Garbage Disposers and Disposals — Facts And Misconceptions

Garbage Disposers Q & A

InSinkErator LT 880

Today’s Modern Garbage Disposal Is A Precision Electronic Device

There’s one kitchen appliance that for most of us who have one in our home seems more like it belongs on a workbench in the garage then suspended under the sink. Garbage disposers, or disposals, have been around for nearly a century, busily, and for most of the time, noisily, taking big chunks of food waste and turning it into little chunks that can travel on down the drain instead of ending up in the landfill.

As unlikely as it may seem, there are probably more myths about what this heavy duty food processing machine can do than Bigfoot sightings in the Pacific Northwest. Not to mention that the device goes by several interchangeable names, including the Canadian label, garburator. Maybe a carburetor for garbage? Who knows?

Garbage disposals, or food waste disposers depending on the company you’re in at the time, have gone from luxury to essential, from high-end optional to standard, for reasons that go far beyond convenience. And today’s machines are a far cry from their early ancestors. If you haven’t had any experience with one, here are some quick facts about their operation.

How Garbage Disposers Work

Misconception number one — a disposal goes about its business not by chopping but by grinding food waste into crushed up tiny particles. The better the machine, the better the result. In this post we’re only concerned with reputable machines that perform on par, not bargain no-name gadgets that lack the power, engineering, and design needed to make them effective.

Those two impellers or rotors you see use centrifugal force to push the food waste against the stationary outer ring of the disposal, which in turn grinds the big bits into smaller and smaller pieces that then mix with cold water and head on down the drain.

Although there are still solids at the end of the process, the Evolution disposers come very close to liquefying the food waste before sending it down the drain and into the sewer.

Misconception number two — disposers are very delicate and users have to be very careful about what’s fed into them. In fact, modern disposers can handle a wide variety of kitchen scraps. See above.

Recycling Waste By Disposing Of Properly

In the early days following the introduction of garbage disposals many towns and cities prohibited the use of disposers. It wasn’t until 2008 that one of the last holdouts decided the devices were safe for everyday use and posed no threat to their municipal sanitation operations.

Today there are very basic environmental reasons for using a disposal. Because most kitchen scraps and table waste have a very high water to solid ratio, if your community incinerates its garbage that’s a lot of energy needed to turn liquid into steam.

If that garbage is then buried in a landfill the methane gas that’s produced as it rots ultimately escapes into the atmosphere, increasing the greenhouse effect on climate.

But if that waste is able to be processed through a municipal sewage sanitation or private septic process, the water content is recycled, while the solids can become fertilizer.

Garbage Disposer Essential Rules

There are only two basic rules that need to be followed. After that, it’s between you and your pipes. Here’s what InSinkErator says about what you can feed their line of garbage disposers, plus:

  1. Cold water, not hot, to flush food waste down the drain.
  2. Never: grease, oil, fat — pour into a jar or soak up with a paper towel, then dispose

That’s it, as far as the disposer’s operation is concerned, although coffee grounds and egg shells, because of their makeup, need to be processed in small quantities with plenty of water to avoid clogs caused by settling.

There’s one popularly accessed website that claims to understand what can and can’t go down the disposer. When you add up the prohibited items listed, which is pretty much everything except stale Jello, there’s no point in having a disposer at all.

Your plumbing may need to be taken into consideration though, as old cast iron pipes, after years of use, may be more inclined to snag even small debris in pockets of corrosion and hidden breaks and crevices.

The overall condition of your plumbing — pipes and sewer — in the end determines what you decide to feed your garbage disposer.

If your disposal is an older model, its ability to grind and process kitchen waste probably isn’t up to the task. If that’s the case, rather than having to deal with an old tool that, like a pair of one-handled pliers that can’t perform its only job, it’s time to replace it with a modern upgrade.

InSinkErator Is Our Disposal Of Choice

At Wilson Plumbing, we recommend InSinkErator’s Evolution line of premium disposers for new and replacement situations. They’re indestructible, perform flawlessly, and in just about every residential situation they’ll effectively last a lifetime.

Operating quietly with very little vibration, they feature multiple grinding stages that virtually eliminate clogs by pulverizing waste into a fine pulp that’s easily washed down the drain.

Ironically, because many households today practice composting by recycling plant based kitchen scraps into nitrogen rich organic nutrients for use in gardens and yards, the disposer and trash pickup is completely bypassed.



Learn the history behind modern garbage disposals.

Get the latest garbage disposer ratings and reviews.

Garbage disposer FAQs

This site is often referenced but isn’t accurate.

What you (really) can and can’t put down the disposer.

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