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Garbage Disposals

The ability of a garbage disposal (or “disposer”) to grind up food scraps and flush them down the drain is a wonderful convenience in the modern kitchen, making meal preparation and cleanup easy and fast. Because they are so handy and relatively inexpensive and easy to install, they are extremely popular kitchen appliances. garbage disposals

From an environmental point of view, garbage disposals have pluses and minuses. They help minimize the amount of garbage that is delivered to landfills, but, in doing so, they require using significantly more water and energy, and they can strain septic systems and sewage treatment facilities. A good compromise is to compost food scraps whenever possible and use a disposer when not.

In this section of HomeTips, you will find helpful information for choosing a garbage disposal, as well as do-it-yourself guidance for installation, repairs, and care.


• Garbage Disposals Buying Guide
• How a Garbage Disposal Works
How to Fix a Garbage Disposal
• How to Install a Garbage Disposal

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How to Fix a Garbage Disposal

Garbage Disposer Parts Diagram

Is your garbage disposal jammed, clogged, or leaking? This illustrated step-by-step guide offers expert advice for repairing these and other related garbage disposal repairs.

Indispensable in the modern kitchen, a garbage disposal (also called a garbage disposer) helps make food preparation and cleanup easy and fast. Attached to the underside of a kitchen sink’s drain, it works by chewing up food scraps fed down the drain with a heavy flow of water.[GARD align=”left”]

A shredder breaks the food down in the grinding chamber, and then an impeller arm and plate force the liquid and particles down the drain. Dishwasher drain water also runs through the garbage disposal so that any large particles are chewed up and drained away.

A good garbage disposal can last a decade or more with proper care and usage. Simple problems are easy to fix; with a serious problem, you’re usually better off replacing the entire unit.

If you need help repairing your garbage disposal, call a pre-qualified garbage disposal pro.

Garbage Disposal Jammed

You’ll know your disposal is jammed or clogged when the motor hums but the disposal doesn’t grind, is overly noisy, or runs and then stops before you turn it off.

The problem is often a piece of bone, a fruit pit, or the like stuck between an impeller blade and the drain hole. Don’t continue to run the disposal when it’s jammed as this can burn out the motor.

Be sure to turn off the electrical circuit that powers the garbage disposal before making any repairs.

To clear a jammed disposal:

1Unplug the unit and check the instructions in your owner’s manual.


Use the reset button or a hex wrench on the underside to free-up a stuck garbage disposer.

2Under the sink, look at the bottom of the disposal for a hex-shaped hole. If you see one, look for a hex wrench that fits the hole (it’s often attached to the disposal). Fit the hex wrench into the hole, and force it back and forth in both directions to free the impellers. (Note: Some models have a reversing switch that accomplishes the same action.)

3If your disposal doesn’t have a hex hole or you can’t find a hex wrench, put a short broom stick into the disposal (with the switch turned off!), force it down against one of the blades, and try to rotate the impeller.

4If something has been put in the disposal that shouldn’t have—such as metal, rubber, glass, or fibrous food waste such as artichoke leaves or banana peels—use tongs or pliers to pull the material out. Never use your hand.

Disposal Grinds Poorly

Drain plunger's bell-shaped end folds up for sinks. Photo: Neiko

Drain plunger’s bell-shaped end folds up for sinks. Photo: Neiko

If your disposal grinds poorly, make sure that you are running enough water while operating the unit and that you are not grinding matter that you shouldn’t.

If you can hear the garbage disposal running but it is not grinding, the blades may be broken. It’s usually easier and cheaper to just replace the entire unit. See How to Install a Garbage Disposal.

Disposal Drain Is Clogged

When water stands in the sink, it means the drain is clogged either in the disposal or further down the drain line. This isn’t a garbage disposal problem but rather a plumbing problem. See How to Plunge a Clogged Drain.

Garbage Disposal Leaks

If you notice leaks below the disposal, pinpoint the source of the leak, and tighten the offending connection. If necessary, replace the drain gasket or the unit’s mounting screws.If the unit is unreasonably noisy, check that something hasn’t entered the unit that shouldn’t have. If all is clear, you may need to replace the blade, impeller, or motor; this should be done by a pro. Because these types of repairs can be costly, it’s often cheaper, faster, and wiser to replace the entire unit.

Featured Resource: Find a Local Pre-Screened Garbage Disposal Pro

Garbage Disposal Care

Garbage disposals work best if you follow these basic rules:

• Use cold water when grinding food (hot water can melt fats and clog the mechanism and the pipes)

• Do not overfill

• Do not pour bleach, drain cleaners, or other chemicals into the unit

• Do not grind overly fibrous materials, bones, or coffee grounds (check the owner’s manual) or such materials as glass, metal, or rubber

• Run water before and after you use the disposal[GARD align=”right”]

If something has been put in the disposal that should not have been, use tongs or pliers to pull the material out. Never use your hand.

To clean a garbage disposal of built-up sludge and debris, fill it with ice cubes and a cup of rock salt and then run it for about five seconds. If your garbage disposal smells bad, you can deodorize it by running warm water down it while you grind a quartered lemon.

Featured Resource: Find a Local Appliance Repair Pro

Call for free estimates from local appliance pros now:
[telnumlink] 1-866-342-3263[/telnumlink]

How to Install a Garbage Disposal

A garbage disposal is connected with a T to the sink's drain line above the sink track.

[/media-credit] A garbage disposal is connected with a T to the sink’s drain line above the sink track.

Installing a garbage disposal where one existed before can be relatively easy if you know the tricks of the trade.

These expert, illustrated instructions will guide you step-by-step through the process of installing a garbage disposal.

Though replacing an existing garbage disposal with a new one is a relatively easy task, installing a disposal where there wasn’t one before requires both plumbing and electrical skills. Starting from scratch is something you should tackle only if you are an experienced do-it-yourselfer. Otherwise, hire an appliance installation pro. If you need help, you can get a referral from this free site: Call a pre-qualified local pro.[GARD align=”right”]

Electrical Requirements

When replacing an existing garbage disposal, you can just use the necessary electrical power and switch. A garbage disposal must plug-in to a 120-volt GFCI (ground-fault circuit interruptor) outlet under the sink for power. If an outlet like this isn’t available under your sink, you’ll have to have an electrician install one. Be aware that most types of disposals require a switch adjacent to the sink to control the outlet—the electrician should wire for this, too.  Note: Batch-feed disposers don’t require a switch because they start when you insert and turn a special drain plug.

Easy-to-install air switch answers the need for a disposal switch. Photo: InSinkErator

Instead of wiring a conventional electrical switch, a good option is to buy an “air switch” for about $50. You can plug the disposal into this simple little device and then plug the air switch into an existing outlet; the garbage disposal is controlled by a small button that you can mount nearby on the countertop or cabinet. Another option is to use a remote-control switch.


Selecting a New Disposal

If you buy a replacement that’s made by the same manufacturer as your old model, you may be able to bypass the need to replace the waste assembly and mounting flange in the sink, significantly simplifying the job (it can be a larger, more powerful unit—it just needs to have the same mounting flange).

The more powerful and quieter the garbage disposal you buy, the larger it will be (for more about this, see Garbage Disposals Buying Guide). Make sure the one you intend to buy will fit under your sink.

Preparing the Area

When replacing an old garbage disposal, start by unplugging it. If it’s hard-wired, shut off the power to the circuit that will serve the disposal before beginning any work and disconnect the wiring. Test the bare ends of the wires with an electrical voltage tester to make sure they are not charged (see How to Test an Electrical Circuit).

To provide better access and make your work easier, you may be able to temporarily remove the cabinet doors under the sink, depending on their construction.[GARD align=”left”]

When working under the sink, wear safety glasses, especially when you need to lay on your back looking upward. Have a bucket or bowl and some rags ready to catch drain water when you disconnect the drains. You’ll also need standard and Phillips screwdrivers, a hammer, a pipe wrench or locking-jaw pliers, and plumber’s putty.

Preparing the Garbage Disposer

Organize the components of your new garbage disposal on the countertop or floor.

Set out the new disposal and parts in preparation for installation.

You’ll have the disposer unit, the sink-mounting assembly, an L-shaped tailpipe with mounting hardware, the sink stopper, and—with some brands—a special hex “wrenchette” that is used both for mounting the unit and for inserting into a hex hole in the disposer’s underside when repair is needed to break free clogs.

You’ll need a power cord, which you can usually remove from the old disposal and reuse. Be sure to read the manufacturer’s installation instructions.



Attach the tailpiece to the disposal unit.



1Attach the tailpiece to the disposal unit. The model shown here is attached with a round flange and a single screw.


If your dishwasher will connect to the disposal, use a screwdriver and hammer to remove the disposal’s dishwasher plug.

2If your existing garbage disposal has a dishwasher hose attached to it (this is usually the case if you have both a dishwasher and a disposal), you’ll need to remove the dishwasher plug from inside the new disposal’s dishwasher drain nipple. Only do this if you’ll be attaching a dishwasher! Push the tip of a screwdriver up against the edge of the plug and tap until you break loose the plug. Then remove this plastic disc from inside the disposal (you can probably hold the unit upside down and shake it out).

Screw cable clamp into the disposal


3If your disposal doesn’t have a cable clamp, screw one into the base of the disposer unit to secure the electrical cord. Unscrew the cover from the disposer’s electrical compartment. Thread the electrical cord through the cable clamp and into the disposal’s electrical compartment, and pull about 2 inches of the cord through the opening. Before you can actually attach the power cord to the unit, you’ll need to remove the old disposal from under the sink.


Removing the Old Disposer

Loosen the connection of the old disposer’s tailpipe.

Under the sink, place a bucket or pan beneath the waste pipe, then use locking-jaw pliers or a pipe wrench to disconnect the old disposal’s tailpiece from the drain line’s waste pipe. To loosen the nut, turn it counterclockwise.

Loosen the clamp and remove the dishwasher drain hose from the disposal.



Also remove the clamp or clip that secures the dishwasher’s drain hose to the disposal’s dishwasher nipple and pull off the drain hose.



Use a screwdriver to turn the mounting ring counterclockwise.

At the top of the old disposer, put a screwdriver or the “wrenchette” into the right side of one of the lugs in the mounting ring. While holding the bottom of the disposal with the other hand, rotate the mounting ring counterclockwise to release the disposal. Be aware that the disposal may contain water and food waste, so carry it outside right-side up.

Then turn it over and, using a screwdriver, loosen the cable clamps that secure the cord, open the electrical compartment, disconnect the wire nuts and the cord from the disposal’s wires, and remove the cord.

Secure the wire ends with wire nuts.

Now you can attach the power cord to the new disposal. Strip 1/2-inch of insulation from the ends of the electrical cord’s wires. Secure the grounding wire (usually green) by the green grounding screw. Then twist together the bare ends of the cord’s black wire and the disposer’s black wire and secure with a wire nut. Then do the same with the white wires. Push the wires inside the compartment and screw the cover plate in place.


Installing the New Disposer

If your disposal’s installation will require a new mounting flange in the sink, you’ll need to install that first. If you’re replacing an old disposer, remove it as discussed above. Otherwise, put a bowl or bucket under the drain trap and disassemble and remove the drain piping that connects to the underside of the drain basket. Remove the drain basket by unscrewing the large retaining nut that secures it (you’ll need very large locking-jaw pliers to grip this), turning counterclockwise.

Remove the drain basket and encircle the sink hole with a coil of plumber.

1From above, clean the area around the sink hole, then apply a coil of plumber’s putty around the perimeter. Push the sink flange down into the hole, embedded it securely in the plumber’s putty.

2From below, place the washers and gaskets according to the manufacturer’s directions. Slip the mounting ring onto the flange then slide on the snap ring until it snaps into place. Equally tighten the three mounting bolts, sealing the flange tightly against the sink. Remove excess plumber’s putty.

Connect the disposal.



3Lift up the new disposer under the mounting ring and align the mounting tabs beneath the entry points in the mounting tracks. Turn the ring to engage the tabs so they lock onto the ridges. Use the “wrenchette” or a screwdriver to tighten the connection. Rotate the disposal unit to align the discharge tailpiece with the drain trap, and then connect it. Depending upon the existing trap configuration, you may need to replace some or all of the drain piping beneath the sink to accommodate the disposal.

Secure the dishwasher drain line to the disposal.

4Using a band clamp or retaining spring, connect the dishwasher drain hose to the disposal’s dishwasher connection nipple (be sure you’ve removed the plug, as discussed above in Preparing a New Disposal).

5Finally, plug the power cord into a GFCI-protected electrical outlet that is connected to a switch (or hard-wire it to an electrical box). If needed, buy and install an air switch or remote-control module.

Featured Resource: Find a Local Garbage Disposal Installation Pro

Call for free estimates from local appliance pros now:
[telnumlink] 1-866-342-3263[/telnumlink]

How a Garbage Disposal Works

Garbage Disposer Parts Diagram  ©HomeTips

A garbage disposal chews up food scraps that are fed down the drain with a heavy flow of water. The disposal, mounted to the underside of the sink drain, has an electric motor that is either hardwired or plugged into a 120-volt box or receptacle, usually located at the back of the sink cabinet.

Inside the garbage disposal in what is called the grinding chamber, shredding blades break down the food, and then an impeller arm and plate force the particles and liquid down the drain. Dishwasher drain water also runs through the garbage disposal so that any large particles are ground up before they reach the drainpipe.

Two types of garbage disposal are commonly available: the continuous- feed type, activated by a switch as you run the water, and the batch-feed type, activated by turning a stopper after loading the disposal with garbage.

Most garbage disposals fit the standard drain outlet. Local safety codes may determine the distance the switch must be located from the sink—the farther away, the safer.

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Garbage Disposal Buying Guide

Garbage disposals—sometimes called disposers—are a cook’s best friend, grinding up and washing away kitchen refuse with the touch of a switch. If you are in the market for a new garbage disposal, you will be happy to learn that choosing one is a very simple process because your choices are limited.

Garbage disposals are either continuous- feed or batch-feed. You turn on the continuous-feed with a switch as you run the water and can feed it food waste as long as it is running. The batch-feed type automatically turns on when you press a special stopper into the drain; this type is a little less convenient but is easier to install and safer because it cannot be operated unless the stopper is in place.[GARD align=”left”]

All garbage disposals sold in the United States are made by only a few companies, though they are branded with several names. In-Sink-Erator makes eight out of 10 of them, with consumer ratings favoring the Waste King and Kenmore models in their group. There are many models from low-end, low-power disposers that cost as little as $50 to top-end, full-featured models that cost $600 or more. Generally speaking, you get what you pay for in most regards.

Disposal Grinding Power

Top-of-the-line InsinkErator Excel disposer does fine grinding with power. Photo: InSinkErator

Power, for example, makes a big difference both in performance. At the low end, you can buy 1/3-horsepower units, but we recommend that you spend a little more to get a lot more. Invest in a unit that delivers at least 1/2 horsepower if not 3/4 horsepower or, even better, 1 horsepower. Lower power models don’t perform as reliably, especially when grinding bones and hard food scraps and, as a result, are more likely to allow poorly-ground waste to clog pipes. They also don’t last as long.

Higher power models will grind just about anything. With the top-end InSinkErator Evolution Excel, for example, the disposer has multiple grinding stages that will fine-grind food, and do their job exceedingly quietly. With these, you can practically liquify celery, corn cobs, chicken bones, coffee grounds, and much more. Though this top-end model lists at over $600, you can buy it online for about $320.

Disposal Connections

Most garbage disposals interlock at the bottom of a sink’s standard drain outlet and are designed for easy connection. Various adapters and connection kits are available. They must be hard-wired or plugged into to a 120-volt receptacle with a 3- to 6-foot power cord that sometimes must be ordered separately. And they are connected to a drain pipe.

Continuous-feed disposals also have switches, which may be either electrical, wall-mounted type or countertop pressure switches. Batch-feed models don’t require a switch because they start when you insert and turn a special drain plug.Because of electrocution hazard, local safety codes determine the minimum distance an electrical switch must be located from the sink; the farther away, the safer.[GARD align=”left”]

Quiet Garbage Disposals

Generally, the larger and heavier the disposal, the more quietly it will run (but be sure the one you choose fits under your sink). You do, however, need to make sure that the disposal you choose will fit comfortably under your sink. Though manufacturers have attacked unnecessary garbage disposal noise with a vengeance, even the best disposal will never be whisper-quiet. In fact, under certain sinks, such as stainless steel, they can be quite noisy because of the vibration they cause. The best impellers (the blades inside) are stainless steel. An insulated, nylon grinding chamber, such as Waste King’s is quiet and corrosion-proof.

For homes with septic tanks, this disposer injects microorganisms into the chamber every time it grinds. Photo: InSinkErator

Septic Assist Garbage Disposal

Garbage disposals can be rough on a septic system because they expel wastes that are difficult for the microorganisms in the septic tank to digest. The In-Sink-Erator Septic Disposer features a new injection technology that injects citrus-scented natural microorganisms into the grind chamber every time the disposer is activated. the dispensers clip right onto the front of the disposer. When they run out, you can buy replacements for about $18. This disposer lists for about $400 but can be bought online for about $250.

Garbage Disposal Warranties

A good disposal can last for many years, especially if you avoid clogging it with such fibrous foods as celery, potato skins, melon rinds and other fruit and vegetable peels, eggshells, and coffee grounds. Warranties run from one year to the lifetime of the purchaser. The best-of-class warranty is a lifetime mechanical and corrosion in-home replacement warranty. Offered by Waste King, a disposer protected by this will be replaced in your home if it fails due to mechanical or material defects within the lifetime of the original purchaser. The high-end InSinkErator Evolution has a 7-year in-home parts-and-labor warranty.


Featured Resource: Find a Local Appliance Installation Pro

Call for free estimates from local appliance pros now:
[telnumlink] 1-866-342-3263[/telnumlink]

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