Pros and Cons of Having a Garbage Disposal

A garbage disposal allows busy homeowners to scrape dirty dishes straight into the kitchen sink without worrying about food debris clogging their pipes. Invented in 1927 by John W. Hammes, garbage disposals have become almost universal fixtures in homes throughout America. 

Weigh the Benefits against the Drawbacks

Many homeowners simply can’t imagine life without the convenience of a garbage disposal. If you are thinking about having a garbage disposal installed or replacing an existing unit, there are several pros and cons to consider.

PROS:

  • Convenience - With a garbage disposal, small amounts of food debris can be scraped directly into the kitchen sink rather than the trash can. This makes cleanup after cooking and meals faster and easier.
  • Reduces Landfill Waste - It’s estimated that food waste makes up about 20% of all household trash in the United States. When food is buried in landfills, it can’t decompose properly and becomes a significant source of methane. By using a garbage disposal and composting, the amount of trash sent to landfills can be significantly reduced.
  • Protects Kitchen Drains - Garbage disposals use impellers to break down food scraps into small particles, liquefy them, and flush them down pipes freely. Without a garbage disposal, small amounts of food scraps can build up inside kitchen pipes and lead to messy clogs and backups. 
  • Inexpensive - A ¾ horsepower disposal that works well for the average household costs between $125-$300. For around $200, a model with high torque and a strong motor can deal with most types of household food waste. When properly installed and maintained, most garbage disposals will last around 10 years.
  • Easy to Maintain and Operate - Garbage disposals are relatively easy to use and maintain by following the manufacturer’s instructions. Once everyone in a household understands how to properly operate a garbage disposal, problems are rare.

CONS:

  • Require Correct Usage - Despite the name, garbage disposals are not trash cans. There are many things that should not be placed down a disposal including: 
    • Fatty foods (cooking oils, grease, butter and cream sauces)
    • Starchy foods (rice, pasta and beans)
    • Fibrous foods (banana peels, potato peels, celery and carrots)
    • Hard materials (bones, fruit pit and seafood shells)
    • Non-food items
  • Clogs and Jams - Only small food scraps and non-greasy liquids should be placed in a disposal. If too many food scraps are crammed into a disposal at one time, it’s likely to jam. Usually just pressing the reset button will get a disposal working again. More serious clogs and jams can develop with improper usage.
  • Safety - Teaching everyone how to properly use a disposal helps avoid injury, but young children shouldn’t operate one at all. Homeowners can also help prevent dangerous situations by purchasing a batch feed garbage disposal instead of a continuous feed unit.
  • Odors - Garbage disposals sometimes develop bad odors. This usually happens when food particles become trapped somewhere in the disposal or drain line. Running plenty of cold water while operating a disposal helps flush food debris through the drain and prevents odors. Odors can also be eliminated by regularly cleaning disposals with a simple mixture of baking soda and vinegar.
  • Expensive to Repair - When a garbage disposal starts to fail, it’s often cheaper to have the unit replaced rather than repaired. Leaks, rust, and motor burnout can all happen with age or misuse. Garbage disposals usually last at least 10 years by following the manufacturer’s operating instructions.
  • Septic Tanks - Some experts argue that it’s a bad idea to have a garbage disposal if you are on a septic system since it can introduce a considerable amount of additional waste into the septic tank. Others argue that a garbage disposal is not an issue for a properly maintained septic system. Homeowners on a septic system should consult with a septic maintenance company or professional plumber for advice on adding or replacing a garbage disposal.

Bottom line, a garbage disposal is a practical convenience to have if you prefer to spend as little time as possible cleaning up after cooking. A new disposal is a relatively low-cost kitchen upgrade and can add perceived value to a home upon resale. When used properly, a garbage disposal will last for many years with little maintenance required.

Types of Garbage Disposals

There are two main types of garbage disposals: continuous and batch feed, and two main materials used to make them, aluminum and stainless steel. Each type of disposal offers advantages and disadvantages.

  • Continuous Feed: The most common type of disposal allows users to feed waste into the unit as long as it is turned on. Though less expensive than batch feed disposals, water must be running while the disposal is on and the lack of a cover makes it easy for non-food substances to fall into the unit.
  • Batch Feed: These disposals grind batches with a cover in place which protects nonfood items from entering the unit. More expensive than continuous feed, batch feed disposals are also less convenient in kitchens that generate a lot of food waste.
  • Stainless Steel: Disposals made from stainless steel will not rust or corrode and are harder to dent. Stainless steel garbage disposals cost more than aluminum disposals.
  • Aluminum: The least expensive option, aluminum garbage disposals are prone to corrosion and denting. Aluminum disposals are also noisier than stainless steel units.

6 Tips for Operating a Garbage Disposal

  1. Use plenty of cold water when operating a garbage disposal. Running enough cold water while operating a disposal helps thoroughly flush food particles down the drain and prevents odors from developing.
  2. Only put the right types of food scraps into a disposal. Grease, oils, bones and starchy foods should never be put in a garbage disposal.
  3. Don’t turn off the motor or the cold water too soon while operating a disposal. Let both the cold water and the motor run until all the food has been ground up. Once the grinding ends, turn off the motor and let the water run for about 15-30 seconds. This allows the water to thoroughly rinse the food particles down the drain which lessens the chances of buildup, clogs, and odors.
  4. Never put drain cleaners or bleach in a disposal. Drain cleaners and bleach should never be put in a garbage disposal. Harsh chemicals can deteriorate the inner mechanisms of the disposal and cause it to perform poorly. With repeated use, these chemicals cause corrosion and leaks.
  5. Don’t overfill a disposal. Only small food scraps should be placed in a garbage disposal. When large amounts of food waste are fed into a disposal too quickly, jams and malfunctions are more likely to occur.
  6. Don’t attempt to sharpen the blades. Contrary to popular belief, the impellers inside a garbage disposal are supposed to be blunt. There is no need to attempt to sharpen them.

Trust the Local Plumbing Professionals

Whether you’re seeking your first garbage disposal or need to replace an old one, call Simply Green Plumbing, Sewer & Rooter at (408) 716-1686 or contact us online to schedule an appointment. Our trained technicians can install, replace, or repair your garbage disposal quickly and efficiently.

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