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When to fix the garbage disposal yourself and when to call a pro

The garbage disposal is often one of the most-used appliances in the kitchen. It’s also the most abused.

“Foreign objects in the disposal is the most common issue,” said Kevin Harner of Kevin Harner Appliance Services Co. in Enola, Pa. “I’ve seen everything run the gamut from paper clips and bottle caps, to nails and screws in there. If you can’t cut it on the countertop with a knife, you probably shouldn’t put it in the disposal.”

Improperly using your disposal, and not giving it some occasional TLC, can lead to premature failure and possibly secondary damage to your countertops, flooring and more, as a result of a leak.

For starters, avoid putting foods that expand when they’re wet — like potatoes and rice — or fibrous foods, like celery stalks and corn husks.

“The garbage disposal will chop it up, but, when it gets down to the trap, it will expand,” and just sit there, said Mark Mullen of A-1 Appliance Service in Fayette County, Ky. “Putting water through there just makes it worse.”

It’s also important to limit the amount of waste you put into the disposal at one time and to run warm water as you’re feeding it.

“If you put too much in there at one time, it doesn’t always drain away properly and can make a mess inside the disposal,” Harner said.

Garbage disposal problems typically present in one of two ways: the machine makes a humming or clicking noise instead of the typical grinding sound; or seepage leaks from the sides or bottom of the machine.

The humming or clicking sounds are usually simple repairs. If the unit jams and hums, it might need to be reset. Most garbage disposals have a reset button located on the bottom of the unit that will click when pressed.

“That’s ... the first thing they should check if their garbage disposal doesn’t make any noise at all,” Mullen said.

Many units also come with a tool similar to an Allen wrench, which can free up jammed propeller blades from underneath the unit. Never put your hands or anything in the disposal in an attempt to repair it without first disconnecting the power or shutting off the circuit breaker.

Expect to pay about $65 to $85 for a service call if your disposal needs repair. A professionally installed replacement can usually be had for about $200. For the inexperienced homeowner, installing a garbage disposal is a job better left to an experienced appliance repair professional or a plumber. The units are heavy and require multiple plumbing connections and electrical wiring.

“One thing you can do to help (keep it clean) is occasionally put a handful of ice down the disposal and run it with cold water,” Mullen said. “If the blades are stuck, ice will help loosen anything in there food-wise”

Angie Hicks is the founder of Angie’s List, a resource for local consumer reviews on everything from home repair to health care.

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