Don't put flower stems down your disposal and other secrets your plumber says you should know.
Amy Bickers Mercer

After hearing my husband, a professional plumber, complain numerous times about the things he finds in people's drains, I thought there might be a story idea hidden somewhere in his work woes.

I was right. When I suggested writing about the garbage disposal, my editor gave me the go-ahead. To save you from headaches, we turned to a professional.

Savvy Shopping
"People try to save money on a garbage disposal and buy a cheap one," says Michael Tortomase, vice president and general manager of a heating, air, and plumbing business in Vestavia Hills, Alabama. "It never really performs the way it needs to, and that leads to trouble."

He says you're better off paying between $400 and $500 (including installation) for a garbage disposal with a 1/2- to 3/4-horsepower motor. (Costs vary based on the region in which you live.)

What To Look For
Before you shop, do your research, and you'll end up with a wise buy. Here's what to look for.

  • Rpm: Revolutions per minute tells you how fast your garbage disposal's blades turn. This translates into how fine the food gets chopped up before traveling down your drain. A unit that runs at 2,600 rpm is desirable.
  • Blades: Choose a disposal with stainless steel grinding components. It will last longer and work more efficiently.
  • Noise control: You'll be grateful you purchased a unit with sound insulation when your spouse is grinding up leftovers while you're trying to talk on the telephone.

The Don'ts
Once you have a garbage disposal, the next step is to treat it right. Among things you should never put down the disposal: oyster shells, clam shells, glass, plastic, whole bones, and metal bottle caps. Common sense, right? Wrong.

"People break glasses in the kitchen and wash everything down the drain," says Michael. Other don'ts include stringy vegetables, such as celery; fibrous material, such as whole corn husks; shrimp peels; rice and pasta; hot grease or other extremely hot liquids.

The Dos
When running the disposal, always run cool water. It keeps food and fat solid so the disposal can wash the particles away. Hot water can melt fat, which will get far down the drain line before gelling again and becoming a clog.

Only use garbage disposal cleaner; never use drain cleaner. Another option for reducing odor is to grind lemon and lime peels. Grinding ice helps blades stay sharp and clean.