7 Important Rules for Using a Garbage Disposal

These must-follow guidelines keep it running smoothly — and the plumber far away.

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Kitchen Workhorse

The motor in a garbage disposal is measured in horsepower, so it should be strong enough to handle anything, right? Well, not quite. Here's what you need to know to banish jams and floods, and keep the machine in tiptop condition.

Food Only, Please

Food scraps are the only things you should send down the disposal. Keep other materials out, or you risk causing damage — no paper, wood, glass or plastic.

Water Is Your Friend

To keep everything running smoothly, always use plenty of cold water. Run the tap before, during and 10 to 15 seconds after operating the disposal. Why cold? It helps congeal any grease and fats so they don't build up in pipes. Never run the disposal dry.

Beware Tough, Stringy Food

You know those scraps that are so fibrous that you can't chew through them? The tough ends of celery, the bottoms of asparagus, or those rubbery, stringy banana peels? Your disposal has a hard time with them too. Toss them on the compost pile instead.

Nothing Too Hard, Either

Eggshells and coffee grounds, in small amounts, are OK (the latter can even help freshen the drain’s aroma). But unless you have your plumber on retainer, don't send bones, nuts, seeds or hard fruit pits down the chute.

Don't Overload It

The disposal works best on small bits of scraps at a time — don't make a huge pile and then force it down all at once. Similarly, the odd potato peel is fine, but avoid sending large piles of peels down the disposal — they can clog the drain or even wrap around the blades.

Keep It Fresh

When you're done for the night, run the disposal and toss down two lemon halves. The astringent juices and naturally antimicrobial oils will help counter odors. And throw in a few ice cubes to help knock debris buildup off the blades’ edges.

Keep Your Hands to Yourself

Do we have to say it? Never reach into the garbage disposal. Yes, even if it's turned off. (The very thing that's clogging the action can suddenly dislodge and release the blades — ouch.) If you need to retrieve something, cut the power and try tongs, needle-nose pliers or even chopsticks to dislodge it — just never your digits, unless you're into subtraction.

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