Everything You Need to Know About Garbage Disposals

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silver kitchen faucet washing lettuce leaves
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We have come to depend on the garbage disposal as the workhorse of the kitchen. Invented in 1927 by John Hammes, the garbage disposal has remained fairly consistent in its design but has increased in use to the point of becoming a required appliance in just about every kitchen. The following guides will give you all the information you need to select and install new a disposal, use your disposal properly, and even troubleshoot problems and make common repairs to your unit.

How a Garbage Disposal Works

Exploded View of Garbage Disposal with descriptions

The garbage disposal is mounted to the underside of a sink and is designed to collect solid food waste in a grinding chamber. When you turn on the disposal, a spinning disc, or impeller plate, turns rapidly, forcing the food waste against the outer wall of the grinding chamber. This pulverizes the food into tiny bits, which then get washed by water through holes in the chamber wall. While disposals do have two blunt metal "teeth," called impellers, on the impeller plate, they do not have sharp blades, as is commonly believed.

Things You Should Never Put in a Garbage Disposal

woman pouring spaghetti into sink
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Your garbage disposal is different from your actual garbage can. Not all food scraps and liquids are meant to be poured into your disposal. To prevent clogs and disposal jams, it's important to learn what foods are best left for the trash and what the garbage disposal is meant to be used for. In general, you should not put in tough or fibrous food scraps, potato peels, grease and oil, and pits and other hard objects.

Garbage Disposal Troubleshooting

wet silver metal sink and drain
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A little troubleshooting of common garbage disposal problems can save you hundreds of dollars in service calls or an unnecessary purchase of a new unit. Most disposal problems are related to jams. A jammed disposal is easy to fix, but ignoring a jam and repeatedly restarting the unit can burn out the motor.

Repair a Clogged Garbage Disposal

Chrome Kitchen Sink with running water
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Clogs are most often caused by improper foods, such as grease, potato peels, or hard-to-grind foods going down the disposal. Clogs can occur in the disposal itself, but usually, they appear in the drainpipe downstream of the disposal. The best way to prevent clogs is to keep problem scraps out of the disposal and put them in the trash instead. Also, remember to keep it clean.

Selecting a Garbage Disposal

silver kitchen faucet washing lettuce leaves
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Choosing a new garbage disposal can be as simple or as detailed as you'd like to make it. You can head out to your local home center or appliance store and pick up a standard model that will most likely serve your needs just fine. On the other hand, you can research the latest additional features offered on some disposals, such as fancy stainless steel grinding chambers or extra insulation for sound reduction, and narrow it down to a model with just the right bells and whistles.

Garbage Disposal Installation

Professional Plumber Installing a Kitchen Sink
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Installing a garbage disposal is fairly straightforward but does require some very basic plumbing and electrical wiring skills. Most handy-ish homeowners can install a new disposal in a few hours.  

Garbage Disposal Removal

Man working under a sink while children look in toolbox
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Removing a garbage disposal is necessary if you are going to replace a sink or a failed garbage disposal. With many disposal models, you can quickly release the motor unit (the heavy part) from the sink assembly and set it aside to simplify the rest of the disassembly and removal.

All situations are different, so if you're researching garbage disposals, pay close attention to the outlets, power supply, and other specific details of your sink and kitchen set-up. These details will determine what kind of garbage disposal you might be able to get, and how simple (or difficult) installation and repairs will be.

  • How long do garbage disposals last?

    Garbage disposals typically last between eight to 12 years. To get the longest lifespan of this appliance, use it as directed by the manufacturer.

  • Do you need to maintain a garbage disposal?

    Keep your garbage disposal running great by taking good care of it. Run it frequently, use cold water, any food going down the disposal should be small and not large chunks, and clean it at least every two weeks.

  • How do you get the smelly odors out of your garbage disposal?

    Lemons, and other citrus fruits, such as limes and oranges, are a great way to get rid of those unwanted, smelly odors in your garbage disposal. Cut the fruit up into wedges, place them in the disposal, and run it.

Where to Shop for Garbage Disposals
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  1. Goldwasser, Samuel. Notes on the Troubleshooting and Repair of Small Household Appliances and Power Tools. University of Pennsylvania. 2018.