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Q: Our one-year-old food disposer works fine but emits an unpleasant odor that we haven't been able to get rid of. The plumbers who've checked it haven't been able to solve the problem either. How can we make the smell go away?

— Betty and Phil, by e-mail

A: Richard Trethewey replies: The smell is probably due to a buildup of food particles and grease in a place most people never think to clean: the underside of the splash baffle, the rubber flap that covers the drain opening.

First, cut the power to the disposer, either by unplugging it or by tripping its breaker — you don't want the unit to start up accidentally. Now reach through the splash baffle and clean its underside with a plastic scouring pad and some dish soap. While you're at it, scrub the upper lip of the grinding chamber (above right) too. Remove your hand, reconnect the power, and fill the sink about halfway with warm water mixed with ¼ cup of baking soda. Turn on the disposer, take out the sink stopper, and flush the disposer clean.

To minimize odors in the future, always use plenty of cold water when the disposer is on, and leave it on for 15 to 20 seconds after grinding stops. Don't toss celery, banana peels, onion skins, or other fibrous foods down the drain — they'll clog the shredder ring — but it's okay to grind peach or nectarine pits now and then to scour the grinder lugs clean. Another way to keep a disposer smelling fresh is to toss in packages of biodegradable cleansers. Or you can just grind up quartered lemons or limes, which leave behind a fresh citrus smell.
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