How to Choose the Best Garbage Disposal

Garbage disposal under kitchen sink

The Spruce / Ana Cadena

Whether you've decided it's time to upgrade your kitchen drain with a garbage disposal or it's time to replace an old one, the multitude of models and all the features to consider can seem daunting. Some considerations include grind power, size, and how it runs. Read on to learn more about your garbage disposal options, helping you select the right model for you.

What Is a Garbage Disposal?

A garbage disposal is an electrically powered appliance installed in a kitchen sink under the sink basin. Food goes down the drain into the garbage disposal, shredding food waste small enough to pass through the plumbing.

Before Replacing a New Garbage Disposal

While you can fix some garbage disposal problems, others require a complete replacement. You can likely fix a garbage disposal with abnormally loud metallic noises, clogging issues, bad odors, faulty wiring, or leaks. You might need to replace a unit that needs frequent resets, stops working, or poor performance.

Garbage disposals usually last about 10 years. If you have to reset the disposal frequently, your garbage disposal may be too old. Another common cause of frequent resets is loose wiring, which you will need a plumber or electrician to fix safely.

Check the power circuit if your garbage disposal no longer turns on or tends or shuts off while in use. If the electrical system is working, schedule a garbage disposal inspection. An inexplicable power issue can be a dying motor.

Before buying a garbage disposal, make sure that your building, housing community, or locality allows the use of garbage disposals. For example, New York City didn't lift a ban on them until 1997. The city feared garbage disposals would put too much stress on an aging sewer system. Today, many if not most New York City apartment buildings—particularly prewar-aged buildings—still don't allow them.

Buying Considerations for New Garbage Disposal

Space

A garbage disposal is used in kitchen sinks to process food wastes. They are housed in the cabinet under the sink, connected between the drain and the trap. All garbage disposals are made to fit all kitchen sinks since all kitchen sinks have standard drain hole sizes of 3.5 to 4 inches.

They were primarily made to function with plumbing that empties into a municipal sewer system; however, some manufacturers have made disposals that are septic system-safe as long as you're only disposing of food scraps.

Some septic system units come equipped with cartridges that inject the food waste with natural microorganisms to help break down food wastes in a septic tank. In addition to helping the septic tank break down wastes, the cartridge fluid also has a citrus scent that controls the odor from the sink and drain. Replacement cartridges can cost as little as $15 and last up to six months.

Material

The better models will be made primarily of stainless steel parts. Stainless steel can last a lifetime, likely outlasting the motor. Some garbage disposals have plastic parts that will eventually dry out and crack. As long as you are not pouring too much-boiling water down the sink, it shouldn't stress the plastic parts too much and should last as long as the motor. Avoid models that use galvanized steel; these will rust quickly.

Size

The size of the unit depends on the horsepower you buy. The amount of power you need should be based on how much cooking you do and how large a family you have. The dimensions of units vary. On average, garbage disposals are from 10 to 15 inches high, 5 to 9 inches wide, and 6 to 13 inches deep.

Features

Although motor size is the most critical decision when choosing a garbage disposal, other factors come into play.

  • Brand: The most popular garbage disposal brand is InSinkErator, now owned by Emerson Electric. InSinkErator makes dozens of different models of different sizes and configurations; their models are available at nearly every online retailer, home improvement chain, and hardware store. Other major brands include Waste King, Waste Maid, and Moen. Major brands usually have better warranties, and spare parts are easier to source.
  • Warranty: The typical garbage disposal lasts for 8 to 15 years. Most warranties range from one to 10 years. If you pay more for a garbage disposal, it usually comes with a longer warranty. There is little mechanical difference between low-end and high-priced disposals of the same horsepower. The average garbage disposal outlives its warranty, so you shouldn't need to spend extra on a unit with a longer warranty. In general, these appliances are not that expensive to eventually replace.
  • Noise level: One distinct difference in garbage disposals is manufacturers' sound-deadening features. If you are bothered by a disposal's noise, look for features like nylon-coated grinding parts, insulated mounting baffles, and other sound-deadening technology.
  • Power cord included: Cheaper garbage disposals come without the power cord. There's nothing wrong with this, but be aware that you'll need to buy a power cord, which can add $15 or so to the cost—unless you reuse the power cord from the old disposal. Also, some models are direct-wire professionally installed models that are meant to be connected by an electrician to your electrical system.
  • Septic system enzymatic reservoir: This feature gives your septic system an assist, which will keep your septic tank healthy with an additional enzyme treatment.

Types of Garbage Disposals

The most important consideration when choosing a garbage disposal—and the one that makes the most difference in price—is the horsepower (hp) of the motor. The electric motors for most residential garbage disposals typically range from 1/3 to 1 hp. The next significant consideration is a batch feed or continuous feed model.

1/3 Horsepower

The lowest horsepower garbage disposals available are 1/3 hp. Although they may seem like a great economical option, their utility level is limited. These appliances get easily jammed and usually have the cheapest internal components, which quickly rust. You should only consider this option for very limited or temporary use, such as in a vacation home used infrequently. It costs less than $100.

1/2 Horsepower

A 1/2 horsepower model is the minimum horsepower recommended for typical home use. You can get one for around $100. These appliances are smaller than 3/4-hp and 1-hp units, making them suitable for tight spaces. A 1/2-hp disposal is a great option if you don't use the disposal all the time and can be careful not to overfeed the appliance.

Whenever possible, opt for a 1/2 horsepower garbage disposer with stainless steel grind components, which will make it last much longer. The noise level tends to be relatively high for these disposals. Also, it is essential to run a lot of water with these units to help all of the food waste pass through.

3/4 Horsepower

A 3/4 horsepower unit is an ideal size that will serve most kitchens quite well. A 3/4-hp unit should work well for a three to five-person family. At this size, a garbage disposal has plenty of power for all those leftovers and more. Most, like the InSinkErator Compact, can even grind problematic waste such as potato peels and celery with no problem.

With this much horsepower, the disposal is not likely to jam, and many more features can be available. Stainless steel grind components, for instance, offer much longer life, so look for that whenever possible. Also, most disposals at this size will have more sound protection to run quieter than 1/2 horsepower units. However, one thing to keep in mind is that these appliances are physically larger than the 1/2 horsepower units, so make sure you have the room to install one under your kitchen sink. You can get an excellent 3/4-hp disposal for under $200.

1 Horsepower

If you need to grind chicken bones, fruit rinds, coffee grounds, a 1 horsepower disposal will do the trick. Most of the 1 horsepower models are the top of the line, such as the InSinkErator's Evolution Excel. Thanks to better insulation, they can end up being quieter than even the 3/4 horsepower models. All disposals at this level should have complete stainless steel in the grinding chamber, have a capacity for more waste in the chamber, and be virtually impossible to jam.

These appliances can be quite large, and you will need quite a bit of space under the sink. But these are great units, and if you have the room and the money, a 1 horsepower garbage disposal can be well worth it. Depending on features, the price range can be quite large—from as little as $150 for economy models to more than $300.

More Than 1 Horsepower

Garbage disposals in the 2 hp to 3 hp range are used in commercial kitchens. You can get a 1 1/4 to 2 hp garbage disposal for families with eight people or more. As you add horsepower, the price jumps commensurately.

Batch Feed

Batch feed models operate in batches and run only when a stopper is placed over the disposal opening, turning it on. They must be used with a stopper and are better for households with rambunctious, exploring children. The stopper prevents items from accidentally falling into the machine. You must put the food waste into a batch feed disposal and put the stopper in place before turning it on. The construction of these units is more intricate than continuous feed, and you do not need to install a switch or button to operate it.

Continuous Feed

A continuous feed model turns on with the flick of a switch and runs until it is turned off. You can add food wastes while the disposal is running. Some models offer auto-reverse functions, advanced grinding features, and special circuitry to help eliminate jams. Some units also come with splash guards to help prevent items from splashing out while adding food waste to a running disposal. If you have small children, keep them away from the sink if you have this type of disposal.

Cost

On the low end, you can buy a garbage disposal for under $100 for a family of two, or if you have a large family or cook a lot, then you might want to spend $200 to $300 for a 1-horsepower unit with some unique features. Your average cost will shoot up if you choose to get a batch feed over a continuous feed model. Depending on the brand, the price might double for a unit with the same horsepower.

If you have a garbage disposal installed for the first time, you can expect to pay about $500 for installation costs, including a new receptacle, fitting, switch, and time. It will likely take about 1 to 2 hours. Replacement of an old unit costs significantly less, budget about $150 to $200.

 Type  Price Range
 1/3 HP  $50 to $100
 1/2 HP  $75 to $125
 3/4 HP  $125 to $200
 1 HP  $150 to $300
Batch Feed Add $50 to $150

How to Choose a Garbage Disposal

When deciding on the type to buy, evaluate how often you cook and how much food waste you generate. Also, consider if you have little ones to think about, a batch feed unit would be your safest option.

How do I really know what horsepower to choose?

The higher the horsepower, the better the disposal will operate when it comes to garbage disposals. You can expect fewer jams, finer pulverization of food waste, and fewer clogged drains. However, higher horsepower usually means it takes up more space. So, make sure you have sufficient under-sink space for it. For most average-sized families, a 3/4 to 1 hp unit works fine.

Does noise level really matter?

Some people are deeply bothered by noise, and a noisy garbage disposal might be the equivalent of scratching nails on a chalkboard for some with sound sensitivity. On average, a regular garbage disposal operates at about 80 decibels; for a point of reference, a blender operates at about 90 decibels. Quiet models with sound insulation work at about 45 decibels. Also, if you use a batch feed model, covering the drain to operate the unit dampens the sound.

Batch Feed
  • More expensive

  • Only grinds batches; slower

  • Safer; needs stopper to operate

  • Water and energy efficient

  • Easier to install

  • Less noisy to operate

Continuous Feed
  • More affordable

  • Continuously runs; faster

  • Can be hazardous around young children

  • Easier to operate

  • Uses more water and power

Where to Shop

When you're online, search on home improvement store sites or Amazon to find the widest variety available. Home improvement stores like Home Depot and Lowes will have some of the largest selections available. Also, appliance centers like Sears, Best Buy, and other local appliance stores will have many options and brands with different features.

Buying In-Store

You will find the best selection and best price comparison online. However, if immediacy is your biggest concern, you can go to a store and get a replacement model the same day. So, if you use it frequently and your current model dies, you're not stuck long without it, and you can save yourself the delivery cost. The downside is that most stores can only carry a handful of models in stock.

Buying Online

When buying a garbage disposal online, check the return policies. If you order the wrong size, check to see if you will be charged for the return. One of the biggest mistakes people make is ordering a unit without measuring the cabinet space underneath the sink. Check your under-sink measurements and match them to the model dimensions before buying.

Where to Buy a Garbage Disposal

For the best prices and greater selection, look online for your next garbage disposal. Consider the features you need, the size you can fit, and the power that will serve your household best.

FAQ
  • Do all garbage disposals fit all sinks?

    Kitchen sinks have a standard-sized hole, so garbage disposals are a universal fit for the drain hole, but not all under-sink cabinets are the same height. So not all garbage disposals will fit every under-sink cabinet.

  • How easy is it to install a garbage disposal?

    Garbage disposal installation is a straightforward process, especially when replacing an old unit. If the wiring and connections already exist, follow the steps in the instructions. Hire a plumber, electrician, or professional to install a garbage disposal on a sink that needs electrical wiring and a switch installation.

  • Are garbage disposals worth it?

    A garbage disposal is an effective way to deal with common kitchen waste, such as uneaten food or cooking scraps. Garbage disposals make kitchen cleanup easier and eliminate the smell of decomposing food in your kitchen's garbage can.