Because garbage stinks, that's why. Food waste is a lot like food, in that the longer it sits around the less appealing it becomes. Installing a garbage disposal underneath your sink takes all that food waste and grinds it up into pieces small enough to pass through the plumbing. Your kitchen will be cleaner and more pleasant, your garbage smaller and less smelly, and you'll be reducing your home's carbon footprint. Plus, it's surprisingly fun to stuff things down a rumbling hole and watch them disappear.
A garbage disposal sits beneath your sink, acting as an intermediary between the drain hole and the "trap" designed to stop solid food from entering the plumbing. Inside, there is a pair of impellers mounted on a spinning metal plate. When you switch on your disposer, it spins extremely fast, using centripetal force and these impellers to grind food waste against the stationary ridged walls. When the particles are small enough to pass through the grind ring with the water, they pass into the plumbing.
A garbage disposer is a very green addition to your household - it uses surprisingly little power and reduces your landfill contributions by as much as 20%!
Measurements to the left represent a general garbage disposal. Use it as a reference, substituting the true dimensions of your unit.
All disposals serve the same purpose, but there are some variations in method. Before you decide whether to spend a little or a lot, it's important to examine the differences.
These disposals are the most common, designed to grind away at any time. You can flip the switch on a continuous feed model at any time, adding more food while it's on. This method is great for cleaning the kitchen and doing dishes, when you're never quite sure when the job will be done.
A batch-feed disposal is designed with safety in mind. Fill it up with whatever you're disposing, close the specially designed lid, and grind it all at once. It's designed to only run when the lid is securely closed, preventing accidents and messy overfilling. It's a good idea to consider a batch feed disposer in a house with kids or anyone new to the technology.
For a long time, those with a septic system were excluded from the convenience of owning a garbage disposal. Today, septic-safe disposers add an injection of natural microorganisms that break down the food waste as they grind, making them safe for your system.
Most disposers boast between 1/3 and 1 horsepower motors inside. Simply put, more horsey more grindy. 1/3 and 1/2 hp models will suffice for most households, but you'll need to be more careful about what you put in. 3/4 and 1 hp disposers are great for high-volume kitchens, commercial applications, and those who simply want to grind it all. No matter the power behind your disposer, always read the manual for what you should and should not put in yours.
You're probably familiar with earlier-generation disposers, where conversational hiatus is just part of the process. Today's models come with nearly any degree of noise-dampening design and technology, going nearly silent at the high end. Economic disposals are still fairly loud, while the most expensive models reduce noise by more than 60%. The best garbage disposals are even quieter than the flow of water from the tap and allow for even quiet conversation while operating.
The more advanced the garbage disposal you choose, the more intricate and efficient its grinding mechanism will be. Traditional, lower-cost models offer a single powerful grind stage, depending on persistent action to break larger pieces into more manageable bits. 2-stage and 3-stage grinding mechanisms add further steps and finer grind to the process, allowing for the grinding of more difficult foods and reducing the odds of a clog. These are well worth it, but you will notice a price difference.
No hands! This is the primary rule. If you have to retrieve something that's gone into your garbage disposal - for any reason - never use your hands. Make sure the unit is turned off and use a wooden spoon or tweezers to carefully remove any items.
Biodegradable waste only! Most food is okay, but packaging is not. Keep all plastic, glass, metal, paper, or cardboard out of your disposal. It's designed to recycle food, but man-made products will cause a clog.
Cold water! Warm or hot water causes greases and fats to separate and liquefy, setting you up for a clog further down the drain.
Careful with fibrous foods! Single-stage and double-stage disposers will struggle with fibrous foods like corn husks and onion skins. Avoid putting these down the drain unless you have a multi-stage grinding mechanism.
Garbage disposers are fairly self-governing, but you can help keep yours clean. With the disposer off, use a brush and cleaner to periodically scrub the walls and the underside of the rubber stopper. To get rid of odors and lingering grease, grind up citrus rinds and/or frozen cubes of vinegar. That's it!
Installing a garbage disposer is a relatively simple plumbing project, but it can be dangerous. Consider contacting a plumbing professional to properly install your new unit.
Before starting this or any plumbing project, read all safety, removal, and installation instructions included with your existing and new products. The included materials will list the tools required for removal and installation - don't start the project until you have them handy. What follows are general instructions to give you an idea of what you're looking at:
- Turn off electrical power. If your disposer will be hardwired, turn it off at the fuse box or circuit breaker. If it plugs in, make sure it's unplugged and the switch to the outlet is in the "Off" position.
- Disconnect existing disposer from the mounting assembly and horizontal drain pipe with a wrench or screwdriver.
- Remove the electrical cover plate, and loosen the ground screw to disconnect the electrical supply wires.
- Remove the existing mounting hardware with a screwdriver and carefully scrape away all old plumber's putty.
- Spread plumber's putty around the drain opening in the sink and drop in your new sink flange. Let the putty dry completely before proceeding.
- If you're using a dishwasher as well, tap out the dishwasher knockout plug on your new disposer.
- Remove the electrical cover plate on the new unit and make all electrical connections. Secure the power cord and replace the cover plate.
- Hang the disposer in place by aligning and locking the three mounting tabs in the sink flange.
- Attach the discharge tube to the disposer (may be 1 or 2 bolts) and rotate it to align with the drain trap. Tube may need to be trimmed to fit. If your system has a dishwasher, connect your disposer drain house to the dishwasher inlet.
- Lock the disposer to the sink mount. Test for leaks at all connections.