They're convenient, efficient, and ecologically responsible ... until they stop working. We offer helpful advice on how to maintain, clean, and unclog a garbage disposal -- all excerpted from "Martha Stewart's Homekeeping Handbook."
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Run Cold Water
Always run cold (never warm or hot) water with each use of the disposal; hot water will dissolve fat and grease -- as the water flows down the pipes, it starts to cool and a film of grease begins to build on the inside of the pipes, leading to a clog.
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Avoid putting fibrous foods, such as cornhusks, artichokes, rhubarb, and celery, in the disposal; they can cause jamming.
Photography: Johnny Miller3 of 9
Don't Let Food Sit
Run the disposal each time you place food in it; food left sitting in a garbage disposal will cause odor.
Photography: Anson Smart4 of 9
Don't Cram it With Waste
Insert food waste loosely; never crowd it or jam it into the disposal. If you overload the disposal, it will stall. Most are equipped with overload protectors, however, to prevent the motor from getting damaged.
Photography: JENS MORTENSEN5 of 9
Know When to Recycle Instead
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Don't Force Vegetable Skins
Process vegetable skins (including potato) in small quantities with a forceful flow of water to help them run through the system.
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Process Small Bones and Fruit Pits
Some hard materials, including small bones and fruit pits, can be processed; in fact, this is often recommended, as it creates a scouring action inside the grinding chamber that keeps it clean and fresh. Large bones should not be placed in the disposal, however.
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A properly cared for garbage disposal should stay clean, but you can always freshen and deodorize it by grinding citrus peels or vinegar ice cubes in it.
Photography: Burcu Avsar9 of 9
Is It Clogged?
Follow these steps: First, turn the power switch to the off position and disconnect the power at the main fuse or circuit breaker. Next, remove the stopper or the splash guard. Check the interior of the hopper using a flashlight if necessary, for objects that will not grind properly, such as glass or metal, shells, large bones, plastic, or aluminum. Use long-handled tongs to remove any such objects. Never put your hand into the disposal. Once you've safely removed the obstruction, turn the power on and reset the button on the disposal unit. Flush the disposal well with cold water.