Garbage Disposal Buying Guide

    Garbage Disposal Buying Guide

    Did you know your trashed dinner scraps end up in a landfill, slowly decaying into greenhouse gas? Garbage disposals solve this concern.

    They do double duty, meeting the often competing demands of convenience and conservation. Disposals grind spoiled meats, corn cobs, fish bones, ice, and all those veggies kids reject, discharging them down the drain to a wastewater plant (unless you have a septic system). When food waste is processed at a wastewater plant, it’s even more eco-friendly than composting. Plus, garbage disposals immediately rid your home of waste, odors, and any critters they might attract.

    According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), solid waste landfills release harmful gases, composed of roughly 50 percent carbon dioxide and 50 percent methane, a potent greenhouse gas that traps heat in the atmosphere—a key contributor to climate change. In 2019, methane emissions from municipal solid waste were almost equivalent to greenhouse gas emissions from more than 21.6 million passenger vehicles driven for one year.

    Garbage disposals efficiently eliminate waste and dispatch it for environmentally friendly processing. Many major U.S. wastewater plants use what’s called anaerobic digestion to turn the gas generated from food waste into biofuel. The remaining solids are turned into fertilizer for farms. So if you’re considering installing or replacing a disposal but are concerned about the environmental impact, find out how your local sewage treatment plant processes the town’s wastewater.

    A February 2020 nationally representative CR survey of 1,000 U.S. adults shows that just over half of Americans live in homes with a garbage disposal, and of those who do have one, more than 60 percent said their disposal was already installed when they moved in. According to the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, these appliances last about 11 years, so if yours came with the place, depending on how long you’ve lived there, it could soon be time to look for a new one. 

    Your disposal might be kaput if you notice it leaking, taking longer to grind, making louder-than-usual noises, or requiring a reset often. (The reset button is like a circuit breaker that needs to be reset after the disposal shuts off, typically because of a strain on the motor.) In fact, before you call the plumber—or throw down hundreds of dollars on a new grinder—simply reset the disposal by pressing the small (usually red) button on the bottom or lower backside of the unit. If this doesn’t work, check the circuit breaker or fuse to make sure it is not tripped. If that doesn’t work? It may be time to go shopping.

    Here, we’ll cover everything you need to know about buying a garbage disposal, whether you’re looking to replace the one you have or you’re starting from scratch. Our ratings of 30-plus lab-tested disposals will make the process even more seamless and help you make the best choice, depending on your situation and particular needs.

    How We Test Garbage Disposals

    Consumer Reports tests garbage disposals on a number of factors. For our speed test, we grind pieces of beef rib bones for 1 minute with cold running water, then measure how much food is left in the disposal. The more food that’s left, the longer it takes to grind and the lower the score. 

    To see how well the disposals grind food, we toss a mix of bones and raw vegetable scraps into each model and run the resulting fragments through four different-sized sieves to gauge fineness. A garbage disposal that garners an Excellent rating turns out food particles fine enough to slip through most of the sieves. If bigger bits are left over, there’s a greater chance the kitchen sink drain will clog—and that model will receive a lower score in this test.

    For noise, we measure the decibels emitted while the disposals grind a mix of bones and vegetables. In general, we find that the quieter models are heavier because they have more insulation. For details on how each model we test performs, see our garbage disposal ratings

    Before You Buy a Garbage Disposal

    Before choosing a model, answer these three questions.

    Are my pipes up to the task? Food debris might not present a problem in a newer home with slippery plastic drainpipes, but clog risks go up substantially if you have rugged old cast-iron drainpipes. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) piping became more commonplace in homes built after the mid-1970s. One general rule of thumb: If your pipes already clog fairly often, a disposal might not be for you.

    Is my septic tank big enough? Disposal manufacturers insist their products are safe to use with septic systems, but some plumbers are equally adamant that they are not. The truth probably lies somewhere between and may depend on the age, type, and size of your system. You may need to size up your tank to accommodate food waste and pump it more often (once a year instead of the recommended three- to five-year intervals) or limit your garbage disposal use. If you have a septic system and want to install a disposal, check first with your local septic system inspector.

    Is there room under the sink? Once you’re sure your plumbing can handle it, measure under the sink to make sure you have room for a disposal. The appliance attaches directly to the underside of your sink’s drain opening. There is no standard size for garbage disposals—the models we tested were 10 to 15 inches high, 5 to 9 inches wide, and 6 to 13 inches deep. Generally, the more sound insulation a unit has, the bigger it is.

    Choosing the Right Garbage Disposal for You

    The best model for you will depend on your budget, the size of your household, and how much food you need to grind on a regular basis.

    The garbage disposals in our ratings cost between $50 and $500. Less expensive models usually have small motors and a one-year warranty. A premium price doesn’t necessarily buy better performance, but it does buy premium features, such as a longer warranty, thicker sound insulation, sturdier stainless steel components, multiple grind stages, and auto-reversing grinders that help prevent jams.

    Disposals fall into two categories: continuous-feed and batch-feed.

    Continuous-Feed Models

    Continuous-Feed Models

    Pros: These garbage disposals are most convenient to use because you can toss food scraps in while they’re running.

    They are the most common type, so you’ll find more options, including models at budget-friendly prices.

    Cons: They need to be powered by wall switches (sold separately) that should be installed by an electrician. Alternatively, an air switch does not require professional installation but does require an undersink outlet and a drill.

    Because the disposal can run with the drain open, there is the risk of objects—such as utensils—falling in or shards of food debris flying out.

    Garbage Disposals Ratings
    Batch-Feed Models

    Batch-Feed Models

    Pros: Rather than throwing food waste down the disposal as it’s running, you insert scraps into it one batch at a time, then place a stopper over the drain opening to turn it on. 

    This type operates only when the drain is covered, reducing the risk of injury.

    Because these don’t require wall switches, they’re a great option for kitchen islands.

    Cons: In general, batch-feed garbage disposals are more expensive than continuous-feed models. They make up a very small percentage of the market, so options are limited.

    Garbage Disposals Ratings

    How Much Power Do You Need?

    The last major decision point? Horsepower. Garbage disposal motors come in varying power ratings, with most ranging from ⅓ hp to 1 hp. Generally, you’ll get a more efficient grinder and better sound insulation as you go up in horsepower—but you’ll also pay more. (We also indicate amps—the amount of electricity the disposal draws—in our ratings charts. Be sure your circuit breaker can handle the demand before buying.) Use a special ground fault interrupter (GFI or GFCI) circuit breaker, which protects against electrocution whenever there’s risk of water coming into contact with plugged-in equipment.

    An entry-level ⅓-hp garbage disposal might not hold up to heavy-duty or frequent use. It’s a good option for a vacation home. Garbage disposals with ½ hp or ¾ hp should be adequate for the typical home. Cooks who use the disposal on a daily basis and need to grind tougher waste, including bones, may want to opt for a 1-hp model.


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    Garbage Disposal Features to Chew On

    Here are some garbage disposal features to consider.

    Power cord: Some garbage disposals come without the power cord, so you’ll need to buy a power cord (about $15)—unless you reuse the power cord from the old disposal or plan to hardwire your disposal instead.

    Anti-jamming feature: Some higher-end disposals come with an auto-reverse feature that detects jams and automatically reverses the grind table to help loosen lodged food and prevent jams.

    Stainless steel: Disposals with grind chambers and components made of stainless steel resist corrosion and often last longer.

    Quick-mount or EZ-mount feature: This mounting design allows for easier installation as the mount implements a turn-and-lock system to secure the disposal to the sink.

    Multiple grind stages: Basic models include only one grind stage, while premium models have as many as three separate stages to completely pulverize hard foods, such as bones and corn cobs.

    Quiet operation: Some disposals incorporate sound-deadening elements, such as insulation around the disposal, nylon-coated grinding parts, insulated mounting baffles, sound baffles at the sink opening, and flexible mounting connections to reduce excess vibration. Manufacturers are not required to publish a disposal’s decibel level, but we test and rate noise in our lab.

    Warranty: In general, garbage disposals last about 11 years, which is longer than most warranties, so rethink spending more for a longer warranty.

    Garbage Disposal Brands

    Garbage disposals tend to be dominated by a relatively small number of manufacturing brands—more so than other kitchen appliances.

    Everbilt is a store brand available only at Home Depot. All models come with a power cord and three-bolt mounting. Warranties range from three to 10 years, depending on the model’s horsepower. (One model comes with a lifetime warranty.)

    InSinkErator introduced the garbage disposal to Americans in the late 1920s and is the largest and most well-known name in disposals today. The brand is now owned by Emerson Electric and makes dozens of models with various configurations, which are available at almost all home improvement chains and hardware stores. The disposals are made in Racine, Wis. InSinkErator also manufactures garbage disposals for KitchenAid and Whirlpool. InSinkErator is the only company that uses multistage grinding technology in its products (though only its top-end models have this feature). All of its models use a quick-lock mounting system, so you can install a replacement disposal on an existing sink mount with just a twist. Warranties range from one to 10 years, depending on the model’s horsepower.

    InSinkErator manufactures KitchenAid garbage disposals, so you can expect some of the same features—such as multistage grind technology and sound reduction features. Warranties range from one to seven years, depending on the model’s horsepower.

    This well-known maker of faucets and sinks launched its first line of garbage disposals in 2016 and now owns Waste King. A power cord is included with each Moen disposal, eliminating the need to purchase it separately or hardwire the unit to a power supply under the sink. The brand came out with the first motion-activated garbage disposal light in 2019 to illuminate storage space under the kitchen sink when the cabinet door is opened.

    This brand is the second-largest name in garbage disposals (behind InSinkErator). Waste King garbage disposals are manufactured by Anaheim Manufacturing, which is owned by Moen. Waste King also manufactures garbage disposals for Frigidaire. All Waste King garbage disposals come with a power cord and are widely available at home improvement chains and hardware stores. Warranties range from two to 20 years, depending on the model’s horsepower.

    Joneca, which makes WasteMaid disposals, has been in business for more than 35 years, with headquarters in Anaheim, Calif. WasteMaid is the third-largest brand of garbage disposals. Its models feature what it calls a Bio Shield, which Joneca claims will help prevent microbes from growing inside the disposal.