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Keeping your garbage disposal running optimally

Like anything with moving parts, your garbage disposal will run better and last longer with a little routine maintenance.

Keep the blades sharp. Each month, fill the unit with ice cubes and turn it on. When most of the ice is crushed, run the unit with hot water. Do this monthly.

Keep your disposal odor-free. Use it often and with a lot of water. If your unit is omitting a foul odor already, pour two or three cups of lemon juice into it and let it sit for about five minutes. Then run the unit with plenty of water.

Avoid clogs. Put rice, egg shells, grease, animal bones and stringy and tough-peeled vegetables like asparagus, potatoes, and celery in the garbage, not in the disposal. These items lead to jams or clogs most often.

Avoid jams. This is the most common problem with garbage disposals. In fact, they all have an automatic shut-off function, much like a circuit break, when a jam occurs that completely stalls the motor. This prevents the motor from burning out. They also are designed so that you can dislodge whatever is inhibiting operation. Underneath every unit is a hex-headed slot, and all units should come with a wrench to match. If you misplaced the wrench that came with your unit, don’t fret — an Allen wrench (also called an Allen key or a hex key) will work just as well.

First, unplug the unit and locate the slot in the center of the unit’s bottom. Next, fit the wrench into the slot and work it back and forth so that the blades move. Continue doing this until the unit is spinning without resistance.

When the unit spins freely, plug it back in and press the reset button. Then test the unit while running a lot of water.

If the unit won’t spin freely, a call to a licensed plumber is advisable, as the unit might need to be replaced. If the disposal isn’t jammed, it is more than likely a burned-out motor. The cost to troubleshoot and repair a garbage disposal is near the price of buying a new unit.

If you discover the garbage disposal is leaking from a crack in its body or at its base, a replacement is in order. Again, calling a professional plumber is advised.

If you find yourself in the market for a new disposal, check out this guide from Consumer Reports to help you select the right unit for your needs.