You know you've really made it when you can graduate from a dingy apartment cleaning all your own dishes, clogging your sink with rice, onion peels or whatever else and move into a home with not only a dishwasher but a garbage disposal unit. These brilliant inventions have brightened many days of hardcore kitchen users everywhere. However, not everyone knows how to properly maintain them, which leads to issues and costly repairs down the road. Keep these basic tips in mind of what to dispose of in the sink, and what's best handled the old-fashioned way. Don't forget the home inspection after you've installed the unit.
The best advice
One of the most straightforward tips for garbage disposal maintenance is to just use it. DoItYourself.com recommended running it as much as possible, even if you don't really need it. Lack of use may cause internal metal parts to rust and then stick to each other. You just splurged on your fancy disposal unit and now you don't want to use it? That would just be silly. With most garbage disposal models, you can actually prolong the life of the internal blades by using them to grind small bones from fish or chicken. Even eggshells should be good to go down the drain. Using the garbage disposal unit to do away with these things is not only a great way to impress your friends, but can help eliminate grease and other detritus inside.
This is not license to go too crazy with the grinding, though. Adding too much food at once may cause it to clog. Only place small amounts of food inside and only do so while running the faucet at the same time. Make sure what you've just put into the sink has time to clear the entire length of the unit before adding more. You may even need to tear or chop food scraps to make them small enough to fit. After you've allowed your disposal unit to devour everything, keep the water running for just 10 or 15 seconds longer to ensure it all goes down.
Unfortunately, your garbage disposal is yet another appliance in your kitchen that needs to be cleaned with some regularity. The good news is it's not hard at all, and only takes a few minutes once per week. As DoItYourself.com suggested, simply add a quarter cup of baking soda down the drain and let it sit overnight. In the morning, pour an equal amount of vinegar down the drain. It should produce some bubbles, but that just means it's working. For a garbage disposal unit with a stubborn stench, pour three or four tablespoons of sodium borate down the drain, allowing it to settle for an hour before running hot water for a minute. You could even drop a few lemon or orange slices into the unit for a simple cleaning that results in a fresh smell.
What to avoid
Now that you know, and may be surprised to learn, what you can put inside the disposal, it's important to remember what you definitely can't put inside. Glass, plastic, metal, cigarette butts or paper are all forbidden to enter the unit no matter what. These materials can damage the blades and lead to very costly replacement, according to Angie's List. Do your best to keep oil, fat and grease out of the disposal as well. These substances can clog the disposal unit and make using it much more difficult. Instead of pouring grease from a pan down the drain, use an empty tin can or glass jar and throw it away. Never use plastic, paper or plastic foam containers to store hot grease, since the heat will most likely cause them to melt.
There are also a handful of seemingly innocuous foods that you should not put in the garbage disposal. Celery, corn husks, artichokes, onion skins, starches like rice or pasta and potato peels are all to be avoided with garbage disposals. These foods all are either too fibrous to grind effectively, or will expand in water and clog the system. Coffee grounds may also present problems for garbage disposal units, so take care not to dump too many of them in the sink. Only follow the previously mentioned list of cleaning ingredients, and don't use harsh chemicals like bleach to clean the system as they may damage the pipes.
It should go without saying that you must never, ever put your hand into the garbage disposal, even when it's switched off. The only time it is ever safe to do so is if the unit is disconnected from the power supply at the circuit breaker, according to DoItYourself.com. If you're experiencing problems, take a few simple troubleshooting steps before calling the plumber. First, try resetting the unit by pressing the button under the sink. Most units should also include a port where you can use a wrench to hand crank the blades, if you need to get them moving again.