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Garbage Disposals and Septic Tanks

I have a septic tank, can I install a garbage disposal or will it cause problems?

This is a common question that people are apt to ask their local plumber. For many people living in town, having a garbage disposal doesn’t require a second thought because the city pays for all maintenance. With a septic tank, you have to be cautious because if the wrong things go down the drain, they can cause costly problems for the homeowner.

Food breaks down a lot slower than other matter that goes down the drain. Grab a square of toilet paper and make it wet. It instantly gets soggy and smaller. Now run water over a few chunks of strawberry. There’s no breakdown, it just gets a little cleaner. Instead of relying on a garbage disposal, start a compost bin. Even if you don’t have a garden, you can reuse compost on any plants or trees you have around the home, or share with your neighbors.

Many people opt to go ahead and get a garbage disposal. It might require more frequent pumping for some families depending on how much they use the disposal - or what they decide to wash down the drain. The primary thing to remember is that garbage disposals are not garbage cans. Just because you can pop something into your disposal does not mean that it should go into it. Most problems occur because of misuse by the owner, not because the septic system cannot handle the extra food matter in the tank.


  • Use cold water when you grind food. Cold water will cause any grease or oils to solidify so that they can be chopped.
  • Pour a little dish soap inside the disposal after washing dishes, run for about a minute with some cold water.
  • Run your disposal regularly. Frequent use helps prevent rust and corrosion.
  • Grind hard materials such as small chicken or fish bones (no large animal bones), egg shells, and even fruit pits. These create a scouring action inside the grind chamber that will help clean the garbage disposal’s walls.


The most important thing to remember is, do not put anything in the garbage disposal that is not a biodegradable food. When in doubt, throw it out!

  • Don’t use hot water when grinding food waste. It will cause oils to liquefy and accumulate somewhere in your disposal or down your drain causing clogs.
  • Don’t turn off the motor or water until grinding is complete. Let the water run at least 15 seconds after the grinding is completed.
  • Don’t grind fibrous materials like corn husks, celery stalks, onion skins, or artichokes. The fibers from these can get tangled and jam your disposals motor.
  • Don’t pour grease, oil or fat into the disposal (or your drain!). Even though cold water will help it to solidify, it will slowly accumulate, clog drains, and even impede your disposal’s grinding ability.
  • Don’t put large amounts of food down the disposal. Make sure to cut it up before you feed it in (a little at a time).
  • Don’t put expandable foods like rice or pasta into your disposal. They might seem small, but when added to the water of your drains, they will expand and can cause jams or clogs.
  • Don’t use coffee grounds. Grounds will accumulate, and what starts small will build up and cause clogs.
  • Don’t grind glass, plastic, metal, paper, anything combustible, or even cigarette butts. If we just mentioned it, it means someone’s done it.

As you can see, there’s a few more “don’t” than “do’s”. We could have kept going, but we’re pretty sure you’ve gotten the point. One of the worst things to do is to pour any type of oil or fat down your drain. These are next to impossible to break down in your septic system.

If you already have a garbage disposal and are getting a new septic tank, make sure to tell your septic tank specialist about it. They might size your tank a little larger to accommodate the extra waste that you’re putting into your tank. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to call. Your Greater Syracuse Mr. Rooter plumbers also specialize with septic tank systems. You can also send us any questions online.