Everything You Need to Know About Garbage Disposals
Kitchen sink garbage disposals are here to make your life easier, cleaner, and even a little cheaper.
When it comes to garbage disposals, there aren’t a lot of extra features to sort through when the hidden appliance has such a straight-forward job. In-sink grinders (or ISGs) and garbage disposals slice, dice, and grind away food waste to reduce the amount of trash in your garbage cans and plumbing pipes, as simple as that. That singular function makes picking the right garbage disposal for your household fairly uncomplicated. We’ve compiled all the important information about garbage disposals into one place for your easy reference.
What Kind of Garbage Disposal Is Best?
The best garbage disposal will depend on what fits in your household’s kitchen setup, use, and budget. There are two main types of garbage disposers, and both are excellent options, with their main difference being how they are installed and operate. The unit you choose depends on your unique set of circumstances. You have two types to choose between: The batch feed garbage disposal, and the continuous feed garbage disposal.
Batch Feed Garbage Disposals
The batch feed disposer is a hearty workhorse that can handle a lot of food scraps at once, though it might not be as common to find in most homes. To use the batch feed disposal, add the food waste and water, and then close the provided magnetic stopper. Pressing down firmly will activate the motor and set it to work. It will grind up everything in the chamber all at once, only while the stopper is closed, keeping the ground up waste from flying.
The larger size required for batch feed disposers often means the motor is better insulated and offers quieter operation. Because a larger amount of food is dealt with at once, the blades are more effective at grinding and moving the waste around the disposal hopper. Most batch feed garbage disposals will require an electrical cord and an outlet near or under the sink in order to install, so always be sure the electric cord is included in your purchase.
If you have a household with fearless handymen, curious kids, or adventurous pets, the batch feed is the way to go, just for the safety features alone. There are no activation switches for these disposals. The only way to use them is to close the stopper over the drain, protecting fingers, hands, and paws from the hidden shredder ring and impellers tucked inside. The food debris is kept contained in the garbage disposal hopper, providing a cleaner kitchen.
Continuous Feed Garbage Disposals
With continuous feed garbage disposers, the sink drain remains open while the garbage disposal is running. Food can be added to the hopper as the disposal is working, as long as there is cool water running to keep food debris from jamming the blades. It's recommended that the water be kept running for at least 30 seconds after the motor is turned off so that it can flush the ground up food into the drain and prevent plumbing clogs.
Because these disposals will run continuously until the switch is turned off, the storage chamber doesn’t have to be quite as large as a batch fed disposal would require. They are ideal for smaller families with less frequent heavy use. These units will fit more easily in smaller spaces, such as in apartment kitchens, or under an island bar sink. They should be hardwired into the home electrical, so it may be a good idea to have them professionally installed.
Continuous feed disposals are controlled by either the classic lightswitch style which requires an electric switch to be installed near the kitchen sink, or by the newer airswitch. Air pressure switches are newer and safer. A toggle lightswitch can be triggered unintentionally, which can be a safety risk if the electric switch is turned on by accident while dishes are in the sink or the water is not on. An air pressure controlled switch is safer because it does not require installing an electrical switch within easy reach of a sink, and the button must be pushed against resistance to catch the motor’s on/off switch, greatly reducing the chance for an accident.
Garbage Disposal Motor Size
The other difference between garbage disposals is the motor size, measured in horsepower. The higher the horsepower, the finer the grind should be. When it comes to most home plumbing, the food waste should be ground up as small as possible in order to avoid clogging up the pipes. Without a garbage disposal, any food waste that goes down the drain could get stuck somewhere in the plumbing, often requiring the cost of a plumber to snake the pipes or other drastic maintenance.
If there’s enough room under the sink, it’s better to go with the higher horsepower for reliability and convenience. In addition to the improved performance, the larger motor size tends to be quieter due to the extra room for insulation around the grind chamber. Lower horsepower garbage disposals will get the job done, but it may take a little more time and make a lot more noise.
Must-have Features to Find
- Air pressure switch - Rather than flip an electrical switch mounted behind the sink, air pressure or sink-top switches can be installed on the counter top, on the wall, or along the lower cabinetry to be in easy reach. They’re safer than the traditional light switch because wet hands and fingers stay away from electricity.
- Auto-reverse mode - When the shredding ring mechanism detects a jam, auto-reverse mode settings allow the disposal to switch the direction the blades are moving in order to dislodge the problem without interrupting operation.
- Baffle - A baffle is fit into the neck of the disposal to help keep non-grindable items from falling in and interfering with the disposal, as well as to prevent waste from flying out of the disposal hopper while the shredder ring and impellers are moving.
- Multi-stage grinding - Multi-stage grinding allows for different operation speeds, to more effectively grind up different kinds of food - for instance, it will require a different setting to dispose of piece of meat than it will for a carrot.
- Power cord - Most models will include the power cord, but because of the fact that the ISGs can be installed to work with the home’s electrical system, it’s a good idea to make sure the power cord is included if you would rather plug it in.
- Quick-mount neck - The quick-mount neck makes installing a garbage disposal a relatively simple home-improvement project that can be safely and effectively done with 1 or 2 people. The most difficult part may be the weight of the disposal unit itself, depending on the size.
- Safety cover - A safety cover is designed for use as a splash-back guard when running a continuous feed disposal. They can’t be used to block water flow into the disposal while the disposal is operating, but they can be used to help reduce the amount of food waste that spins back up into the sink past the baffle.
- Stainless Steel Disposal Chamber - The stainless steel canister is still subject to damage from misuse and inappropriate food waste being sent through the shredder, but it is a durable option, and is rust and corrosion resistant.
A well-cared for garbage disposal can last 10 to 12 years when used properly. Here are a few tips to keep in mind to get the most out of the ISG lifetime.
Garbage Disposal Safety Tips
- Never stick hands into the disposal.
- Disconnect from power before installation or maintenance of the garbage disposal.
- Remove dishes and silverware and non-food objects from the sink before using the disposal.
- Do not put any non-food items down the drain, such as glass or wood-based items.
Garbage Disposal Maintenance tips
- Always run cold water while the disposal is working, and for at least 30 seconds after the debris is gone to be sure the food waste has been flushed away.
- Do not run the garbage disposal and hot water at the same time as it causes wear on the motor.
- Save table scraps for the compost pile whenever possible. It’s good for the garden, and it can prolong the life of the disposal.
- Do not let food sit in the disposal for long periods of time. The food will create odors that can be hard to clear, and it can corrode the grinder container.
- Do not pour grease or fat down the drain. These clog up the plumbing pipes, as well as create “sludge” in the disposal that is harder to flush out.
- Grinding ice cubes in the disposal will help dislodge debris and keep food waste from building up, but it will not sharpen the blades.
Garbage Disposal Clean-up tips
- Never use bleach in a garbage disposal that connects to a septic tank. The bleach can solidify and calcify the waste material that should otherwise be moving smoothly through the pipes. It may make the sink shine, but it will clog up the pipes and back up the works.
- Use citrus peels - such as orange or lime - to clean the disposer canister and blades and remove odors.
- A 1:1 mix of water and baking soda or vinegar can be poured down the drain to help clean the disposal canister and remove stubborn odors.
- Use degreasing dishwasher soaps as that will help keep the pipes clear.
What Not to Put in the Garbage Disposal
Garbage Disposals, the Sewers, and Septic Tanks
Garbage disposals are good for the busy home plumbing system because it can grind up the food particles that would otherwise sneak down the drain whole, but some sewer and septic systems are not equipped to handle the direct food debris. The chemical environment may not be capable of deteriorating the waste efficiently and some municipalities will have rules in place to ensure the sewer is kept healthy. If you’re on a sewer, it’s a good idea to check with your local regulations before installing a garbage disposal.
With septic tanks, a garbage disposal adds to the amount of waste and water that goes into the tank. It may be a minimal amount, depending on how often the disposal is used, but it can have an impact on how quickly the tank fills. Always make sure to choose a garbage disposal with a high horsepower if you have a septic system. There are disposal models specifically designed to work with septic tanks to help reduce the load. These disposals grind the food waste very fine, and inject an extra dose of important enzymes and microorganisms that help the food waste deteriorate in the tank.
Check your area’s recommendations for expected care of the septic system, because the added solid wastes from a garbage disposal can add to the buildup, which could result in more frequent pumping.
Common Problems With Garbage Disposals
However simple in concept, garbage disposals are still mechanical appliances and they can break or cause damage to other objects around them if they are not properly maintained. Here are a few common complaints that people run into, and how to fix them.
Backed up clogging happens in the drain pipe itself, not in the garbage disposal. Even the best disposals and the most finely ground waste can get caught on grease and grime and other common plumbing problems. Treat the plumbing lines for clogs as you would ordinarily, (and do not use bleach,) or call your preferred handyman to address the issue.
The garbage disposal will jam when an obstruction in the tank blocks the movement of the blades or impellers. Most modern garbage disposals will include a reset button. A wrench applied to the screw at the bottom can manually turn the internal shredder ring to reverse the direction and dislodge problem waste debris.
There are three points where a garbage disposal may leak after installation.
- If the water is leaking from around the sink mount at the sink drain, dry the leak and apply putty to seal around the gasket.
- For a leak at the dishwasher inlet seal, check the hose clamp. If it is too loose (or too tight!) the hose may not be sealing properly.
- When there’s a leak at the waste outlet seal, check the rubber gasket and be sure the surrounding screws are snug and not over tightened.
Regardless of the type of garbage disposal, the motors whirring around in the stainless steel casings are going to make a lot of noise when they’re being used. A higher end model can be as quiet as a refrigerator, while the more economical, smaller disposals can be as loud as a passing truck. Most garbage disposals do not have sonne ratings listed, so it’s hard to determine how much noise a model will create until it is installed and used. A larger unit, with a higher horsepower will be your best bet to reduce the noise. Sink quality can also influence the noise levels. A solid, sound-absorbent sink may offer quieter operation than a lower quality.
Benefits of Installing a Garbage Disposal
Why do you need a garbage disposal? Do you need a garbage disposal? The answer is, of course, yes. They’re useful, if your home can accommodate them. The long term benefits are well worth the effort of doing a little homework, to be sure you find the right one.