5 things to avoid putting down the garbage disposal

Grinding potato peels can create a starchy paste that causes disposal blades to stick.

Grinding potato peels can create a starchy paste that causes disposal blades to stick.

’Tis the season for gatherings centered on good food and good company. And with all the focus on meal prep during the holidays, your garbage disposal is sure to be working overtime — making it prone to breaking down at the worst possible moment. Save yourself the hassle of a clogged drain, and the average $211 it could take to fix it, by keeping these five common items out of the garbage disposal:

1. Bones and shells

Your garbage disposal is tough, but grinding things like turkey bones, chicken wings, and clam and oyster shells can dull or break the blades and jam the unit, causing the motor to burn out. While one or two occasional stray bones won’t hurt, it’s best to throw all bones and shells in the trash.

2. Celery and other fibrous vegetables

The fibrous strands found in vegetables like celery, asparagus, kale and pumpkins can get tangled around your garbage disposal’s blades, jamming the motor and causing drain clogs. These present less of a problem when they’re chopped up, but it’s generally a good idea to throw all fibrous vegetables — and things like stringy corn husks and banana peels — into the garbage or compost pile.

3. Potato peels

The skins from the potatoes you’ve peeled for your famous garlic mash can create a sticky, starchy paste in the disposal that causes the blades to stick. What’s more, thin skins can make it past the disposal altogether, catching and clogging the drain. A few peels are OK here and there, but a heap will nearly certainly build up.

4. Coffee grounds

Coffee grounds won’t hurt your disposal, per se. They’ll actually go down easy and even smell good doing it. But once they get further, they can accumulate like they would in a coffee filter, creating an obstruction in the pipes. Coffee grounds are best disposed of in the compost pile or the trash. Better yet, pour them into the soil of your garden or indoor pots to give your plants a boost.

5. Grease

Avoid putting oil and grease down your garbage disposal, as they can solidify in the pipes and create an obstruction. Additionally, grease can decay in your pipes, causing a foul odor — and greasy foods can distribute a film over blades, making them less effective.

Tips to keep your disposal running smoothly:

— Cut large items into smaller pieces and resist the urge to overstuff your garbage disposal.

— Run cold water when using the disposal. This will solidify and grind any grease before it’s allowed to clog your pipes. For good measure, continue running the water a few seconds after turning the disposal off.

— Clean your disposal occasionally using disposal cleaning drops, a few citrus peels or ice cubes made of vinegar. Avoid using drain cleaners or bleach in your garbage disposal.

And if you do encounter a problem? A lot of the issues you’ll run into with a garbage disposal can be easily fixed. If you flip the switch and hear silence, for example, there’s a good chance your garbage disposal has overheated. In this case, pushing the red reset button on the side of the unit under the sink may do the trick. If the unit is making noise but not working, it may be jammed. Try turning off circuit breakers to the unit and removing the bottom housing to dislodge the blockage from underneath. (Never stick your hand into the grinding chamber.) If neither of these issues seems to be the problem, it’s best to call a professional to assess the situation.