The RepairGuru busts some myths that surround these common appliances, and provide some tips to keep them spinning and smelling fresh. First, a quick garbage disposer primer.

Garbage disposers are simple devices that all work on a similar principle. At the bottom of the unit is a flat plate on which rotating steel ‘mashers’ are mounted. These mashers work in conjunction with the serrated inside wall of the disposer to grind food waste up. When you switch the unit on, a motor inside the unit rotates the flat plate, forcing the mashers to swing toward the outside of the spinning plate, which grinds up waste so it can be flushed away.

The mashers themselves are not sharp and don’t chop food into pieces. But a garbage disposer can easily jam if a foreign object falls inside, causing a masher to get lodged against the inside wall.

“You’ll know it’s jammed because there will often be a lot of noise as the object rattles around inside, followed by a deadly silence,” says John Sowden, VP of technical services for and a former repair tech manager himself. “Most appliance repair technicians have rescued coins, bottle caps, jewelry and plastic bag ties from inside a garbage disposer. It’s a good idea to keep small objects away from the sink.”

Un-jamming a garbage disposer is very simple. First make sure the disposer is turned off, then clear out under the sink so that you have access to the bottom of the unit. Next, for most disposers, insert the wrench that was supplied with the unit (if you cannot find it, use a 1/4″ Allen wrench) into the hole located at the center on the bottom of the garbage disposer. Turn the wrench in either direction until the loose object is free from the mashers and can be extracted.

In general, a little common sense goes a long way when it comes to garbage disposers.

– Don’t put fibrous vegetable waste into them.
– Don’t add too much food waste at once. Manageable portions are best.
– Don’t put ice cubes in them – these can stress the motor.
– Always replace the black rubber splash guards if they are damaged or
– Use Disposer Care foam cleaner to eliminate leftover food, grease and
odors from bacteria build-up.

While they do last for years, garbage disposers eventually wear out. According to Sowden, there are some warning signs to look for. “If your garbage disposer is taking longer than five seconds to clear the waste, it’s probably time for a new one. Also, a sure sign of wear is a masher that no longer spins freely, or any wobbling of the flat plate at the bottom of the unit,” he says.

When replacing a garbage disposer, Sowden recommends getting the best unit you can afford. “This is an appliance where you really do get what you pay for. The more expensive models grind food better, will last longer and are quieter.”