The Thanksgiving leftovers may be long gone, but for many American families, the memories of garbage disposal failure are still fresh. The day after Thanksgiving is traditionally one of the busiest days of the year for plumbers, who are often called out to clear, repair or replace disposals that were pushed beyond their limit following the feast.

But even though Thanksgiving has passed, the season of holiday gatherings and meals is still in full swing. And if you aren’t careful, you might find yourself with a malfunctioning disposal after your Christmas or New Year’s bash.

Fortunately, using your garbage disposal properly and keeping it well maintained is actually a fairly simple process. Abide by these tips, and you’ll not only make it through the holidays without a clog -- you’ll extend the life of your disposal.

Avoiding Clogs and Other Problems

  • Run cold water before, during and after activating the disposal. The flow of water will carry food particles down the drain, and the cold water will help fat and grease solidify so that it doesn’t coat the blades.

  • While the cold water will help with trace amounts of grease, you should minimize the amount you send down the drain. After cooking bacon or other fatty foods, drain as much grease as possible into a disposable container, then wipe out the pan with a paper towel.

  • Don’t put potato peels in the disposal. The starches turn into a paste that can build up and slow the motorized blades to a halt.

  • Chop up larger foods into small pieces before feeding them into the disposal, and avoid overloading the disposal with too many pieces at once. You can dispose of large volumes of food waste safely by feeding them in gradually.

  • Avoid using fibrous foods like celery, asparagus and artichokes, because the tough fibers can become tangled and jam up the blades.

  • Don’t dispose of large bones, but smaller ones, like fish bones, are OK.

  • Avoid sending coffee grounds down the drain. They won’t hurt the disposal, but they can accumulate inside the drain pipe and cause a clog.

Maintaining Your Garbage Disposal

  • An easy way to clean your garbage disposal is to run cold water while sending several ice cubes down the drain. If you make ice cubes out of vinegar, this can also deodorize your disposal.

  • Another deodorization trick is to grind up orange or lemon rinds in your disposal.

  • Never use harsh chemicals, drain cleaning solutions or bleach to clean your disposal, as these solutions can cause irreversible damage.

  • Use the disposal frequently. If you only use it a few times per year, you increase the chances of rust development or moving parts seizing up.

If you still experience a clog, try using a plunger to clear the disposal. But in the event of a persistent clog, contact a qualified plumber for help. Using tools or other instruments to clear the clog can damage the disposal, and using your hand can be far more costly!

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