Not every homeowner has a garbage disposal under the kitchen sink, but those who do usually love the convenience of being able to flush food scraps directly down the drain. One of the biggest benefits is that a disposal can keep rotten food odors out of the garbage can, but if you don’t maintain your disposal from time to time, those odors might start wafting out of your drain.

Careful use and diligent maintenance will also extend the life of your disposal and help you avoid clogs, which means fewer calls to the plumber and more money in your pocket. Use this guide to brush up on proper garbage disposal care and save yourself a little cash and trouble.

To Dispose or Not to Dispose

Carefully choosing what you put in the disposal can not only help you avoid clogs and breakdowns, it can also help you clean and maintain the appliance.

Be sure to avoid:

  • Large bones, like pork and beef bones
  • Potato peels, banana peels and other starchy foods, which can develop into a paste that slows down the blades
  • Coffee grounds and eggshells, which can accumulate in pipes and cause clogs
  • Fat and grease, which can coat blades and pipes, causing clogs and odor
  • Celery, asparagus and other fibrous vegetables, which can tangle around blades
  • Pasta, rice and other absorbent foods, which can expand in your pipes and contribute to clogs

Feel free to grind:

  • Small bones, like fish and chicken bones, which can scour the inside of the disposal
  • Ice cubes can have the same effect, especially if you combine them with a handful of rock salt
  • Small scraps of biodegradable food -- chop up larger pieces to help prevent clogs
  • Citrus peels, which help clean and deodorize your disposal

When in doubt, consult your disposal’s manual for more customized instructions on what can and can’t be safely disposed. Durability levels and motor power vary by manufacturer and model, and some of the most powerful disposals may be able to handle things like larger bones.

A Little TLC

If you’re already grinding things like small bones, ice, rock salt and citrus, you might be taking good care of your disposal as it is. Otherwise, make it a point to do this every other week to keep things clean and fresh. And if you’re not in the habit of using your disposal, it’s time to start. A dormant disposal is more prone to buildup, clogs, nasty odors, corrosion and mechanical failure.

If you do experience a clog, you may be able to clear it by manually turning the blades. Most disposals have a small wrench attached to the bottom, which can be used to turn the blades from the outside. If you can see the obstruction with a flashlight, you may also try to remove it with long-handled tongs or pliers. But you should never use drain cleaner or other chemicals, and never, ever reach in with your hand!

If you want more tips on easy garbage disposal maintenance, check out our how-to video with Mike Rowe. And if you ever need professional assistance, don’t hesitate to call your local plumber.

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