The Care and Feeding of your Disposer

Simple tips to extend the life of your food waste disposer

food-wasteThere are a few misconceptions about disposers. First, they are not “Garbage Disposers”. They are “Food Waste Disposers”. You would be surprised at what we sometimes find in the disposer which prevents it from working. For some reason, we find a lot of rocks in disposers. If you have a fish bowl, please wash it in another sink. One of the most common items we find during a home inspection is a failed or failing disposer. It is one of the most overlooked, and under-appreciated appliances that we use. These are the most common defects:
  • Damaged or worn rubber strainer
  • Rust at the cutting plates
  • Rust at the mounting flange
  • Rust at the body of the disposer
The rubber strainer is a safety item. It prevents items such as a fork or knife from falling into the disposer, or worse being eject from the
Rusted cutting plate
Rusted cutting plate
disposer. The rubber strainer is a replaceable item that should be in good working order. The picture at right shows a worn rubber strainer and rusted cutting plate. If this reminds you of your disposer, you should consider having it replaced. This disposer is on its last legs, and could actually be dangerous. When the plate is spinning, a utensil could fall into and be ejected from the disposer causing injury. The cutting plate is the part you see if you look into the disposer. It is a spinning plate with blades on it (1 in picture). When the disposer is turned on,
Cutting Plate
Cutting Plate
the spinning motion causes the food to be thrown the sides of the disposer where the blades chop it into pieces small enough to be washed away. It is important that you clear the disposer after washing dishes by running it. If you fail to do so, the food debris will sit on the plate. This trapped moisture will eventually rust the plate, and damage the disposer. Always run the disposer after washing dishes to extend the life of the unit, and reduce the odor from the disposer. Also, look at the plate periodically. If you see heavy rusting of the plate or the sides of the disposer (2 in picture), it may be time to replace the unit. Rust at the mounting flange can be caused by a poor installation or a torn washer or strainer. Water is actually leaking from the sink to the outside of the disposer. A rusted mounting flange can eventually fall apart and becomes difficult to remove when you need to replace the disposer. When the body of the disposer is rusted, you need to replace the disposer. If it isn’t already leaking, it will shortly. Check that the rust isn’t coming from another source, but most often the disposer is at the end of its useful life.


Everybody has had a disposer that smells. It is really unpleasant. Often people will put a wedge of lemon down the disposer to mask the odor. We recommend against this. The lemon rind is too tough for the disposer to deal with, and you can actually damage the blades. The smell is caused by old food debris that is stuck to the inside of the disposer. The best thing to do is to use a still brush to clean the inside of the neck of the disposer. Use a disinfectant, and really scrub the inside. You’ll notice an immediate improvement. Philippe Heller is the president of The Real Estate Inspection Company which provides home inspections to the greater San Diego County area, Temecula, and Marietta.