More than 50% of households in the U.S. own a garbage disposal. These under-the-counter appliances that help rid of food residue and scraps gained popularity after WWII and an uptick in kitchen modernization, and have since become an indispensable part of kitchen cleanup. However, the term “garbage disposal” is misleading. While it’s implied that anything can go down a garbage disposal, not all food is created equal, and some waste can actually break the disposal. Here’s a handy guide to what can — and can’t — go down the garbage disposal.
Food That Can Go Down
When it comes to your garbage disposal, consider what might otherwise go in the garbage after cooking and eating a meal. This includes leftovers, fruit peels, vegetable skins (as long as they aren’t too fibrous), corn cobs, cooked meats, and small fish bones. Ice should also go down the garbage disposal — and is encouraged — because it will help loosen any food residue stuck on the blades.
Food That Can’t Go Down
While garbage disposals grind up most things, some obvious — and not-so-obvious — foods shouldn’t go down the hatch. Large bones and clam and oyster shells are at the top of the list. They are made of hard, intentionally indestructible material and can run the risk of clogging or breaking the disposal.
Oils, fats, and cooking grease should never go down the disposal. Despite starting in a liquid state, they will eventually congeal and potentially cause a clog. The same goes for creamy and sticky foods like peanut butter, dairy products like butter, ice cream, and sauces, and glutinous foods like pasta and rice. Make sure you use cold water when operating the disposal to ensure that if one of these products accidentally goes down, the cold water will help break it up.
You’ll also want to avoid stringier, thicker produce like artichokes, string beans, or banana peels. Their thick, tendon-like structures also run the risk of a significant clog. Additionally, eggshells and coffee grounds should never go down the disposal. While they seem harmless, they do not decompose quickly and can clog the drain.
How to Clean the Garbage Disposal
There are various ways to clean a garbage disposal. A simple way is to pack 2 cups of ice cubes, 1 tablespoon of baking soda, and 1 lemon slice into the garbage disposal and grind with cold water until the mixture is gone.
Another method is to cut a lemon into wedges and feed each wedge into the disposal under colder water until you hear the grinding stop. This will leave the disposal smelling fresh and lemony.
One more way is to pour 1/2 cup baking soda with 1 cup vinegar (preferably apple cider or white) and let it sit for 10 minutes. Then, run hot water from the faucet and turn on the garbage disposal until everything has washed away.
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