors as it breaks down, so it’s best to tackle the problem immediately. 

To free the blades, you can use an Allen key to rotate them manually. There should be a small slot in the underside of the disposal that fits an Allen key. Use the key to turn the blades manually, rotating back and forth until the blade spins freely. 

Once the blades are free, run the disposal for a few minutes with the cold water running. Run the disposal until it makes normal-sounding noises. 

If an unpleasant odor persists, there are a few ways to clean it. Many homemade cleaning solutions call for normal, everyday things many people have on hand. For example, some mixtures may call for baking soda, salt, vinegar, or similar items. Or, some may call for citrus peels or essential oils to help freshen the disposal. 

How Do Garbage Disposals Work?

If you’re unfamiliar with garbage disposals and how they work, let’s take a closer look. There are two types of garbage disposals: batch feed and continuous feed. Batch feed garbage disposals have a magnetic cover that fits over the drain and must be in place before you can operate the device. 

On the other hand, continuous feed disposals don’t need to be covered. Instead, you can continuously scrape food scraps into the drain while it runs. This makes it convenient to get rid of large scraps of food, allowing you to add food waste until it’s gone. 

Moen GXB75C Host Series Control Activation 3/4 HP Garbage Disposal with Sound Reduction, Power Cord Included

However, the beauty of a batch feed disposal is the fact the drain is covered. This helps prevent random objects from falling into the drain while the disposal is one. Continuous feed disposals don’t have a cover, so you need to be extra careful while running the disposal.

Regardless of the type of disposal you have, the general operation is the same. The food waste you scrape into the drain ends up in the canister of the unit. The grinding chamber inside the unit has shredding blades that break down the food scraps.

Once the food waste is reduced to mere particles, an impeller arm and plate force the particles and water down the drain. So, the food waste doesn’t linger in the disposal itself. Once ground into small bits, the system whisks it out and into the drain. 

From there, it follows the same track as other wastewater in your home. Garbage disposals are more common in homes hooked up to a city septic system, as they can mess with the biology in septic tanks. 

Tips For Operating A Garbage Disposal

When you initially buy and install a garbage disposal (or move into a home with one), it’s essential to understand the ins and outs of the system. If you’re new to the specifics of these appliances, here are a few tips to start building the general foundation of your knowledge. 

Only Put Disposal-Safe Food Waste Down The Drain

While these systems are handy additions, you need to be careful what you send down the drain. Although garbage disposals are designed to handle food waste, they can’t handle all types of food waste. 

Only Put Disposal-Safe Food Waste Down The Drain

Here are a few foods that should never go down the garbage disposal:

  • Pasta, rice, bread, etc.: These foods tend to absorb water and swell, which doesn’t bode well for your garbage disposal. Large quantities of these scraps can clog the drain entirely. 
  • Flour, grains, etc.: These materials can create a thick paste when mixed with water, which can adhere to the sides of the disposal and plumbing and make a clog. 
  • Coffee grounds: The fine, powdery coffee grounds look deceptively garbage disposal-friendly. However, they clump together when wet, which may clog the drain. 
  • Fibrous fruits and veggies: Pumpkin innards, corn husks, celery, onion layers, etc., can wrap around the grinding mechanisms in the disposal and freeze the system.
  • Pits, seeds, shells, and bones: These scraps are typically too hard for your garbage disposal to handle. Small fish and chicken bones may do fine, but it’s best to toss these in the trash.
  • Eggshells: The membrane inside the shell can tangle around the disposal’s mechanisms, causing issues. 
  • Potato skins: The starchy skins of potatoes can stick to the insides of the garbage disposal or the drain, starting a clog.
  • Grease, oil, and fats: While the liquid form of these may look just fine for the garbage disposal, they can congeal in the drain, trapping miscellaneous food scraps and leading to a clog.  
  • Non-food items: Non-food items have no place in your garbage disposal. They’re designed to handle food waste, not random objects that should probably go in the trash. 
  • Harsh chemicals: Caustic drain cleaners aren’t the best for garbage disposals. They can damage the unit itself and the plumbing beyond it. If there is a clog or the drain stinks, you should opt for a homemade solution instead, as it’ll be easier on the drain and plumbing.

Always Run Water While Operating

When grinding food waste in your garbage disposal, you should always run cold water. The added moisture helps lubricate the mechanisms and allows food waste to grind and pass through easier. 

You need to be careful putting hot water down the drain, as it may damage the pipes. Boiling water can melt PVC piping and wreak havoc on the garbage disposal, so avoid using it. While you may reach for it to escort liquid oil or fat down the drain, both can cause issues in the plumbing. So, it’s best to avoid putting either down the drain.

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