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Maintaining your garbage disposal

Over the years, I've gotten a lot of conflicting advice about maintaining my garbage disposal.

One repairman told me to grind glass in the disposal occasionally to keep the blades sharp. A neighbor said to run hot water when operating the disposal to melt grease.

A friend suggested pouring baking soda into the disposal to cover nasty smells. Be careful whom you take advice from. 

If I had listened to the voices above, I might have had even more disposal problems than I've had. And I've had plenty. Here are some tips (from manufacturers!) on how to keep your garbage disposal operating correctly -  and smelling nice, too.

Garbage Disposal Maintenance Tips 

  • Don't let food build up in your disposal. Run it every time you put something in it. Food buildup may not only cause jams but bad smells, too. Also, acids from foods can cause corrosion.
  • Use cold water when operating the disposal. It turns out that you want the oils and fats in your disposal to solidify so that you can chop them up and flush them out.
  • Keep the water running at least 30 seconds after the grinding stops to make sure all the byproducts are washed away.
  • If your disposal jams, turn it off immediately. Turn off the water and use tongs to dislodge any food or objects that may be stuck in the disposal. 
  • Wait a few minutes, and then hit the reset button. Some disposals may automatically reset. If yours doesn't have a reset button, wait about five minutes for the automatic reset, then try it again. Is it still jammed? Many disposals have a little L-shaped tool that fits into the center of the hole in the disposal. Work it back and forth a few times. Push the reset button; then try the disposal again. (Make sure your disposal is turned off before sticking anything into it.)

What Not to Put Down the Disposal

  • Anything that's not food. Primarily, metal, plastic, strings, or rubber bands.
  • No large bones. Small bones are OK.
  • Nothing stringy. I don't put in artichokes, banana peels, or cornhusks. I do grind celery and asparagus, but only a little at a time. Meat (especially raw meat) can also get stringy and wrap around the mechanism.
  • No grease or oil.
  • No flour.

Deodorizing Your Disposal

Everyone has a favorite method of deodorizing the disposal. Many people grind leftover lemons and limes for a fresh citrusy smell.

Others grind lemons with ice cubes. Still, others freeze white vinegar in ice cubes and grind those up. 

I would not recommend the baking soda method. (I learned the hard way that floury materials tend to clog up somewhere farther down the septic line).

Here's my personal favorite for getting rid of disposal odors, and disinfecting the sink and kitchen sponge in the process:

  • Put the stopper in the sink so it will hold water. Fill the sink with hot water to the brim. Toss in the kitchen sponge.
  • Add one-quarter cup bleach and let sit for 10 minutes. 
  • Remove the stopper and sponge, and turn on the disposal. Allow it to suck away the bleach-water until it is nearly drained. Turn off the disposal and allow the last of the water to drain.

I've been using the bleach method for nearly 10 years now, and haven't yet had to replace the disposal - nor has any smell lingered - after using the bleach-and-water rinse.

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› Maintaining Your Garbage Disposal