To use a continuous-feed garbage disposal you simply turn on your water faucet, switch the unit on, and begin pushing food waste down the drain into the grinding chamber. Using this kind of disposer is quick, easy and intuitive, but isn't necessarily safe. Non-waste items can drop into the unit, requiring you to fish them out with a hand or tool, and you have to be extra careful not to turn on the disposal while you're doing it. This can make continuous-feed disposals risky in homes with small children—or easily distracted adults.
This type of disposal eliminates the dangers of continuous-feed models. To use a batch-feed garbage disposal, you push the waste into the drain, then cover the hole is with a magnetic lid that activates the disposal's power switch. Lifting the lid to add more food scraps turns the disposal off. This is slower than using a continuous feed model, but that's not always a bad thing, since it minimizes the strain on older pipes. Slowing down the process also reduces the risk of dropping silverware in to be mangled by the disposer's blades.
Garbage disposals can pose a problem for homeowners who use septic systems. Unless the system is properly sized and designed to handle the extra waste and water, food waste can clog up the system - especially if it isn't finely ground enough. This means homeowners may need to pump out the tank more often, and it could shorten the overall life of the system. However, some garbage disposals are specially designed for use with septic tanks. Typically, they use enzymes or bacteria to help break down the waste so it won't overburden the system.
When you finish a meal at home, you're often left with a variety of food scraps -- bones, vegetable peels, pizza crusts -- that need to be disposed of somehow. You can compost them (if you have curbside compost pickup or a compost bin or pile), throw them in the trash (where they can smell bad and attract pests) ... or, if you have a garbage disposal, just push them into the sink drain to be ground up and washed away.
If you're hooked up to a local sewer system, the food waste gets flushed into the pipes to be treated at a wastewater plant. When the strained-out food residue breaks down, it produces methane, a potent greenhouse gas -- but a few cities, such as Philadelphia, capture this gas at the sewage treatment plant to produce energy (in fact, Philadelphia now requires garbage disposals in new residential construction).
However, garbage disposals might not be right for everyone. We detailed the issues for homeowners on septic systems above, but even if you are hooked up to a sewer system, you need to confirm that it is equipped to handle the extra waste load garbage disposals can produce. Some towns discourage garbage-disposal use because they're afraid homeowners will misuse them by dumping fats and other greasy residues, which can clog sewers, or because water is scarce. In areas like this, home or curbside composting is a better option for dealing with food waste.
If you decide that a garbage disposal is right for you, the next step is to choose the best model for your household. In general, the more often you use your disposal, and the more waste you put down it at a time, the larger the unit you need. So, for instance, if your household has more than four members and you cook at home more than a few times per week, you'll need a disposal with a large chamber capacity and a powerful motor - at least 0.75 horsepower. By contrast, if you're a one- or two-person household and need to dispose of food waste only a couple of times a week, you can probably manage with a smaller 0.5-horsepower model. However, if you routinely host large dinner parties, you may want to invest in a more powerful disposal to make sure it can keep up with your biggest jobs.
Also consider the space you have available for your garbage disposal. Disposals are installed under the kitchen sink and hook up directly to the drain. If you have a dishwasher, its water outlet is hooked up to the disposal's. Larger, more powerful and more expensive disposals will typically take up more space than some less robust models, and might be a challenge -- or near impossible -- to install if space under the sink is tight.
Credible expert reviews of garbage disposals are hard to come by. That said, ConsumerReports.org provides lots of helpful, testing-based information. Otherwise, we turned to user reviews from sites like Amazon.com and HomeDepot.com to learn how garbage disposals performed in real-world situations, sometimes after months or years of use. The result of that research is our picks for the best continuous-feed, batch-feed, and septic-tank-friendly garbage disposals. If the bottom line is a top concern, we name a top budget-friendly choice, too.
When you have a high-performing garbage disposal, you can entertain large groups without fearing the cleanup that comes after. The best models work fast, run so quietly that you can still carry on a conversation, and grind food waste finely so there's minimal chance of blocking your drain or jamming the machine. They're also made of high-quality materials, including stainless steel grinding chambers, so they won't corrode or rust quickly. Paying for the best performance usually gets you the longest, most comprehensive warranty as well.
No other garbage disposal on the market earns so many recommendations from both professionals and homeowners as the InSinkErator Evolution Excel (Est. $325), a continuous-feed garbage disposal. In professional tests, its 1-horsepower motor reduces food scraps to tiny particles. Owners on retail sites consistently agree that the Excel can chop up anything they throw at it, including steak bones, corncobs, watermelon rinds, a pineapple top, and an avocado complete with the skin and pit.
What impresses owners still more, however, is its quietness. Many users report that this disposal makes so little noise that they have to check the switch to make sure it's running. It's also one of the quietest garbage disposals in ConsumerReports.org's testing.
Most homeowners say they had no trouble installing the InSinkErator Evolution Excel, but some caution that it's very heavy and takes up a lot of space under the sink. On the plus side, that extra weight reflects its sturdy construction. We saw almost no durability complaints about this disposal, which has a rust-resistant stainless steel grinding chamber and is backed by a seven-year warranty. The main problem users have with the Excel is that its baffle -- the rubber gasket that covers the drain --creates too much of an obstruction. Drainage is slow, and some users say they have to shove food down into the disposal opening by hand.
Although the InSinkErator Excel is certainly tough, professional tests show it's not particularly fast. If speed is a priority for you, consider the Waste King Legend 8000 (Est. $155), which earns good marks for both speed and fineness of grinding. Users agree that this 1-horsepower continuous-feed disposer is powerful enough to handle all types of waste, and most find its "EZ Mount" system very easy to install. However, they're much more divided over its noise level, with some praising its quietness and others complaining that it's too loud. Professional tests show the Waste King's noise level to be moderate—not as loud as some cheaper disposals, but certainly not as whisper-quiet as the InSinkErator.
Unlike the InSinkErator, the Waste King does not have a stainless-steel grinding chamber. The actual grinding components are made of stainless steel, but the chamber is nylon lined with fiberglass. This means it can't rust, but cracking is a possibility. Although the Waste King is backed by an impressive lifetime warranty, users are split about how well the company honors it. Of the few users who have had problems, about half praise the company's outstanding customer service, while the other half complain that reps are hard to reach and seize on any possible excuse to refuse to cover repairs.
Another continuous-feed disposer that gets good marks across the board is the 0.75-horsepower KitchenAid KCDS075T (Est. $240). It's not as fast as the Waste King in professional tests, but it matches the InSinkErator's quietness and fine grind size and costs less. This garbage disposal doesn't receive nearly as much user feedback as the Waste King or the InSinkErator, but what we found is highly positive. Owners describe it as durable, easy to install, and easy to keep clean. However, its five-year warranty isn't as impressive as the InSinkErator's seven years, or the Waste King's lifetime warranty.
Sometimes, there just isn't enough room for a full-size garbage disposal. Deep sinks (including some popular apron or farm sinks) gobble up territory; so do under-sink water filtration systems, instant-hot water systems and trash pullouts.
For cramped cabinets, the InSinkErator Evolution Compact (Est. $170) is your best bet, reviews say. This space-saving garbage disposal is only 3/4 inch shorter and 1/4 inch narrower than the Best Reviewed InSinkErator Evolution Excel -- not much of a difference at first glance, but enough in reality that users are pleased with the extra room under the sink.
Compared with the 1-horsepower Evolution Excel, the 0.75-horsepower Evolution Compact sounds louder and doesn't grind food quite as finely in tests. The Compact lacks the Excel's jam sensor (which automatically increases torque to power through jams) and auto-reverse (which helps clear jams), and its warranty is shorter (four years versus seven). However, the Compact also costs half as much as the Excel -- and owners at HomeDepot.com and Lowes.com are plenty happy with the Compact, awarding it hundreds of perfect 5-star ratings.
Although the best-rated garbage disposals cost at least $160, there are some decent continuous-feed models on the market for considerably less than that price. When you buy a cheaper garbage disposal, you generally sacrifice two things: horsepower and build quality. While the disposers covered elsewhere in this report have 0.75- to 1-horsepower motors, budget garbage disposals generally have no more than 0.5 horsepower. However, this is sufficient for a medium-sized household that grinds scraps daily or a few times per week. Cheap garbage disposals also tend to have parts made of galvanized steel or plastic rather than stainless steel. This often—but not invariably—means they don't hold up as well over time.
In the $100 price range, the best-rated garbage disposal is the KitchenAid KCDB250G (Est. $100), which receives overwhelmingly positive reviews from hundreds of owners at retail websites. At Amazon.com, for example, owners grant this budget KitchenAid garbage disposal a 4.6-star rating based on more than 180 reviews.
This 0.5-horsepower garbage disposal isn't as powerful as higher-priced models, but most owners say it has more than enough power for their needs. Owners also praise the ease of installation and cleaning.
The most common complaint we saw about the KCDB250G is that it's a bit noisy. However, those reviewers tend to like the disposal anyway -- and other users say it's a relatively quiet garbage disposal, especially compared with their old disposals. The other weak point is the warranty, which is the shortest we've seen at only one year. However, durability doesn't seem to be a major problem for this disposal as we found only a handful of complaints about leaks or other failures.
Although the KitchenAid gets good reviews from owners, it hasn't been covered in any professional sources. However, the InSinkErator Badger 5 (Est. $80) has. This popular model receives good scores from ConsumerReports.org for its speed and grind size. On noise, however, it doesn't fare so well; in fact, it's louder than nearly every other machine in the test.
The Badger 5 has received thousands of reviews from owners at retail sites like Amazon.com, Lowes.com and HomeDepot.com. Owners find it very easy to install, and most of them say its noise level is not really a problem. The real weak point for this disposer, however, is durability. We saw dozens of reviews complaining that the Badger 5 developed leaks within a few years after purchase, usually as a result of rust or cracks in the case. Fortunately, the disposal is backed by a two-year warranty that covers in-home servicing and parts, so you can expect it to hold up at least that long.
We found similar comments for the InSinkErator Badger 1 (Est. $80), which is essentially a smaller version of the Badger 5. It's less powerful than the Badger 5 --only 0.33 horsepower -- but it's also more compact, at less than 12 inches high and just over 6 inches wide, allowing it to fit into small under-sink spaces. Like the Badger 5, it gets high marks from owners for ease of installation and ease of use, but there are many complaints about noise and durability. It carries onlya one-year warranty.
Batch-feed garbage disposals have the same basic inner workings as continuous-feed units; the only difference is how they switch on. Most continuous-feed disposers begin grinding when you flip a switch on the wall or countertop and keep running regardless of what you stuff inside. Batch-feed disposals, on the other hand, activate only once the drain has been covered.
To start a batch feed disposal, you must line up magnets on the unit's cover and the mouth of the disposal. Since you can't run the disposal and push scraps down the drain at the same time, food waste must be ground up in batches. Because of that, these disposers take more time to do the job than continuous feed models, but parents of young children have the peace of mind of knowing the disposal won't operate while fingers are in the drain.
There are only a few batch feed garbage disposals available. The best, with positive ratings from both professionals and homeowners, is the InSinkErator Evolution Cover Control Plus (Est. $270). In professional tests, this 0.75-horsepower disposal actually grinds bones faster than -- although not as finely as -- the 1-horsepower InSinkErator Evolution Excel. It's just as quiet, and it blasts through stringy celery and fibrous potato skins equally well.
Owners describe the Cover Control Plus as powerful, sturdy and easy to install. Users consider the batch-feed mechanism a major plus, since they no longer have to worry about either fingers or utensils finding their way into a running disposal. On the downside, it's bulky; some owners needed a plumber to rework their under-sink pipes so the Cover Control Plus would fit. It's backed by a seven-year warranty.
Waste King's batch-feed disposal, the 1-horsepower Waste King Legend 8000TC (Est. $180), grinds up bones even faster than the InSinkErator Cover Control Plus in a professional test. Most users at Amazon.com agree that it's powerful and runs smoothly without clogs. However, it's noisier in tests (and noisy enough in real life for several owners to knock off a star in their rating). Some users note that the batch-feed system is somewhat tricky to use: the disposal won't start unless the cover is positioned exactly right. It's also 2 inches taller than the already bulky InSinkErator -- too tall to fit under some owners' sinks. The Waste King carries a 10-year warranty.
Homeowners with septic systems instead of sewers must always be careful about what they put down the drain. Food waste from a garbage disposal can clog up the system, especially if it isn't ground finely enough. Even finely ground waste can fill up the tank more quickly, requiring it to be pumped more often—an expensive and time-consuming process. Because of this, homeowners with septic systems are often told they shouldn't use a garbage disposal at all.
A possible work-around is the InSinkErator Evolution Septic Assist (Est. $210). This continuous-feed disposer contains a "Bio-Charge" cartridge that automatically injects enzyme-producing microorganisms into the unit, helping to break down waste as it flows into the septic system. User reviews at Amazon.com, Lowes.com and HomeDepot.com say this system works as advertised, and they've had no problems with plumbing clogs or backups since installing it. They also appreciate the fact that the Bio-Charge dispenser works automatically, so they don't have to add any chemicals by hand. According to the manufacturer, one InSinkErator BIO-CG Evolution Septic Assist Bio Charge Cartridge (Est. $15) should last three to four months with average use.
Aside from its unique Bio-Charge feature, the Evolution Septic Assist is a solid disposal boasting a 0.75-horsepower motor and stainless steel construction. Although it's large and takes up a lot of real estate under the sink, users generally say it's easy to install, and it's a very quiet garbage disposal. Their main complaint is that installing it slows down the drainage in the sink. Some users find that they have to push food waste down into the disposal by hand, as the motor won't suck it down on its own. The InSinkErator Evolution Septic Assist is backed by a four-year warranty that covers both parts and in-home service.
The Evolution Septic Assist is the only garbage disposal we've found that's designed specifically to work with a septic system. Some reviewers say they've successfully used other garbage disposals while on septic tanks, such as the Best-Reviewed InSinkErator Evolution Excel, but the Bio-Charge catalyst makes the Septic Assist the safest bet for any owner who wants to be sure the garbage disposal and the septic tank play nicely together.
The only credible professional test of garbage disposals we found was at ConsumerReports.org. Editors there put beef bones and vegetable scraps through 13 disposals and compared their speed, fineness of grinding and noise level. We also picked through thousands of user-written reviews on retail sites such as Amazon.com, HomeDepot.com, Lowes.com, Walmart.com and elsewhere. These sites offer information on long-term durability and ease of installation, as well as coverage of disposals that weren't included in the ConsumerReports.org test.