Garbage disposals can be your best friend or your worst enemy. It all depends on your house, plumbing, and situation. Personally, I grew up with one in every house, and never thought about them. Conversely, my wife grew up without a garbage disposal, but doesn’t want to go without one ever again.
What Are Garbage Disposals?
Garbage disposals are the part of your kitchen plumbing that breaks down small pieces of food so it can be disposed of through the sewer. Theoretically, you can use these if you are on sewer or septic, but there are some caveats with the septic option.
Up until recently, if you had a septic tank, you didn’t have a garbage disposal. They added waste that didn’t easily break down to your tank and ended up costing you thousands more in the long run. Now, septic technology has come a long way. There are special garbage disposals that are designed specifically for septic systems. However, they’re not perfect. You’d still be adding additional waste to your system that it may not have been designed for.
It’s completely up to you (unless code, HOA rules, or other rules apply), but I recommend disposing of food waste in different ways. Personally, we try to compost as much as we can. Not only is that better for the environment and not filling up landfills, but we get great fertile soil to use in our garden a year or two later!
Like any other appliance, garbage disposals come in a huge variety of types. When choosing one for your purposes, you should consider:
- Continuous vs Batch
- In Sink vs Standalone
When choosing a size, you’re picking one that fits under your sink and also has the internal capacity to match your expected use. Obviously if you’re going to constantly be dumping a ton of food down the drain, get the larger capacity if your sink cabinet can fit it.
The power is the main criteria. Residential garbage disposals range from 1/3 horsepower to 1 horsepower. 3/4 horsepower is considered the standard size. It can handle most food waste without jamming or long-term issues. The smaller sizes are cheaper and more compact, which might be necessary in smaller homes or as a temporary fix. On the other hand, a 1 horsepower or greater disposal will grind just about anything you put down there. Typically, you should not put bones or rinds in your disposal, but a 1 HP unit will have a much easier time grinding these up than the smaller units. For reference, my house has a 1/2 horsepower garbage disposal, and it has never jammed or had an issue with anything we’ve put down it.
Continuous disposals run continuously once you turn them on. Batch disposals require you to fill them up and close the lid. I personally don’t like the batch ones, but if it works for your situation, then it works.
Finally, there are standalone disposals now. They’re pretty neat because they grind up your food, and then you decide what to do with the waste. If you compost, this can be a nice way to get your food scraps into a more manageable size, making the composting process faster.
What Can’t Go In A Garbage Disposal?
We’ve covered Garbage Disposal No-No’s in a previous article, so we won’t dive too deep into the reason behind these, but here’s our list.
- Oil, Grease, and Other Fats
- Coffee Grounds
- Egg Shells
- Pasta, Oats, and Rice
- Poultry Skin
- Potato Peels
- Fibrous Veggies
- Fruit Pits
- Bones and Seafood Shells
- Leftover Medication
- Nonfood Items
Like all appliances, garbage disposals encounter their own unique set of problems. Unfortunately, when this appliance breaks, you might be in for a very gross problem. That’s why the cleaning and maintenance is important.
If your disposal gets clogged, you’ll have to treat it like you would a toilet, except a toilet that has electricity. First, turn off the disposal. Then you clear the clog using tools. Never put your hand down the disposal when it is clogged. Once you clear the clog, turn the disposal back on and see if that took care of it.
If your disposal is leaking, it’s either from one of the connections or the main body. If the connections are leaking, it might be as easy as tightening the connection or as complicated as replacing a pipe or connector. If the main body is leaking, you probably have a crack somewhere, and that is a lot harder to fix. Because of how much vibration these generate, a small crack can become a big crack very quickly. Ultimately, you’re probably going to replace a cracked disposal.
Tripped Circuit or Blown Fuse
Why did your unit short out? If you don’t know that, you’re not going to be able to fix the problem. If it is because you put too much food in, remove some of the food. Then you turn the power off to the unit, reset the breaker on the unit, and then turn the power back on. Usually there’s a button on the bottom or back for resetting your garbage disposal. It’s really easy to do, but as I said before, if you don’t know why it turned off, you’re just going to encounter the problem again.
Your blades can easily be jammed by something that doesn’t belong. If you drop a bone, utensil, or other solid object down the drain, it can jam up the blades. The fix is easy: remove the object. However, make sure the disposal is off and, if possible, don’t use your hands to remove the object.
Cleaning and Maintenance
A clean garbage disposal is a happy garbage disposal. I believe that’s how the saying goes. Caring for yours is as simple as making sure it stays cleaned out and clear of anything that’s not supposed to be in there. Additionally, you shouldn’t let any food particles sit in there too long. You’re trying to avoid rust, a buildup of grime, and food particles becoming harder.
To keep your disposal clean:
- Run it regularly
- Clean it with garbage disposal tabs or other cleaning products.
I know I’ve said it many times throughout this article, but do not put your hand down inside it to scrub. That’s not necessary, and your goal is to keep your hands away from the blades as best you can.
Unless you absolutely know what you’re doing, leave this one to the professionals. You’re combining electricity, water, and very sharp fast moving objects into one tiny package. Done incorrectly, you can face a lot of different huge problems like flooding, electrocution, or dismemberment.
If you’re going to DIY anyway, make sure your water and electricity to that circuit are off before you start. Then, it’s as simple as connecting the unit to the underside of your sink and the output to your drain line. After that, make sure to connect it to the power and test everything.