A guide to sink etiquette

There’s a leak under your kitchen sink, and an unlikely culprit’s to blame: your garbage disposal. Using the disposal correctly requires more diligence than one might expect. But proper sink etiquette can save you big bucks on repairs by protecting your plumbing and — spoiler alert — even your dishwasher.

Here’s how it’s supposed to work. The strainer basket, a little-known tool included with the sink, is a small, grated colander designed to sit neatly over the strainer side’s drain — that’s the side opposite the disposal. Once the dishes have been rinsed over it and moved to the dishwasher, the little colander comes out. Toss its contents into the disposal, then cover the disposal with a rubber cap (also included) and run until it sounds smooth.

Now, we know the colander method isn’t always the most convenient. Maybe you lost it. Maybe you’re just in a hurry. That’s why we’ve compiled some easy must-follows — check out these disposal dos and don’ts to avoid under-the-sink leaks.


Dos and Don’ts

DO let the water completely drain from the sink before turning on the disposal. Powering up a disposal filled with water puts substantial pressure on the system’s pipes. This is the most common cause of leaks.

DON’T feel compelled to run the faucet when the disposal is on. While flowing water won’t cause damage, the need to have the tap running is a common misconception.



DO only put food particles of a “medium dice” (1/2 inch on all sides) and smaller in the disposal. If you scraped your dishes into the trash before rinsing, this shouldn’t be an issue.

DON’T ever try to wash down large food chunks, egg shells, coffee grounds, fibrous plant matter (potato skins, carrots, celery, etc.), or grease. When these items congeal, swell, or turn to mush in the pipes, you’re in for a nasty clog.


DO always run your disposal before starting the dishwasher. The two are connected.

DON’T panic if your dishwasher isn’t draining. Because the dishwasher drains into the disposal, food backed up in the sink can impede the function of both appliances.


Accidents happen

We’ve all been there: The occasional apple core makes its way down the drain. In this case, you can still turn on the disposal, but ensure all the water has drained from the sink first.

Should the disposal be clogged altogether, you’ll need another tool that comes with the sink: the Allen wrench. It fits like a key into a slot at the bottom of the disposal, where you can use your leverage to rotate the mechanism and free the debris.

If something goes down the drain that absolutely cannot be ground up, say a rib bone, fork, or engagement ring, there is a safe way to retrieve it. Reach under the sink and unplug the disposal entirely. At the very least, make absolutely certain it’s turned off before involving your fingers.


Tips ‘n’ tricks

For all our DIY enthusiasts, these final tips go beyond simply protecting your garbage disposal to sharpen and freshen it.

To sharpen and degunk, throw a cup of ice down the drain and turn on the disposal. The blades are self sharpening — ice is solid enough to create the necessary friction, but not abrasive enough to break the machine.

To clean and freshen, use a thinly sliced lemon peel. The citric acid will help to cut through grime that’s taken up residence in the drain while smelling fantastic. If you’ve got some time, freeze water and lemon peel together in an ice tray, then get to grinding.