The garbage disposal has been part of American life for nearly 100 years. Who invented the disposal and when? That depends who you ask. Two different companies have staked their claims. In 1935, an architect from Racine, Wisconsin named John W. Hammes was granted a patent on his “garburator.” That same year, General Electric’s “Disposal” beat him to market. Hammes’s InSinkErator corporation wouldn’t sell its first product until 1940.

While the disposal’s early history is unclear, the appliance’s popularity is not. They are convenient, easy to use, and efficient at reducing trash. Chances are that you have a garbage disposal in your home. According to a recent Consumer Reports survey, over half of American homes have a garbage disposal. 60% of those respondents reported that the disposal was already installed in their homes when they moved in.

Your garbage disposal is one of those household items that you probably don’t think much about – until it stops working, that is. Most garbage disposals have a life expectancy of about ten years. After that, you might start noticing it clogging or even breaking down more often.

There are steps you can take to keep your garbage disposal in great shape. Never run your disposal while you’re still washing the dishes. It’s easy for silverware or other objects to slip in and jam the unit. Be sure to keep a steady flow of cold water running while your disposal is in use and clean it periodically by tossing in a handful of ice cubes with the waste. You can even keep it smelling fresh by grinding some lemon or other citrus peels once in a while.

With a little TLC, you might even be able to put off replacing your garbage disposal until your next renovation. The most important thing you can do to keep your unit in service is to know its limitations. It’s fine to put most meal scraps into the sink and use your garbage disposal to grind them. However, while today’s units are more powerful than John Hammes may ever have imagined, there are some items that they just can’t handle.

Remember this “dirty dozen” the next time you’re washing up after dinner or cleaning out the refrigerator. Keep these items out of your garbage disposal. Throw them in the trash or compost bucket instead.

1. Garbage- It’s a garbage disposal – not a garbage can. Don’t toss paper towels, straws, or other trash into your unit. Not only might a clog ensue, but you also run the risk of hard objects bouncing off the blades and flying out of the drain, causing injury to yourself or someone else.

2. Bones- Your disposal’s blades are not strong enough to grind most poultry, fish, or beef bones. These items can cause your unit to jam or break down completely.

3. Seafood and Egg Shells- Go ahead and enjoy your next clambake, but keep the shells from your clams, oysters, shrimp, crabs, and lobsters out of the disposal. They’re hard and, like animal bones, can break the blades.

bacon on frying pan

You may have heard that egg shells are actually good for your garbage disposal, but that’s a myth. Grinding the occasional egg shell probably won’t damage your unit, but it won’t sharpen the blades, either.

4. Fats and Grease- Butter, vegetable oil, bacon drippings, and other fats will cling to your disposal blades and dull them over time. Even worse, since their trip through the disposal won’t break them down, they’ll solidify as they cool. This can cause a buildup in your pipes that requires professional attention to resolve.

5. Sticky Stuff- Avoid a sticky situation when enjoying jam, caramel sauce, or other gooey delights. Never put these things down the drain. They can clog your garbage disposal.

women scrubbing pan

6. Nuts- Think of your disposal as the giant food grinder that it is. When you put nuts down there, the blades create something like the familiar, sticky nut butter that you enjoy on sandwiches. It’s problematic and it can break your disposal.

7. Fruit Pits- Have you ever heard peaches, cherries, and other such treats called “stone fruits?” That’s because the pits are hard as rocks. Your disposal’s blades simply aren’t strong enough to grind them.

8. Fibrous Vegetables- The fleshy parts of celery, rhubarb, artichokes, kale, and other similar vegetables do break down in the disposal. Their strings they contain can wind around the blades and cause your unit to break down.

9. Pasta- When you add pasta to boiling water, it softens and expands. It can do the same inside your garbage disposal as well. Those swollen, water-logged noodles can jam the unit. This applies to rice, oats, other grains, and even potato peels as well.

10. Fresh Corn- Fresh corn creates a lot of organic waste, none of which should go into your garbage disposal. The husks themselves are much too fibrous for the disposal to handle. The silks are too stringy. And the cobs? Think of them as “corn bones,” far too large and too hard for the disposal.

fresh corn

11. Coffee Grounds- Clumping coffee grounds are great in a percolator, but not in your garbage disposal. Coffee grounds will stick to the blades, the inside of your disposal, and the pipes and cause a buildup that can lead to slow drainage.

12. Cleaning Chemicals- If your drain seems slow, it can be tempting to pour cleaning chemicals down there, but these products can actually do more harm than good. They can damage not only your garbage disposal, but your drain line as well and should be avoided.

There’s one more thing that should never go into your garbage disposal: your hands. If your garbage disposal isn’t working as it should, schedule a free consultation. Our expert team members will come to your home, quickly diagnose the issue, and repair it or recommend a replacement.