What the best garbage disposal has

  • Enough horsepower. Whether you have a full house or live alone, you'll need a garbage disposal with ample power to keep up with your output of food waste. Choose one with enough power to handle your busiest day.
  • Easy installation. Most consumer-grade garbage disposals can be installed by their owners, but some models are easier to work with than others.
  • The right features for your household. If you have small children, a batch feed garbage disposal may be your best choice. Homeowners on a septic system rather than sewers will need a septic-safe disposer.
  • Quiet operation. The acceptable noise level of a disposal is a personal preference, but the best models produce so little vibration and noise during operation that they won't interrupt a conversation.
  • A solid warranty. When garbage disposals malfunction, users are left with an inoperable sink and potential water damage to their home. A good warranty now can save you a headache later.
  • Quality materials. Garbage disposals with stainless steel components in their grinders tend to last longer than those made of galvanized steel, plastic or a combination of materials.
  • A removable splashguard. The splashguard helps keep food waste in the unit, but it's convenient if you can remove it when cleaning the sink.
  • The right size for your kitchen. Garbage disposals with more horsepower usually have larger grind chambers and bodies. Kitchens with small under-sink areas may need to compromise between power and size.

Know before you go

How often do you plan to use your garbage disposal? Households that use their disposers infrequently may do better with a smaller, cheaper model than families who use them daily.

What's the maximum number of people you're likely to feed and clean up after in one day? It's best to plan for maximum capacity of your garbage disposal. A good rule of thumb is to consider the largest meal you'll prepare during the year and buy a disposal to match.

Are you on a septic system? Homeowners on septic systems have long been told that they shouldn't get a garbage disposal because it adds to the amount of waste in the septic tank and strains the tank's capacity. However, some disposers like the InSinkErator Evolution Septic Assist are designed specifically to minimize the impact on a septic system.

Do you have small children in your home? Parents should consider safer batch feed disposals that are activated only when the drain is covered by a magnetic lid. However, they take longer to do the job because scraps must be fed into the disposer one batch at a time.

How long can you expect a garbage disposal to last? The length of a unit's warranty seems to be a good indicator of how long you can expect it to continue operating. If you'll be moving or selling your home in the near future, you might consider a disposal with a shorter warranty such as one or two years. If you plan to own your home for a long time, you'll be better off with a seven-year or lifetime warranty.

What about installation? Most garbage disposals are designed with timesaving installation mounts that should be easy enough for even casual DIY-ers. Depending on your kitchen's wiring and plumbing, however, some disposers might need to be directly wired into the wall or have extensions or reductions made to existing drain pipes. Take a close look at the setup under your sink before purchase and decide whether you feel comfortable installing it yourself. If not, you'll want to budget extra for installation by a plumber.

What kind of kitchen scraps do you typically dispose of? Some food waste is easier for garbage disposals to grind up. If you know you'll be feeding it lots of stringy, tough waste such as carrot tops, celery or meat bones, choose a unit with a higher-horsepower motor.

How much money are you willing to spend? If you monitor sale prices, particularly at online retailers, you can find some less powerful disposals for less than $80. At the other end of the spectrum, you can get a whisper-quiet, high-horsepower model with a long warranty for several hundred dollars. Your decision should be based on your budget, how powerful of a motor and how large of a grind chamber you need for the food waste you generate.

How much room do you have under your sink? The more horsepower your garbage disposal has, the more room it will probably take up under the sink. It's important for disposers to have plenty of room so they vibrate less, causing less noise and less potential for leaks. If you have limited space for the disposal, look at models with smaller profile bodies.

Value expectations: The dollars and cents of it

Garbage disposals have minimal impact on your water and electricity bills, depending on how frequently and copiously you grind up food waste. However, during installation users may find they need to buy a power cord, plumber's putty and extensions for existing under-sink pipes. Regular maintenance is fairly easy and inexpensive: Simply grind ice chips to clean the impellers and lemon or orange wedges to kill bad smells. If you own a septic-friendly system, you'll need to buy enzyme cartridges a few times a year. Batch feed disposals sometimes require a magnetic cover replacement.

Buying tactics and strategies

  • If you're replacing an old or broken garbage disposal, learn what kind you have. Waste King, for example, makes disposals with two kinds of mounting systems. Purchasing a new model with the same mounting system will save time and possibly money when removing the previous unit and installing the new one.
  • Understand the warranty. Does it include in-home service? If not, you may have to bring the disposer to a repair center or pay for a technician to visit your home. Even if you have in-home service, certain problems like leaks caused by installation might not be covered.
  • Most disposals break during holiday seasons. If you're looking for a replacement model the last week of December, chances are a lot of other people are, too.

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