What Can and Can’t Go Down a Garbage Disposer

A garbage disposer is a convenient appliance found in many kitchen sinks that grinds up small bits of food waste so it can be flushed away down the drain. It allows you to get rid of food scraps without having to throw them in the trash. However, there are limits to what should and should not be put in a garbage disposal. Learning what can and can’t go down a garbage disposer will help you use this appliance properly and avoid potential problems.

What is a Garbage Disposer and How Does it Work?

A garbage disposer, also called a waste disposal unit or food waste disposer, is an electrically-powered device installed under the kitchen sink between the sink’s drain and the trap. It chops up leftover food waste into tiny particles that can be flushed away down the drain pipe.

Inside the disposer unit is a high-speed motor that spins a grinding disk or impeller. The disk has sharp blades or lugs on the edges that pulverize the food waste against a fixed grinder ring. The ground up particles are then flushed down the drain by a stream of water.

Garbage disposers are hooked up to the cold water supply line so that a flow of water can be turned on to help flush waste down while the disposer is running. A special cover over the drain opening prevents fingers, utensils or other items from accidentally falling into the disposer while it is operating.

Food waste disposers provide a convenient way to get rid of food scraps and minimize odor-causing garbage in the kitchen. However, they are not designed to grind all types of waste. Learning what not to put down the disposer is important to avoid damage or blockages.

Benefits of Using a Garbage Disposal

There are several advantages to using a garbage disposal unit in your kitchen:

  • Convenience – Disposers provide an easy way to get rid of food scraps without having to collect and take them out to the trash receptacle.
  • Reduced Odors – Grinding up food waste helps minimize smelly garbage from accumulating in the kitchen.
  • Less Trash – Food scraps make up a large portion of household waste. Disposers let you get rid of them down the drain instead of filling up your garbage can.
  • Prevent Clogs – Small bits of food can stick to pipes and cause build up over time if washed down the drain without grinding. Disposers help prevent this.
  • Environmentally Friendly – Sending food waste to the landfill produces greenhouse gases as it decays. Disposers let organic matter be disposed of via the wastewater system instead.

However, garbage disposals must be used properly to maximize benefits. Determining what should and should not go down the drain is key.

Items You Can Put in a Garbage Disposal

Garbage disposals are designed to grind up and handle a lot of common food waste. Here are some items that are perfectly fine to put down most residential disposers:

Leftover cooked foods

  • Meat scraps
  • Poultry bones and skin
  • Fish bones
  • Fruits and veggies
  • Rice and grains
  • Pasta
  • Bread and baked goods
  • Eggshells
  • Dairy products (cheese, sour cream etc.)
  • Sauces and gravy

Raw fruits and vegetables

  • Apple cores
  • Melon rinds
  • Corn cobs and husks
  • Carrot and potato peels
  • Onion skins
  • Asparagus stems
  • Broccoli stalks
  • Celery ends
  • Fruit and vegetable trimmings

Small bones

  • Chicken bones
  • Small fish bones
  • Fruit pits (cherry, olive, etc.)

Leftover beverages

  • Coffee grounds and filters
  • Tea bags and leaves


  • Salad dressings
  • Mayonnaise
  • Sour cream
  • Peanut butter
  • Jams and jellies
  • Ketchup and mustard

Baked goods

  • Bread crumbs
  • Cookie and cake crumbs
  • Pie crusts

Dairy products

  • Cheese rinds
  • Yogurt
  • Ice cream


  • Nuts and seeds
  • Herbs and spices
  • Bacon grease
  • Cracked eggshells
  • Mushrooms

Always run plenty of cold water before, during, and after using the disposer to help flush waste down the drain. Cut or break larger items into smaller pieces for easier grinding as well. As long as you turn on the faucet and allow water to run, most food items can be disposed of via the garbage disposal.

What You Should Not Put Down a Garbage Disposal

While garbage disposals are capable of handling a wide range of food waste, there are certain items that should always be avoided:

Fibrous foods

  • Corn husks
  • Asparagus stalks
  • Onion skins
  • Celery stalks
  • Fruit peels (citrus zest, melon rind, etc.)
  • Greens (lettuce, spinach, kale, etc.)
  • Potato and carrot peels
  • Artichokes

Fibrous foods do not grind down easily and can wrap around the rotating blades or clog drains. Compost these items instead.

Starchy foods

  • Rice and pasta
  • Potato skins
  • Oatmeal or grits
  • Bread dough
  • Noodles

Starch expands in water and can turn into a thick glue-like paste that sticks to pipes. Throw excess starches in the trash.

Grease and oil

  • Cooking oil
  • Greasy food scraps
  • Butter and margarine
  • Salad dressings and mayo
  • Bacon grease

Oils and grease will coat and clog pipes and drains over time. Collect excess grease in a container and throw it away instead of putting it down the drain.

Shellfish shells

  • Oyster, clam and mussel shells
  • Shrimp tails and shells
  • Crab and lobster shells

The thick shells of shrimp, crab, and lobster do not grind up well and can damage blades.


  • Fish bones
  • Beef and pork bones

While small soft bones like chicken bones can be disposed of, larger bones from red meat and fish should not go in the garbage disposal. They can blunt blades and potentially get stuck.

Solid fats

  • Lard or shortening
  • Butter sticks
  • Margarine

Solid fats can quickly solidify and clog drains. Avoid dumping excess amounts of oils down the sink.

Expandable foods

  • Pasta
  • Rice
  • Beans (red kidney beans, lima beans etc.)

Starches expand when wet and can stick together to clog pipes.

Fruit pits and seeds

  • Apple seeds
  • Cherry pits
  • Watermelon seeds
  • Pomegranate seeds

Hard pits and seeds do not grind up well and can damage blades.

Egg shells

While egg shells are made of calcium carbonate that can sharpen blades over time, larger pieces can jam the unit. Crush shells into small bits first.

Stringy foods

  • Celery stalks
  • Asparagus

Long fibrous strings can tangle and wrap around a disposer’s shredder ring. Cut into small pieces first.

Pickles and produce with seeds

  • Pickles
  • Tomatoes
  • Peppers

Foods with tough skins and seeds do not grind up easily and can clog drains over time.

Coffee grounds and tea bags

It’s fine to put small amounts down but avoid dumping a whole pot of grounds down the drain. Excessive amounts can accumulate.

Sponges, cloths, and paper

  • Napkins
  • Paper towels
  • Rags
  • Sponges

These items can quickly clog and jam garbage disposals. Never put anything other than food waste.


  • Silverware
  • Bottle caps
  • Glass
  • Plastic

Metal and glass items can damage blades and plastic can wrap around the shredder ring. NEVER put non-food items in the disposal.

Corn cobs

Whole corn cobs can jam garbage disposals. Break cobs into smaller pieces first.

Expanding foods like oatmeal or pasta

Starchy foods expand in water. Allow them to dry first before putting small amounts down the disposer.

Harmful chemicals

  • Cleaning products
  • Bleach
  • Chemical drain cleaners

Corrosive chemicals can damage blades and pipes. Never dump chemicals down drains.

By avoiding these types of foods and materials, you can prevent harm to your garbage disposal unit and plumbing. Check manufacturer guidelines too, as some models may have different limitations.

Tips for Safe and Proper Use

Follow these tips when using your garbage disposer to make sure it runs smoothly:

  • Cut large items into smaller pieces – Cutting up fruit rinds, onion skins, bones and other items makes them easier to grind.
  • Run water before, during and after – Cold water helps move waste down the drain and prevents build up. Don’t let disposer run dry.
  • Give it time – Let the disposer run 10-15 seconds after turning off water to clear all waste down the drain.
  • Alternate hard and soft items – Balance out hard shells or fruit pits with softer items to help move items through.
  • Avoid excessive amounts of fibrous material – Limit quantities of artichokes, celery, corn husks to avoid tangling shredder ring.
  • No Utensils! – Never put metal, glass or plastic down disposer – serious damage can result.
  • Avoid excessive grease – Limit oils and greasy scraps which can build up in drains over time.
  • Use ice to clean – Drop some ice cubes in and let run to scour and clean the disposal walls. Baking soda also helps.
  • Freshen it up – Grinding up citrus fruit peels or baking soda periodically cleans and deodorizes.
  • Check manufacturer guidelines – Follow any specific do’s and don’ts provided in your disposal’s manual.

Your garbage disposal is a huge convenience, allowing excess food waste to be ground up and washed away easily. Using it properly and avoiding problem materials will keep it functioning smoothly for years. With the right care and maintenance, your garbage disposal can handle most common food scraps with ease.

Frequently Asked Questions About Garbage Disposals

What items should never go in my garbage disposal?

You should avoid putting fibrous foods like corn husks, celery, and artichokes down the garbage disposal. Materials like glass, plastic, and metal can also seriously damage the unit. Chemical drain cleaners can corrode the disposer.

Why is my garbage disposal jammed?

Common reasons for a jammed disposal include stuffing too much food waste down at once, putting materials that don’t grind well like rice or pasta, or allowing items like bottle caps or silverware to fall in. Unjamming techniques include using an Allen wrench to move the flywheel or pushing the reset button.

Do garbage disposals really help reduce waste?

Yes, because food waste makes up around 20% of a household’s trash. Grinding it up means less gets sent to landfills. However, some items like lettuce leaves and corn husks are better composted than put down the drain.

How can I freshen up my smelly garbage disposal?

Grinding up citrus peels, ice cubes, or baking soda can help remove odors and coatings from the garbage disposal walls. Avoid putting excessive food waste into your disposer to prevent rotting build up.

What should I do if my disposal is leaking?

Check for cracks in the unit, failing gaskets or pipes, and improper installation. Tighten mounting bolts, inspect seals, and make sure pipes are properly aligned. You may need professional repair for leaks at the base.

How can I unclog my kitchen sink if the garbage disposal won’t drain?

Try a drain snake, baking soda and vinegar, or commercial enzyme drain cleaner first. If those don’t work, you may need to detach the disposer unit from the bottom of the sink to thoroughly clean out clogs.

Why does my garbage disposal trip the reset button when used?

Frequent reset button trips usually indicate the motor is overheating from excessive use or jamming. Give the unit a rest between loads. If trips continue, have it serviced – there may be an underlying issue.

How do I clean my garbage disposal?

To clean the inside, grind up ice cubes, citrus peels, or a 1/2 cup of baking soda. For exterior cleaning, use mild soap and a sponge or rag to wipe down surfaces. Avoid abrasive scouring pads. Don’t use caustic chemical cleaners.

How can I sharpen the blades in my garbage disposal?

Grinding small eggshells, fruit pits, or ice cubes can gently sharpen shredding blades over time. You can also find disposal cleaning products with abrasives designed specifically to sharpen and clean blades.

Key Takeaways on What to Put Down Garbage Disposals

  • Garbage disposals provide a convenient way to get rid of food waste, but cannot handle all types of scraps.
  • Leftover cooked foods, raw fruits and vegetables, coffee grounds, and condiments can safely be put in most disposers.
  • Avoid fibrous, starchy, greasy, and stringy foods which can clog pipes or jam the unit.
  • Never put glass, plastic, metal, paper, shells, or utensils down the disposal – serious damage can result.
  • Cut or break up larger items to aid grinding. Use plenty of cold water when running the disposal.
  • Follow manufacturer instructions and tips like alternating hard and soft foods and ice cleaning for smooth operation.
  • With proper use and maintenance, garbage disposals safely and conveniently eliminate a large portion of household food waste.