Buyer’s Guide: Garbage Disposals
Learn what features and horsepower are best to grind and get rid of your family’s foodstuff leftovers.
They’re one of the handiest kitchen helpers, grinding food waste into tiny bits so it can drain away with sink water. Garbage disposals are not only great for post-meal cleanup, they also reduce the amount of leftover food in the trashcan, which cuts down on odors.
A typical garbage disposal will last eight to 15 years, but if yours is on the fritz—or you’d like to add one to your appliance arsenal—you’re probably wondering what to look for in a unit.
All garbage disposals will pulverize soft foods with ease, but some do tend to jam while trying to grind raw fibrous vegetables, such as celery. At the same time, some of the most powerful disposals will chew right through chicken bones!
Read on for the facts, figures, and features—and check out our top three picks based on independent reviews and customer ratings—to find the best garbage disposal for you and your needs.
Before You Buy
Not all municipal sewage systems can handle food waste from garbage disposals. Because bits of food will be flowing through the drainpipes, using a garbage disposal can increase the risk of clogs in your home’s plumbing, or possibly even cause problems beyond your home (in a septic system, for example, or in the municipal sewage system). In addition, using a continuous-feed model, the most common type of disposal, increases water usage, because you must run water continuously while operating the unit.
- Contact your local building authority to determine whether garbage disposals are permitted in your community.
- If you experience frequent clogs in your home’s plumbing, you’re probably better off passing on a disposal, even if they’re permitted in your community.
- Food particles break down slower than other types of waste, which can lead to accumulated food matter in a septic tank. If you have a septic system, contact the company that installed it or the company that pumps out the tank and ask if your particular system can handle a disposal. Typically, larger tanks are more suitable for use with a disposal.
- On average, you’ll use two to three gallons of water per minute of disposal use. If you use your disposal twice a day, running it half a minute each time, you will use approximately 850 to 950 additional gallons of water per year.
Types of Garbage Disposals
A garbage disposal contains a motor and an internal canister, called a “grinding chamber,” which is fitted with sharp blades that spin at high speeds when the disposal is turned on. The bottom of the grinding chamber is perforated to allow pulverized food bits to flow out of the chamber and down the drainpipe. All disposals are either “continuous feed” or “batch feed,” which indicates the manner in which you load food into the grinding chamber.
- Continuous-feed: This type of garbage disposal runs continuously, allowing you to turn it on and put food waste in gradually while it’s operating. Most disposals on the market today are continuous-feed and range in price depending on power and quality. The only major downside to a continuous-feed disposal is the possibility of hands getting in the grinder while it’s running, causing injury. A batch-feed disposal prevents that.
- Batch-feed: This type of disposal grinds food in small batches and is safer for families with inquisitive little children. A stopper must be securely in place before the disposal will operate. Safety is the main draw for a batch-feed garbage disposal, but they’re typically more expensive. If you install a batch-feed model, you’ll only be able to run one load of food waste at a time. The size of the grinding chamber will vary with the model, but will typically grind two to four cups of food waste at one time.
The more powerful the garbage disposal, the more efficiently it will grind food. Like nearly all appliances and tools with motors, the power generated by a garbage disposal is rated by “horsepower” (HP), a unit of energy that was once compared to actual horses.
- 1/3 Horsepower: These are the most economical garbage disposals, but they tend to clog when grinding fibrous foods, such as celery or carrots. Unless you plan to use the disposal infrequently and grind only soft foods, you’re better off with a more powerful model.
- 1/2 Horsepower: A 1/2 HP disposal is suitable for mid-size households and will grind most food waste; just take care not to overstuff it to keep it from jamming.
- 3/4 Horsepower: At this level, you’ll get some real power! A 3/4 HP disposal can chew its way through fibrous foods without a glitch, and is well-suited to households with large families and substantial food waste.
- 1.0 to 1.2 Horsepower: These powerhouses make quick work of grinding virtually all food waste you throw its way, including watermelon rinds.
Greater horsepower requires a larger motor, which will often increase the size of the unit as well. While size varies widely by brand, the smallest 1/3 HP disposals range from six to seven inches in diameter and nine to 12 inches in height. By contrast, a 1 HP disposal can be up to 13 inches in diameter and 18 inches in height.
The only time unit size might make a difference is when you have limited space under your kitchen sink. If you already have a water filtering system, such as a reverse osmosis unit, you may not have enough room for a large disposal. Most home improvement centers display their models so you can see the size differences while at the store. When shopping online, make sure to note the size of the units you’re interested in and compare them to measurements of your under-sink space.
Direct-Wired vs. Plug-In
Most garbage disposals do not come with power cords that plug into an outlet; they are designed to be wired directly into your home’s electrical system. A few models, however, come with cords and plugs that can be plugged into an outlet beneath the sink. Models that do not have attached plugs can be converted to plug-in models with the purchase of optional plug-in cords, sold separately.
- A cord that plugs into an outlet is the simplest to install but a dangling cord beneath the sink can get in the way of stored cleaners and other items, which can dislodge the plug from the outlet.
- Most professionally installed disposals are direct-wired, which means the connecting wires are in a junction box in the wall, making it less likely that moisture will interfere with the wiring. A plug-in model could be affected by a water leak that runs down the wall, which could cause the outlet to short out and the circuit breaker to flip, although the possibility of that happening is unlikely.
- While the choice to install either a direct-wired or plug-in disposal is usually left up to the homeowner, it’s a good idea to check with your local building authority in case there are regulations in your community.
Connecting a plug to a non-plug unit is relatively easy if you have some wiring experience, and instructions come with both the disposal and with the cord kit. Hard-wiring a disposal into your home’s electrical system (no plug-in outlet) is a much more complicated project and should be left to the pros.
When too much food is packed into a disposal, the grinding blades can jam. Usually, turning off the switch, carefully removing the stuck food manually, and then pressing the reset button on the under-sink section of the unit will fix the problem. However, some newer disposals come with an anti-jamming feature that can detect a jam and automatically reverse the blades, which will often dislodge the jam.
The Noise Factor
Loud operating noise has long been a downside to garbage disposals, but today’s models are much quieter, with the inclusion of insulation and padded mounts that reduce vibration. High-end disposals can be very quiet, emitting little more than a hum, while some budget-friendly models are still fairly loud. Manufacturers are not required to publish a disposal’s noise factor, so a good way to get a quiet model is to check out customer reviews.
Best Garbage Disposals
With the help of independent reviewers and customers alike, we’ve identified three of the best garbage disposals models on the market today. Keep reading for leads on where to begin your shopping.
The InSinkErator Evolution Cover Control Plus 3/4 HP Batch-Feed Disposal stands out for safety and quiet operation. For one thing, the magnetic Cover Control lid for the disposal must be securely in place before it will run. This cover also serves as a start switch, so the unit need not be operated by a wall switch, a feature that makes this InSinkErator ideal for kitchen island sinks. Last but not least, the Cover Control lid reduces noise, as does the insulated body. It’s a fairly large at 16.25 inches high and 10 inches in diameter, and InSinkErator provides a seven-year limited warranty.
BEST FOR FAMILIES: InSinkErator Pro Series 1.1 HP Disposal
With its massive 1.1 HP motor and the ability to grind even large chunks of food without breaking a sweat, the InSinkErator Pro Series makes after-dinner cleanup a breeze in busy kitchens. The model’s SoundSeal® technology employs insulation and reduced-vibration mounts to ensure quiet operation, and its Auto-Reverse Grind® technology works well to prevent food jams. While it’s the most powerful disposal of our three picks, it’s only nine inches in diameter and tops out at 13.5 inches in height. InSinkErator provides a limited 12-year warranty against material defects.
BEST FOR SMALL KITCHENS: Waste King Legend 1/2 HP Continuous-Feed Disposal with Cord
Affordable, efficient, and easy to install—these are the top reasons buyers laud the Waste King Legend 1/2 HP Continuous-Feed Disposal. No wiring skills are required to set the disposal in place. It comes with an attached power cord that plugs directly into an under-sink outlet. You’ll still need to connect the plumbing under the sink, but clear, simple instructions are included. There’s a removable splash guard for easy cleaning and, weighing 7.8 pounds with a diameter of only 6.8 inches and measuring 13.5 inches in height, the Waste King Legend fits right into small under-sink spaces. Many buyers say the Waste King is quieter than the disposal it replaced, and the product comes with a limited five-year warranty.