When you finish eating at home, where do your food scraps go? If you don't have a garbage disposal and don't compost for your own garden, you might throw your leftover bones, vegetable peels and pizza crusts into the regular trash bin for delivery to a landfill or incinerator facility. If you do have a garbage disposal (or waste disposer, as they are also known), you can push food waste into the sink drain for the disposal to grind up and wash away. In many cases, the waste goes to your local sewer system and is treated at a wastewater plant. Although it's more complicated for homeowners in areas without sewers, some garbage disposals are designed for use with septic systems.
Which scenario is better for your local environment depends largely on where you live. Cities with an overburdened sewer system might prefer that you compost or send scraps to the landfill/incinerator; our composting bin report includes information on products for composting food waste outdoors and in. On the other hand, communities with overburdened waste facilities such as near-full landfills may encourage homeowners to install garbage disposals to grind up and wash away unwanted food scraps.
Once you decide that a garbage disposal is right for you, choosing the best model for your household depends on several factors. First, think about how often you'll use it, and for how much waste. This will depend on how frequently you cook at home, and how many leftovers and scraps you usually have in a week.
For households with more than four members and that cook more than a few times per week, you'll need a disposal with a larger grind chamber capacity and higher horsepower like our Best Reviewed Waste King Legend 8000 (Est. $150) . It has a 1-horsepower motor that can handle the kitchen waste from large households. If you're a one- or two-person household and need to dispose of food waste only a couple of times a week, you'll likely be fine with a smaller 0.75- or 0.5-horsepower model such as the KitchenAid KCDS075T (Est. $250) or the InSinkErator Badger 5 (Est. $90) . One exception: If you routinely host large dinner parties, you may want to invest in a more powerful disposal even if your typical food waste load is smaller.
Also consider the area 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, it's hooked up to the disposal's line out. A powerful disposal like the Waste King Legend 8000 takes up more space than some less robust models like our Best Reviewed cheap garbage disposal, the InSinkErator Badger 5. Less powerful disposals also tend to create less noise and vibration, something that homeowners with sinks made out of lighter-weight materials like thin-gauge stainless steel should keep in mind.
Garbage disposals come in one of two types: continuous feed or batch feed. To operate a continuous feed garbage disposal, 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, necessitating retrieval with a hand or tool, which could cause problems for small children and distracted adults.
Batch feed disposals eliminate the risk that the disposal will activate when a foreign object or hand is inside. First the waste must be pushed into the drain; the hole is then covered 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 as one user says at HomeDepot.com, "a slower grinding disposer is not a bad thing when you have old drain pipes and a low flow kitchen faucet."
If your home has a septic system, you might have been advised not to purchase a garbage disposal at all. The concern is that added volume from kitchen waste could put too much stress on the septic tank, which could require having the system pumped more often, or lead to an overflowing tank. However, the InSinkErator Evolution Septic Assist (Est. $230) has been designed specifically for this situation. As food waste is ground up and passes through the unit, it injects a solution that helps accelerate decomposition.
Garbage disposals can cost upward of $300 or less than $100. Horsepower is one factor that separates models, but other criteria like construction quality come into play. Cheaper garbage disposals are usually made of plastic and galvanized steel components instead of stainless steel, and often aren't as durable as buyers hope. Judging from user reviews at retail sites, manufacturer warranties are a good indication of a garbage disposer's expected lifespan. Cheap garbage disposals with short warranties could be a risky investment. Our Best Reviewed cheap garbage disposal, the InSinkErator Badger 5, comes with a two-year warranty compared to the seven-year, 10-year, or even unlimited coverage offered with more expensive models. Users say the Badger 5 typically lasts three to five years.
To determine the best garbage disposals available today, our editors consult expert reviews from CNET, ConsumerReports.org and others. However, the best and most extensive feedback comes from users who post ratings and comments on retail websites. Based on this combination of reviews, we name garbage disposals that rank highest in terms of performance, ease of use and the ownership experience, including durability.