How Garbage Disposals Work

Most people wouldn't be able to live without their garbage disposals. They help keep the kitchen smelling fresh, help reduce potentially harmful bacteria and make cleaning up after meals a breeze. With a little care and maintenance, a garbage disposal should last several years. However, like all other appliances, garbage disposals do occasionally malfunction or die. When this happens, you'll need a little information and a little know-how in order to repair or replace your disposal.

In the links, you'll find everything you need to know about buying, cleaning, repairing, wiring and replacing a garbage disposal.



How to Clean a Garbage Disposal

Keeping garbage disposals clean will help keep your kitchen smelling clean and your garbage disposal working properly. In this section, we describe a few easy to follow tips that will help you keep your garbage disposal in tip top shape.

How to Wire, Install or Replace a Garbage Disposal

Wiring, installing or replacing a garbage disposal is a simple process when you are properly prepared for the task. In this section, we provide you with step by step instructions for installing or replacing a garbage disposal

How to Repair a Garbage Disposal

Repairing a garbage disposal is a simple and rewarding task that homeowners and renters alike should be prepared for. Here are some basic instructions on how to remove objects stuck in the disposal, use a special turning tool or jam wrench, fix a clogged drain, reset an overloaded disposal, and how to maintain a garbage disposal to prevent further problems.

Popular Kitchen Garbage Disposals

There a few brands of garbage disposals that rise the top, like Waste King, Insinkerator and KitchenAid. Learn about the pros and cons of these models and more, as well as some general shopping tips for finding the garbage disposal that fits you best.

How to Clean a Garbage Disposal

Cleaning your garbage disposal is a quick and easy way to help keep your kitchen smelling fresh and your sink drain working properly. Although well-maintained garbage disposals that are used correctly should generally clean themselves, the following tips will help keep your garbage disposal in tip-top shape.

1. Cleaning the Garbage Disposal


Most garbage disposals are made of a metal cylinder equipped with rotating impellers. Many newer units include a series of grinders on the sides or bottom of the metal cylinder that grind down the contents of the garbage disposal. In either case, the insides of a disposal can quickly become covered with sludge and debris. No matter how hard you try to protect your disposal, items unsuitable for disposing will find their way down your drain. Glass, metal, rubber objects or highly fibrous food materials like cornhusks, shrimp shells, peach pits, artichoke leaves or large bones will need to be physically removed from the disposal. In all cases, items that become lodged or left within your disposal will breed odor-causing bacteria and compromise the performance of your garbage disposal and drain. There are a few ways to clean sludge and debris:

Clearing Items Out of the Garbage Disposal

Safety is important when clearing your garbage disposal. Before you start, be sure to turn off the fuse that regulates power to your garbage disposal to ensure there is no chance for the unit to turn on while you're clearing it. Using tongs or pliers, you may be able to remove any non-disposable items stuck inside your garbage disposal. You should try to avoid sticking your hands inside of the disposer, but if it becomes necessary to use your hands, be sure that the power to the unit is disabled.

Cleaning the Grinding Elements Using Ice and Rock Salt

You can combine two cups of ice cubes and a cup of rock salt to make a great cure for malodorous garbage disposals. Fill the garbage disposal with the ice cubes and then pour the salt over the ice cubes. Run cold water and turn on the garbage disposal for approximately 5-10 seconds. The combination of ice and rock salt will help knock sludge and debris off of the grinding elements so that they can make their way down the drain. If you don't happen to have rock salt, substituting a cup of vinegar will also work.

2. Clearing the Drain Line

Good general garbage disposer maintenance includes a periodic purging of the drain line leading from the garbage disposal. You should also purge the line after removing sludge and debris because it ensures that all dislodged items make their way down the drain. This can be accomplished by plugging your drain, filling your sink with 2-4 inches of water and then removing the drain plug and turning on the garbage disposal. Then all of the collected water gets pulled through the line. In addition to being a part of good maintenance, you should also clear your drain line each time after you dispose of particularly fibrous foods. It will help ensure that all of the food particles make their way down the drain.

3. Freshening up your Garbage Disposal Using Citrus Peels

After you've cleared and cleaned your garbage disposal, you can use citrus peels (oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruit) to help freshen up your sink. Put a handful of citrus peels into your garbage disposal, run the cold water and turn on the disposal. The citric acid will help deodorize your disposer and leave your kitchen smelling fresh.

It's especially a good idea to clean your garbage disposal before you leave your house for a few days. Having food, sludge and debris sitting in a moist garbage disposal that isn't being used is a sure fire recipe for breeding odor-causing bacteria. Following these easy steps will help keep your garbage disposal working properly and your kitchen sink smelling clean.

How to Wire, Install or Replace a Garbage Disposal

Wiring, installing or replacing a garbage disposal may, at first, appear to be a daunting task, but with the right tools and a little know-how, it can be as simple as grinding up last night's mashed potatoes.

Garbage disposals are truly the unsung heroes of the kitchen. You may not think much of them if you don't have one installed, but once you begin utilizing your garbage disposal, it'll be hard to know how you ever managed without it. They gladly swallow up your leftovers and other kitchen undesirables and they never moan or groan about what kinds of things you feed it. So, with a little bit of preparation and some spare time, you can be on your way to living the good life--the garbage disposal life.


In order to install a garbage disposal, you have to have an available outlet that is protected by a 120 volt, 20 amp circuit breaker. Note that a GFCI outlet will not do the trick. Once the proper outlet is in place, make sure that the power is shut off, and then start gathering your tools. The required tools are: 

  • Bucket & Rags
  • Plumbers putty
  • Putty knife
  • Screwdrivers
  • Hammer
  • Wire strippers
  • Wire nuts & electrical tape
  • Pipe wrench

1. Clear everything from under your sink so that there is room to operate. The first task is to disconnect and remove the strainer and all of waste drain lines from the sink.

2. Place your bucket under the sink and remove the wastelines.  Empty all of the excess water into the bucket

3. Once the waste lines are removed, you need to remove the mounting assembly.  You should see a large nut that is securing the strainer. Remove the nut.

4. Remove the strainer and make sure to clear away any pre-existing plumbers putty from around the area. You want the surfaces to be nice and clean.

5. Now you can open your new garbage disposal and begin installing it. First off, you will need the sink flange and the mounting assembly. The mounting assembly includes upper and lower mounting rings and mounting bolts. Open up your plumbers putty and place a quarter-inch coil of putty around the drain. Next, take the sink flange, place it in the drain and press it down carefully onto the putty.

6. Find your gasket and mounting ring and head back under the sink. Take the gasket and the mounting ring and push them up the flange. Connect the snap ring to the flange, which will keep the gasket and ring in place.

7. Now it's time to tighten the mounting bolts. Locate the three mounting bolts and begin tightening them. Alternate between the three bolts, and make sure that they are evenly tightened. Plumbers putty will most likely emerge from under the flange, but there's no need to worry; just wipe away the excess.

8. Now comes the wiring. Rest the disposer on its side underneath the sink. After shutting off the breaker, you need to remove the disposal's cover plate to access the wiring. Connect the white and black wires to the matching wires from the power supply. Next ground the supply wire and replace the electrical cover plate on the unit.

9. If you happen to have a dishwasher then there is an extra step in the process. Find the close-ended tube on the side of the disposal, near the top. This is where the dishwasher inlet line is connected. Take out the line plug with a screwdriver and a hammer. The plug may fall into your disposal, so be sure that you get it out before proceeding.

10. Now you're ready to mount your disposal. Line it up with the mounting assembly under the sink. There are three tabs on the disposal that help it lock into the mounting assembly. Once the tabs are into the mounting assembly, turn the disposal so that it locks into place. This may be a bit frustrating, but be patient. You will know when it locks into place. After it is locked it will still be a bit loose. Don't fret; there's more to come.

11. Shift your disposal so that the discharge tube lines up with the water pipes. If you have a dishwasher, connect the drain line to the inlet port on the side of the disposal. Your "J" trap will probably not line up perfectly with the disposal, especially if you have a double-bowl sink. Cut some PVC plumbing pipes so that the connection fits properly. Remember to slide the lock nut on the pipe before the nylon washer.

12. Once the plumbing is connected, make sure that all of the nuts are tight and that the disposal line is secure. There is a rotating cam collar near the mounting assembly. Tighten the collar down with a screwdriver or wrench. The disposal should now be locked into place.

13. Now it's time to test your handy work. Turn on the faucets and let the water flow through the disposal. Inspect every area to ensure that there is no leakage. If you have a dishwasher, turn it on and check that connection. Tighten up any problem areas to make sure everything stays dry.

14. Restore power to the outlet under the sink and plug in the disposal. Turn on the water because it needs to be running for you to flip the switch. Always run the water when you run your disposal! You should hear the exciting sound of your lean, mean, disposing machine.  

Welcome to the world of garbage disposal living. Enjoy your new friend in the kitchen, but always respect what your disposal is capable of doing. Safety is of the utmost importance when dealing with a garbage disposal, so keep your hands and fingers clear of the opening.

How to Repair a Garbage Disposal

Garbage disposals, like any other frequently used kitchen appliance, require occasional repairs and maintenance to ensure proper functioning. Disposals may vary depending on brand and type, but here are a few simple repairs you can make to address common problems associated with all brands and types of garbage disposals. No matter what type of repair you are attempting, always make sure to turn off the power to the disposal at the breaker as a safety precaution and remove the splashguard for easier access.

How to Remove Objects Stuck in the Disposal


If silverware, bottle caps or other objects fall through the splashguard, the disposal may jam. To remedy this, use a flashlight to locate and identify the obstruction and, if possible, use metal tongs to lift out the obstruction. If this doesn't work then you may try using a special turning tool (when available) or a broom handle. Turn the power on at the breaker, run cold water and try to turn the disposal on again.

How to Use a Special Turning Tool or Jam Wrench

Many garbage disposers come with an Allen wrench designed to fit into a hole at the bottom of your disposer. If your disposal didn't come with this tool, they are available at most hardware stores. Use a flashlight to locate the hole, insert the Allen wrench and turn the disposal back and forth to loosen the jam. Turn the power on at the breaker, run cold water and try to turn the disposal on again.

How to Fix a Clogged Drain

Food matter will occasionally accumulate in the drain and cause a clog. If an ordinary drain cleaner does not remedy the clog, you'll have to get your hands dirty. To repair a clogged drain, place a bucket underneath the drain. Next, use a pipe wrench to loosen the fittings on the P trap. Remove the P trap. Once it's been removed, try to locate the clog and clean it out. If the clog is not in the P trap, you may need to thread an auger or a snake down the drainpipe to free the clog.

How to Reset an Overloaded Disposal

When your disposal stops turning, it's often because it senses an overload of power and automatically shuts off. As a precaution, wait a few moments to let the disposal cool down. Most disposers have a reset button on the underside of them. After the unit is cool, press the reset button, run cold water and try turning it on again. If this doesn't solve the problem, you may need to inspect the cord or wiring. Don't be ashamed to call an electrician to remedy the problem if it is beyond your expertise.

How to Maintain a Garbage Disposal and Prevent Further Problems

Discovering clogs or jams in garbage disposals is not uncommon, but measures can be taken to prevent them from ever forming. The blades in a garbage disposal will become dull over time, and many home repair experts suggest feeding a variety of materials, such as chicken bones or glass, into the disposer to sharpen the blades. Regardless of what you might hear, the only safe material to feed into your disposal to sharpen the blades is ice. You should also avoid feeding materials with husks, such as corn, and stringy vegetables, such as celery, into your disposal to avoid a jam. In addition, avoid pouring grease down the drain as it can clog. If you have poured grease down the drain, try running hot water for a few minutes to flush it out.

Popular Kitchen Garbage Disposals

When choosing a new garbage disposal, your decision may hinge on a few key factors. You'll want a minimum one-half (1/2) horsepower motor and you'll want to look for stainless steel parts to avoid corrosion. Unless you have a good reason for getting a batch feeding model, you'll also want to look for continuous feed. Batch feed disposals are the kind that run when you insert a special sink stopper in the opening and turn to activate the system. Continuous feed disposers typically operate by a wall switch. Another good rule of thumb is that the larger the garbage disposal, the quieter it will generally run - an important consideration over the life of heavy usage.

There are a lot of models on the market that meet these basic requirements, so it's possible that at the end of the day your decision will come down to choosing the brand you most trust. Below you'll find some helpful advice and information about some of the best-selling garbage disposal brands.


Waste King, Whirlaway and Sinkmaster

Two of the most popular brands of garbage disposers - Waste King and Whirlaway - are made by the same company, Anaheim Manufacturing. In fact, the Sinkmaster Bonecrushers, another best-selling disposer line used to be made by Anaheim before they changed the name of the series to Waste King Gourmet. Waste King Gourmet series disposals are considered by many to be the finest available because of their precision-engineered motors, stainless steel grinding components and corrosion-proof housings. Although Insinkerator (below), is the best-selling brand, Waste King disposers are considered by many to be the Cadillacs of garbage disposers.


If you're in the market for a garbage disposal, chances are you've come across a few different models by Insinkerator. That's because they're the best-selling brand on the market - and for good reason. The company points to their high-performance motors, easy installation and in-home service warranties as hallmarks of their disposal lines. However, some competitors turn their noses up at Insinkerator's exclusive auto-reverse grind system, claiming that superior engineering eliminates the need for such a system. Of course, Insinkerator claims that the patented system is central to chopping food up efficiently and keeping the disposal sanitary. Insinkerator also manufactures the popular Badger line of garbage disposals as well as the Evolution series made for Lowes Home Improvement.

Kenmore Disposals

Kenmore disposals always seem to get great reviews, which makes sense because Kenmore disposals are manufactured exclusively for Sears by Insinkerator.

KitchenAid and Viking

Arguably, very few people will ever get a good look at your garbage disposer, but if you want see a veritable work of art every time you reach under the sink for the Windex, you'll probably want to look into a Viking or KitchenAid disposer. With a wide palette of available colors, the KitchenAid is the real stunner; although the Viking disposal is nearly as impressive. The KitchenAid lines feature double-edged cutting blades that can grind almost anything into a superfine slush. This system keeps the unit smelling fresher and helps protect against clogs and jams. The Viking models have an impressive cast grind wheel and shredder assembly, but they're primarily known for their super quiet operation. Viking's patented sound-absorption insulation system makes their disposals the perfect choice for maintaining a peaceful kitchen.

Keep in mind that moisture and other conditions under your sink can shorten the lifespan of your garbage disposal. Pay close attention to warranties and make sure that parts are readily available for your model.