Garbage Disposer Buying Guide

Putting food down the drain is a modern convenience; thanks to a garbage disposer’s ability to grind food small enough so it doesn’t clog your drains.

But some municipalities discourage residential garbage disposers because of inadequate sewer systems or water supplies. In these locales, all food waste has to go in the trash, not down the drain. And even if your community allows garbage disposers, using one may cost you more than you think.

Use our garbage disposer buying guide to explore which features are most important.

That Sinking Feeling: Facts About Garbage Disposers

Garbage disposers address the often disparate demands of convenience and conservation by grinding up kitchen scraps, especially non-compostable leftovers like meat and poultry or fat, and sending them down the drain to a sewage-treatment plant or septic system for handling, rather than to the landfill for slow decomposition. Our tests show that some disposers grind more quickly and finely, and are better at resisting jams.

In addition to eliminating the mess, a garbage disposer shifts food waste from your trash can to a wastewater treatment system, discouraging bugs and other pests.

That’s 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.

How to Choose a Garbage Disposer

Before choosing a model, answer these four 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.

Garbage Disposer Types

Disposer manufacturers are promoting their products' appeal as they distinguish these similar machines. A handful of companies make most garbage disposers but under different brand names, with InSinkErator and Anaheim Manufacturing Company accounting for the lion's share. Here are the two basic types of garbage disposers:

Photo of a KitchenAid Superba KCDS075T Continuous-Feed Garbage Disposer.

Continuous-Feed Models

Pros: These garbage disposers are easiest to use, since you can put 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. An electrician should 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.

Photo of a Waste King Legend 8000TC batch-feed garbage disposer.

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.

Garbage Disposer Features to Chew On

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 typical outlets; those without the cord need to be hard-wired.

Auto-Reverse Mode
This can help a garbage 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, 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
Purported to increase durability, our tests show they can be damaged by beef bones and other tough stuff, so they don't guarantee longer life.

Coverages range from as little as 1 year to 10 years, or 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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