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Garbage disposals often get a bad rap. They’re frequently used as bloody weapons in horror movies. On the TV sitcom “Roseanne,” the title character’s husband, Dan, pretended to get his hand caught in a moving one, complete with fake blood flying.
Some people think we shouldn’t use them. They’re not as common in England, where many compost their food scraps instead. And every so often, a writer will report that plumbers advise against running disposals at all.
There’s no doubt that the in-sink grinders can be convenient, time-saving helpers, and many of us would find it tough to get along without them. But they can be sensitive. Many scraps can go into them just fine, but as with any appliance that can require pricey repairs, be careful. Here are 19 items that should never be ground up in a disposal — and three that definitely should.
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This one seems obvious. Think of the blades in your disposal as resembling those in your blender. Would you throw a chicken carcass in your blender and expect it to be chopped up with no problem? If your city picks up food and yard waste, put the bones in that container.
2. Grease and oil
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Frying potatoes, or doughnuts, or bacon? Don’t dump the leftover grease down the drain, whether or not there is a disposal in it. It will solidify and can make a mess out of your drain and pipes. (Don’t flush it either — same reason!) If you’re not going to save the oil to reuse (hey, more doughnuts), let it cool and pour it into a container you’re getting rid of anyway, and put it in your trash. Feeling ambitious? There are plenty of YouTube videos showing how to turn used cooking oil into biodiesel fuel. Now that’s a real gas.
3. Avocado and fruit pits
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Avocado pits are sort of the rocks of the kitchen-scrap world. The blades of your disposal will do next to nothing to break up these solid pits — think of Rocky the boxer pounding on a frozen side of beef. Instead, toss the pits in your compost or yard waste. Better yet, grow an avocado tree. The California Avocado Commission has tips on how you can actually plant it — though not all of us live in the right climate for that.
4. Potato and carrot peels
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Potato peels are not as tough or fibrous as many vegetables’ outer coatings, but they still can clog your disposal. Even when cut up, peels contain so much starch they can create a sort of paste that clogs the pipes. You say po-tay-to; I say, don’t grind that.
5. Corn husks
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You really shouldn’t put corn husks down your disposal. The husks are fibrous and tough, and those fibrous threads can wind around your disposal’s blades and tangle and jam the motor. It could make for an a-maizing mess. Compost them, or toss in your food-waste bin.
6. Onion skins
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Treat onion skins much like you would corn husks. They appear papery and thin, but, like their corny brethren, onion skins can get caught in the disposal’s blades and stop them from spinning. Composting them is a much more a-peeling option.
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Lettuce is a wonderfully healthy vegetable, but not so healthy for your garbage disposal. If you’ve ever mistakenly let some leftover salad float down into the machine, you know that not only can lettuce leaves be tough to chop, but when you try to wash them down with water, they can create a gooey, green slime that looks like something out of an “Alien” movie. Lettuce vow to compost lettuce scraps in the future.
8. Banana peels
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Don’t monkey around: Banana peels don’t belong down a disposal. Some experts say that if you cut the peel up into small pieces, the blades can handle it, but the same fibrous toughness that protects the soft banana fruit can play havoc with your disposal. Instead, throw the peels on the floor and wait until a clown walks by to dramatically slip on it! No? OK, fine, just throw it in the compost then.
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Cooked pasta and rice are delicious, but the leftovers can create a disposal dilemma. The whirring blades can mash these products into a starchy paste that will clog your drain. Dump any leftover pasta into your food-waste bin — or better yet, save it for a second-day snack.
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If you’re stuck on Bubble Yum or Bazooka, by gum, go for it. But never, ever, throw the sticky stuff anywhere near your disposal. The reasons are self-evident: Sticky gum will clog up the blades as surely as if you’d squirted glue down the sink. Wad chewed gum up in a small piece of paper and toss it in your trash. And don’t worry if you happen to swallow it — that idea that gum takes seven years to digest is only an urban legend.
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Marshmallows may seem like an odd item to put on this list — it’s not as if your average person is pitching them into the disposal, and it’s not the kind of snack that has leftovers. But maybe your marshmallows were a gooey topping from Grandma’s Thanksgiving sweet potatoes, or some other delightfully sweet and sticky recipe. Keep your mallows out of the disposal to keep your plumbing mellow.
12. Coffee grounds
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What could possibly be wrong with putting coffee grounds down your garbage disposal? They’re small, smell good and seem harmless. But they clump together, don’t break up and can create a caffeinated clog. Instead, spread them around plants in your garden to repel insects and stimulate plant growth.
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Eggshells might be the most controversial item on this list. Opinions on whether they belong in the disposal or not are rather scrambled. Some say the shells actually work almost like a scouring powder, breaking into tiny bits and helping clean gunk off the disposal’s blades. But others say they can become compacted and either clog the drain entirely or stick to the walls of the pipe, slowing draining. After eggs-amining the evidence, it would seem wise to keep them out entirely,
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You’d never pour paint down your drain, toilet or your disposal, right? It might color your world, but it’s not healthy for your pipes and it’s bad for the environment. Sure, some natural paints may say they can handle it, but the fact is it’s just not that hard to dry out excess paint and check your neighborhood waste guidelines for how to dispose of it. Some companies will accept leftover paint if you’ve poured sand or kitty litter into the can to turn it into a solid.
While you’re thinking about it, check out: “A Dozen Great Ways to Get Rid of Hard-to-Get-Rid-of Stuff.”
15. Bread dough
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Even those of us who love baking sometimes find ourselves with dough to dispose of. Maybe a recipe failed, and the dough never rose. Or maybe there’s just a lot of extra dough sludge clinging to the side of your bowl after you’ve removed the dough you need. Don’t throw it down the disposal — bread dough’s sticky and thick, and it’ll form a kind of sludgy paste and clog up the works. If there’s not much, scrape the extra dough into your compost bin. And here’s a neat-but-weird solution: If the dough didn’t rise, it might be easier to just try baking it anyway, then tossing the resulting brick if it turns out as bad as you suspected. One note: If you’re throwing away a full batch of dough by putting it in some kind of bag or container, leave room for it to rise, just in case it’s not done!
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Celery’s crisp and delicious, good in salads or stir-fries, and a dieter’s staple. But one place it doesn’t belong is down the disposal. Those stringy, twisty threads that peel off celery when you’re snacking on it are like evil little octopus tentacles that can’t wait to wind their way around your disposal’s blades.
17. Pumpkin tops
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Halloween’s a wonderful holiday, and it can be terrifically fun to carve a pumpkin into a jack-o’-lantern. But don’t ever toss the pumpkin tops (or other parts you carve out — like those classic triangle eyes) down your drain. They’re thick and will fight your disposal blades to the death, and they’ll win. And the resulting repair bill would be spookier than any of the little monsters out trick-or-treating.
18. Seafood shells
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You’d never put oyster, clam, lobster and crab shells down your disposal, right? One rule to keep in mind: If your teeth can’t crunch it up, don’t expect your disposal to do so. And there’s nothing fishy about that advice.
19. Non-food items
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Here’s a goes-without-saying tip: Never intentionally let non-food items — such as silverware or twist-ties or rubber bands — down the disposal. Sure they might slip into the sink when you’re rinsing off an ingredient or plate, but keep an eye on them so they don’t find their way into a running disposal.
If you’re kind to your disposal and want to avoid ugly plumbing bills those are things to avoid putting in the grinder. But wait. There’s more:
3 good things to grind …
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If you’ve read this far, you may be wondering why we even have garbage disposals, since so many things just don’t belong in them. Just remember: They’re garbage disposals, not garbage cans. Many food scraps can go down there just fine, that’s the point. And a few things can actually improve your disposal’s performance and condition. Citrus slices is probably the best example. Extra lemon, lime, orange or grapefruit slices? Toss them down, turn on the water, and press the “on” switch! The rough peels may help clean off the blades, and the fruity oils make the disposal smell fresh and clean.
While we’re on the topic, here are lots more great cleaning ideas: “Save Time and Money Cleaning Your House With These Simple Hacks.”
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Now here’s a cool tip: Smallish ice cubes can knock debris off your disposal blades and may also clear off odors. Some folks reportedly make special ice cubes by freezing lemon juice or vinegar for an extra cleaning boost, but honestly, that takes a level of disposal devotion very few of us have. Ice, ice, baby.
3. A squirt of dish soap
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If you don’t have citrus on hand, but are detecting an unpleasant odor from your garbage disposal, the answer is close at hand. Just squirt a small amount of dish soap down there, and wash it down with water while running the disposal. Cold water is better than hot, which can melt trapped fat and push it further down the drain to re-emerge later as an unpleasant clog. Splish-splash, you’re all set.
Do you have handy tips for avoiding big plumbing problems? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.