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Garbage disposers

Garbage disposer buying guide

Last updated: June 2013

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Getting started

Garbage disposers link the often-disparate demands of convenience and conservation by grinding up kitchen scraps and sending them down the drain to a sewage-treatment plant or septic system for decomposition. But our tests show that some grind more quickly and finely, and are better at resisting jams.

Besides eliminating messes and discouraging bugs and other pests, a garbage disposer shifts food waste from landfills to a wastewater treatment system.

That has prompted some cities to require disposers in new homes. Add in the many towns that charge by volume for waste removal, and it's easy to see why nearly half of American homes have a garbage disposer.

But some municipalities discourage residential garbage disposers because of inadequate sewer systems or water supplies. Even if your community allows disposers, using one may cost you more than you think. Some cities also worry that garbage disposers encourage homeowners to flush down fat, oil, and other greasy residue that can clog sewers.

How to choose

Before choosing a model, answer these four basic questions.

Is a garbage disposer appropriate in my area?

If you use a municipal sewer system, call your local sewer authority to find out its disposer policy. Some require a permit to use one, while others discourage them because of limited water and sewer capacity.

Is my septic tank big enough?

Your municipality may require an upgrade if you have a septic system and use a garbage disposer. Check with your local building inspector or environmental health official. Alternatively, you may need to empty the existing tank more frequently.

Is the extra water use worth it?

Figure on about 2.5 gallons of water per minute for most faucets, or some 900 gallons per year based on minute-per-day use. Besides potentially increasing your water bill, a disposer's added water consumption is a concern in drought areas.

Is the plumbing up to the task?

Don't install a garbage disposer if plumbing clogs or backups are frequent, since a disposer's added waste can make both more likely. Have a problem septic system fixed, emptied, or enlarged before buying a garbage disposer.

Types

Disposer manufacturers are promoting their products' appeal as they try to distinguish these basically similar machines. Indeed, just a handful of companies make all garbage disposers under different brand names, with InSinkErator accounting for the lion's share. You'll find two basic types of garbage disposers.

Continuous-feed models


Pros:

These garbage disposers are easiest to use, since you can push new waste in as the old waste is ground up and washed down the drain.

Cons:

Their open filler necks pose a greater risk to small hands and can allow bone shards and other scraps to fly out. You'll typically need to have an electrician hard-wire and mount the power switch, since these usually aren't corded. You should also hold the supplied stopper at an angle over the drain as a shield while it's running.

Batch-feed models


Pros:

These require you to load them with waste before turning down the stopper to activate the blades. Because the stopper keeps food in and fingers out, batch-feed models are safest, especially for families with kids. Most simply plug into an outlet.

Cons:

These tend to cost more and can require more time to get the job done.

Features


Our testers found that differentiating features you'll typically see at the store may not deliver the durability they imply. We also found that some models with fewer features and a shorter warranty cost more than relatively similar competitors. Home garbage disposers typically last about 10 to 12 years, according to InSinkErator, though not all reach the decade mark. A longer warranty does not guarantee longer life and can also make some models cost more than otherwise-similar machines. Here are the garbage disposer features to consider:

Electric cord

An electric cord allows the machine to be used with switched outlets; those without the cord need to be hard-wired.

Auto-reverse mode

This can help a disposer's spinning blades clear jammed waste, the bane of many disposers. Some models include a blade-oscillating "Jaminator" feature for clearing.

Horsepower ratings

Even models with the least-powerful, 1/2-hp motor can handle bones and softer waste such as carrots and corn kernels. But if your kitchen waste typically includes tougher stuff, look for a more powerful, 3/4-hp or 1-hp model. Those we tested ground bones fastest and finest, reducing the chance of clogged plumbing traps.

Quick-mount neck

Most garbage disposers have a quick-mount neck that encourages do-it-yourself installation. But because 3/4- and 1-hp models weigh from 16 to 30 pounds or so, putting one beneath your sink may be a two-person job.

Safety cover

Found on InSinkErator models, it prevents the unit from being turned on unless the cover is in place.

Stainless-steel grinding chamber

These are supposed to increase durability. But our tests show that even these can be damaged by beef bones and other tough stuff, so they don't guarantee longer life.

Warranty

Coverage ranges from as little as 1 year to 10 years and even the life of the unit. But a longer warranty doesn't guarantee longer life or better performance and can add to the price.

   

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