One appliance that many households cannot do without is a garbage disposal, but without the proper maintenance, this appliance can quickly breakdown or become clogged with fat, bones, or fibrous foods that shouldn’t be put into a disposal. A garbage disposal is designed to help cut up, mulch, and otherwise breakdown soft food waste so that it can be disposed through the drain system of the home.

However, the blades of the disposal, as well as the drain pipes that run throughout the home, can become prone to clogging if the garbage disposal is not used correctly or maintained regularly. These tips for garbage disposal maintenance will help you operate your garbage disposal so you can avoid clogs and other common problems like rusting.

Always Turn Off the Disposal During Maintenance

Garbage disposals are dangerous appliances that need to be used appropriately to avoid injury. Any time you need to reach into the garbage disposal, it’s important to turn it off to clean the appliance. Also, make sure to move any small items that could accidentally fall into the disposal, like earrings, rings, forks, knives, spoons, and other objects that are close to the edge of the sink.

Typically, you can turn the garbage disposal off by flipping a switch underneath the unit or turning off the garbage disposal from the breaker box. Don’t take risks. Even though turning off the disposal seems like an extra step that just takes more time for the sake of caution, you will regret it if something goes wrong.

Regularly Run the Garbage Disposal

One of the best things you can do to keep the garbage disposal in good working order is to simply run it at least once a day. Even if you don’t have anything to grind up, run the garbage disposal with cold water to ensure that the blades don’t become rusted from lack of use. It’s also a good idea to take this time to put ice cubes into the garbage disposal. The hard cubes will get chopped up by the blades and help clean out any waste that is still stuck to the sides of the appliance or to the inside of the drainpipe.

Avoid Products That Damage Disposals

Another easy maintenance step is to simply avoid putting items into the disposal if you know that they can potentially harm the disposal or the pipes. Common food items that should not be put into a garbage disposal include banana skins, broccoli, celery, corn husks, potato peels, bones, eggshells, coffee grounds, and fat.

Eggshells and coffee grounds won’t damage the garbage disposal and have actually been suggested to help neutralize odors and sharpen the disposal blades. However, both eggshells and coffee grounds significantly contribute to drain clogs, so it’s best to avoid these products.

Harsh cleaning chemicals should also be avoided. While the chemicals may help unclog the drains, there is also the possibility that the chemicals can cling to the garbage disposal blades, and fly out of the disposal during the next use. Additionally, these types of cleaning chemicals can do lasting damage to the drains if they are regularly relied on to clear clogs. Consider having the garbage disposal drain snaked about once every two years to help clear partial clogs before they can become a problem.

Pay Attention to Size and Quantity

A garbage disposal isn’t some kind of miniature black hole that can accept anything put into it, so you need to pay attention to the amount of food waste you are trying to put into the disposal, as well as the size of the food waste. Large items should be cut up into smaller pieces and gradually fed into the disposal. Always make sure that you slowly add additional food waste to avoid jamming the blades or clogging the drain.

Use Plenty of Cold Water

When you are using the garbage disposal, run the cold water to help carry the food waste down into the blades and through the drainpipes. Do not use hot water for this purpose because the heat can melt fat and cause it to stick to the blades of the disposal. Continue to run cold water down the drain for about 10 to 20 seconds after you have fed food waste to the disposal. The continued flow of cold water is effective in forcing any remaining food particles down into the drain and flush the pipes.

Clean the Garbage Disposal Every Two Weeks

To keep the garbage disposal working correctly and avoid clogs, you need to clean the disposal about once every two weeks, depending on the frequency with which you used the appliance. First, remove physical debris, like stuck-on food waste by filling the disposal with ice cubes and a cup of rock salt. Run the disposal for about a minute to allow these naturally abrasive materials to clean off any food debris.

In order to kill bacteria in the drain, pour a cup of vinegar and a half-cup of baking soda into the disposal, then clean the flaps and the inside of the disposal with an old toothbrush. The chemical reaction of the vinegar and baking soda mixture will not just remove debris and kill bacteria, but it also reduces bad smells.

Citrus Is an Effective Garbage Disposal Freshener

Instead of using coffee grounds, it’s better to opt for using warm water and lemons, limes, oranges, or any other citrus fruit. Cut up your fruit of choice and gradually feed the citrus fruit into the garbage disposal with warm water. Make sure the water is not hot to avoid melting any fat that is still stuck in the disposal, because the melted fat can cling to the disposal blades. Citrus fruits also have anti-bacterial properties, so they keep cleaning all the way through the pipes.