Among the handiest of kitchen tools, a garbage disposal can last for years with good maintenance, but that doesn’t mean they’re indestructible.
Garbage disposals are supposed to chew up and liquefy nearly anything organic you put down the mouth, which makes them tempting to use instead of a trashcan for many items. But two things can happen if you use it the wrong way – either you jam the grinder or clog the drain line, or both.
Certain foods should never be put in the disposal, like anything greasy, stringy, ultra-starchy, fibrous, bony or rocky. That includes melted butter, shortening or bacon grease, celery or carrot sticks and peelings, banana or potato peelings, corn husks, artichoke leaves, steak bones, and avocado and peach pits, among other cloggers.
You may have a disposal that can handle some of these items, but don’t try them unless the directions say so. Some foods may fool you. Chicken skin may seem harmless, but it’s greasy and fibrous. It’s better to be safe than sorry, so if you’re in doubt about a food, use the trashcan instead.
A sure sign your disposal needs some maintenance is the smell of decay. Grease build-up and unliquified food can make your disposal stinky, so to reduce smells and potential clogging, run cold, not hot, water down the drain after running the disposal for about 15 seconds.
Why cold water? Hot water can help melt grease deposits, but think about it – grease can resolidify further down the drain, building to an inevitable clog. In fact, you can take your drain apart periodically, and you’d be surprised at what you find. When you do, clean the pipes with enzymatic cleaner.
Improve bad odors with liquid chlorine bleach, drain cleaner, or baking soda mixed with white vinegar. For weekly maintenance, grind ice cubes to clean the grinder teeth, and mix in orange or lemon peels for a fresh scent.
How you use your disposal also makes a difference. Don’t ever stuff it full of food. Run cold water first, then slowly add the food to the running water. Let water run for a bit after disposing any food.
If your grinder clogs for any reason, turn it off before you put your hand to loosen food from the teeth. After you’ve removed the obstruction, hit the reset button, run some cold water and you’re good to go again.