On the list of “places not to put your hands,” a running kitchen garbage disposal (also called garbage "disposer”) is probably right at the top. Those multiple, knife-like, whirring blades would damage your digits in no time.

In fact, accidents involving garbage disposals send nearly 1,000 people to emergency rooms each year, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Lacerations and fractures account for most of the injuries.

Most of us know better than to casually stick our hand into the disposal, even when it’s not running. But there are more safety precautions you can take to avoid painful accidents.

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Go with the batch

If you’re shopping for a new garbage disposal, the safest design is called “batch-feed,” according to Consumer Reports. Before turning it on, you must load in the food waste and then seal the sink drain with a stopper. While it's running, the food stays inside of the disposal and your fingers stay out.

The other basic design, “continuous-feed,” is not as safe because it allows you to load waste into the disposal while it's turned on and grinding.

Handle with care

If you need to remove an object from the inside of the disposal, follow these steps:

  • Turn it off and either unplug it or turn off the circuit breaker.
  • Put on a pair of safety glasses.
  • Shine a flashlight into the disposal.
  • Extract the object with tongs, skinny pliers, a coat-hanger or another grabbing device instead of your hands.
  • You shouldn't try to extract it with your hands, but if you must, wear safety gloves to protect them from the blades.
  • If, after extraction, the disposal is hot, give it a few minutes to cool down.
  • Turn it back on and flush any remaining debris with cold water.

Some models also may have a reset button, jam-clearing tool or other devices for clearing jams safely. Consult your owner’s manual or contact the manufacturer for more information.

Never place non-food items or any non-biodegradable items in the disposal, especially if they are combustible, advises East Coast-based plumbing contractor Horizon Services.

Dispose of the germs

A clean kitchen is a safe kitchen, but the disposal is typically covered by a film of bacteria. MedCentral Health System in Ohio recommends that you follow these steps at least once a month:

  1. Make sure the machine is turned off, then place chlorinated cleansing powder on a long angled brush.
  2. Scrub the inside walls of the disposal and underside of the rubber splash guard.
  3. Let the chlorine sit until you use the disposal again so it has time to kill the bacteria.

Another way to at least partially clean the grinding area is to run it with a small amount of ice inside, suggests the Plumbing-Cooling-Heating Contactors Association. If you try this, place a stopper over the drain to prevent sharp ice chunks from flying out of the appliance.

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Beware of tiny troublemakers

Do you have small children? Kids are naturally curious about how their home works. Some will even use a garbage disposal to hide toys. The National Food Service Management Institute recommends keeping the drain covered and installing a child-proof switch.

Do you have cats? Some like to hop onto kitchen counters and play with the appliances. To prevent your feline friend from accidentally turning on the disposal, The Human Society recommends placing a safety cover over the on-off switch.

Some models come with a pre-installed safety cover. If yours doesn't, take a photo of the switch to your local hardware store and ask for one.

Compost instead

Would you rather do away with the disposal altogether, or at least minimize its use? Start a compost pile as a smart and ecological alternative. Composting allows you to recycle cornhusks, artichokes and other fibrous food waste that disposals aren't designed to handle.

To find out more about composting in your area, visit the Environmental Protection Agency for a list of links to state and regional composting programs.

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David Arv Bragi is a freelance journalist and marketing consultant. He has been writing about health and safety issues since the 1990s and currently lives in Portland, Oregon.