Garbage Disposal: The Ultimate Guide

With so much emphasis this holiday season placed on food… office parties, Santa’s cookies, cookie swaps, family parties, school parties, Church gatherings and plays, homemade gifts, get togethers with friends… come on food is important.

We do not want to run into unnecessary trouble and chaos in our kitchens do we?

More importantly, we do not wish to run into difficulties with our garbage disposal. That one lone gadget is a mighty important facet of our kitchen.

How to Install a Garbage Disposal


If you are installing a garbage disposal for the first time, you will need to install an electrical line to a switch mounted above the sink and electrical cable under the sink for the disposal. If you have done electrical work before then you can run the line yourself. If you are not familiar with electrical wiring and the local electrical code, then you will need to hire an electrician to run the line.

Material and Tools:

  • Pipe wrench
  • Screwdrivers- straight and Phillips
  • Hose clamp
  • Plumber’s putty
  • Wire nuts
  • Hacksaw
  • Disposal unit

1. Clean Out the Junk From Inside the Sink Cabinet

Take advantage of the opportunity to get rid of the mousetraps, loose garbage bags, cleaning supplies, etc.

While you’re under there, take a careful look at the drain pipes. If they look corroded or stained, consider changing them at the same time you change out the disposal.

2. Disconnect the Electrical

Follow the electrical cord from the disposal. If it ends with a plug at a wall outlet, unplug it. If the electrical cord or wire disappears in the wall or is hard wired to an electrical junction box, find the appropriate circuit breaker in the electric panel and turn it off. Be sure to check for the presence of electricity with a multi-meter or electrical tester even after turning off the circuit breaker. Don’t trust the label in the electric panel. There is a chance it might be miss labeled. If the disposal is hard wired wait to disconnect the wiring until after the old disposal is removed from the sink. It is much easier that way. You don’t have to lie on your back and work under the old disposal.

3. Disconnect the Drain Pipe

The drain pipe may be chrome-plated brass or cream-colored PVC plastic. If it is metal, use a small 12 or 14-inch pipe wrench also called a monkey wrench, water pump pliers, sometimes called channel locks, or slip joint pliers, to undo the slip-joint nuts. They can cut your hands. Don’t worry if the corroded metal falls apart or breaks, you’re going to replace it anyway. In most cases, you can unscrew the plastic slip nuts with your hands. Sometimes they are corroded in place, as well, and you may need to use a wrench. Be careful not to squeeze the plastic out of round or it will not come unscrewed. Catch the drain water in the p-trap (the u-shaped piece of the drain pipe) with a small pail or container.

4. Remove the Old Disposal

There are many kinds of garbage disposals. There are also a number of different ways in which disposals are mounted to sinks. We will talk here about the most common method of attachment. In broad terms, these instructions will apply to all garbage disposals.

At the top of the old disposal you will find three small loops of metal like short sections of tube about half an inch long or so evenly spaced around the circumference of the disposal connector ring. Place the tool that came with the old disposal in one of the loops and pull in a counter clockwise direction. You can also use a screwdriver tip or metal rod of the appropriate size to disconnect the connector ring if you don’t have the old tool. A new one should also have come with your new disposal. The connector ring should rotate about one third of a turn and the disposal will drop down from the bottom of the sink. If it has been there a long time, you may have to wiggle the disposal back and forth to break the corrosion free. Be careful because the old disposal can be kind of heavy. Don’t lie underneath it!

5. Remove the Old Disposal Strainer

There are three threaded studs on the bottom side of the strainer holding the old disposal strainer in place. Unscrew all three studs until the lower half (the half underneath the sink) is loose. At the lower end of the strainer there is a snap ring. It is a small diameter ring located around the extreme lower end of the strainer. Pry the snap ring out of its groove with a small screwdriver tip or knife blade. Be careful because it is under a little tension. It can fly off and strike you. Now remove the lower strainer plate and gaskets and push up on the strainer body. It should come free from the sink hole. If it doesn’t, corrosion has welded it in place. Simply wiggle it back and forth until it breaks free. You can use some WD-40 to help free it up if needed. In extreme cases, a little heat may be needed to free it. Now clean up the old putty around the strainer hole. Make sure the sealing edge is smooth and clean before attempting to install the new strainer.

6. If Old Disposal was Hard Wired, Now Disconnect the Electrical Connection

Lay the old disposal on its side and find where the wire enters the bottom of the disposal. With a Phillips head screwdriver, unscrew the small screw holding the plate over the electrical box. Pull out the black and white wires from inside the electrical compartment. Unscrew the wire nuts and pull both sets of wires apart. With your screwdriver loosen the green ground screw inside the electrical compartment and remove the ground wire. Now unscrew the Romex connector from the outside of the electrical compartment and pull it and the wire-free of the old disposal. If the old disposal was wired with a pigtail cord and plug, follow the above procedure to remove it, as well.


7. Install the Electrical Wire and Plug

Reverse the order of electrical disconnection to install the cord and plug or electrical wire in the new disposal. Be sure to use new wire nuts and install the ground wire carefully.

8. Install the New Disposal Strainer

If the new strainer came assembled, take it apart following the strainer instructions above. Knead a small amount of plumbers putty until it is soft and well mixed. Roll it out between your palms into a small diameter rope and place it around the sealing flange of the new strainer. Gently press the putty flat making sure there are no gaps. Place the strainer body in the sink hole. Working from underneath the sink, place the gasket over the strainer body followed by the strainer plate and the threaded stud plate in that order. While holding them in place with one hand, place the snap ring over the end of the strainer body and push it into its groove with the fingers and thumb of the other hand. It helps if you have somebody who can press down on the strainer from inside the sink bow while you work from inside the sink cabinet. The snap ring must snap into its groove positively. Now tighten the three threaded studs evenly against the strainer plate until they are all tight. Remove the excess putty from inside the sink bowl.

9. Knock Out the Drain Plug

If you have a dishwasher whose drain line is connected to the disposal, place a screwdriver in the dishwasher drain port on the new disposal and tap it with a small hammer. Retrieve the metal plug from inside the disposal. Be sure you get the plug out or it will jam the new disposal when you turn it on.

10. Install the New Disposal

Lift the new disposal up into position, and, while holding it there from underneath with one hand, line up the connector ring with the other and turn it clockwise one third turn. Inspect all three locking loops on the connector ring to make sure their lugs have engaged the strainer plate. This is the most difficult part of the entire process, and the most important, so get some help if needed.

11. Install the New Drain Elbow

Place the drain elbow gasket in the disposal drain hole. Place the drain elbow over the gasket, slide the drain elbow plate over the drain elbow and install the drain elbow screw(s). Tighten firmly.

12. Hook up the New Drain Pipe to the Disposal Drain Elbow

Place a new slip nut and gasket over the drain elbow. Install the new pvc p-trap. Tighten the plastic slip nuts by hand at first. Be sure to line up the drain pipe joint before tightening the nut to insure a leak free joint. If you have a dishwasher, place the dishwasher drain hose over the new disposal dishwasher drain port, install a new hose clamp and tighten it. Make sure there are no dips in the dishwasher drain hose.

13. Test your new installation

Now turn on the water and check your drain pipe connections. If one or more of them leak, simply tighten the slip nuts a little more. If the connections still leak, loosen the nut and realign the parts. Retighten the nut and run some water down the sink to check it again. Now turn on the electrical at the circuit breaker panel or plug the disposal cord into its wall outlet. Turn on the switch and turn on the water again. Check your work under the sink one more time. Congratulations! You are done.

A Word About Garbage Disposals

If you have a private sewage disposal system (septic tank) garbage disposal is generally not a good choice. They contribute solids to your system that will need to be removed from time to time by a septic pumper. It is better to compost in that case. Garbage disposals work well on municipal sewage systems where the sewage is treated.

  • Treat your new garbage disposal kindly and it will serve you well for a long time.
  • Don’t feed it fibrous materials like carrots, half a grapefruit rind, or celery.
  • Finely chop produce before putting it down the disposal.
  • Always run plenty of water while running the disposal. It helps to flush the material down the drain.
  • Garbage disposals are designed for use with heavyweight sinks like cast iron. If you mount one in a lightweight stainless steel or plastic sink, you may experience leaking problems due to vibration. You can minimize this by chopping up organic materials finely before introducing them in small quantities at the disposal.

How to Fix a Jammed Garbage Disposal


A garbage disposal is a godsend when it comes to cleaning up the kitchen. There are a few easy things you can do to keep it in good working order. First, before you turn it on you have to run some cold water and let it continue running until after you have finished grinding the food. You should always use cold water when you are going to grind up the food since hot water melts fat. Never overfill or grind objects like bones, metal, rubber, glass, or banana peals. If you want to clean it, you should never use bleach drain cleaners or chemicals into the disposal. You can use some warm soapy water, and finish it off with a lemon or other citrus fruit for a nice fresh smell.

What would you do if Garbage Disposal broke unexpectedly?

You can hire a handyman, but first, you can do a few easy things to see if you can fix it yourself. The most common problem with disposals is they get jammed with objects that cannot be processed in the machine. You can see that the blades are not rotating when you flip the switch.

Now you should take a flashlight to the circuit breaker and turn off the circuit that belongs to your disposal. This will protect you while you are working on the disposal. When the power is turned off it will not be able to turn on and if your fingers were in there you really would not want that to happen. Now the disposal is attached underneath the kitchen sink drain, so you will need to open up the cabinets below the sink to expose the entire appliance. Check for any leaking if you need to remove all the objects from underneath your sink. If there is water you will need to clean it up before moving on. When you are wiping up the water, you will need to try to find the source of the leak. If it is below the disposal, you may need to replace the washers and pipes, and if it is above the disposal, you will need to replace the putty around the top of the drain to seal up the leak.

You will need to get a hex-shaped wrench in order to repair a jam. You will want to look on the underside of the disposal for a hexagon-shaped place to put the wrench. If you cannot find the place for the wrench then there might be a button you can press in on the side. Move the wrench from one side and then back to the other to unjam it. If that did not unjam the disposal then you can try to loosen the object away from the blade by using a long flat object and press against the blade. If you use it to move the blade you have fixed your disposal.

How to Clean Garbage Disposal


Safety in the kitchen is of the most importance. Keeping the kitchen clean is one of the easiest ways to ensure the good health of the family.

Everyone knows the importance of cooking food to the appropriate temperature. Warnings are out there about the best ways to clean cutting boards and utensils. Safety information is readily available about the hazards of sponges in the kitchen. Cooks around the world know these very important safety tips, but is there something that may have been overlooked?

You may have taken a tip from restaurant critics and health inspectors by cleaning your can opener. Each and every can that passes through the can opener can be contaminated if it is not properly cleaned and sanitized. To avoid any cross-contamination concerns, it is imperative to keep the entire can opener extremely clean.

Safety aspects of utensils, cooking, and cleanup have been well covered in the media, but rarely any discussion is mentioned about disposals. The proper cleaning of your garbage disposal is essential to keeping your family safe and healthy. The garbage disposal is frequently overlooked when it comes to safety and cleaning. Your garbage disposal needs to be cleaned regularly to ensure no germs or bacteria are able to thrive in the damp and dark area.

Squeezing a lemon into the disposal to release the lemon juice can add a refreshing scent to the disposal. This tip will remove any nasty odor. Running a stream of water from the tap, place the lemon in the garbage disposal and turn it on. The blades will be exposed to the remaining lemon juice. This will keep your sink and drain areas smelling fresh and clean, but be aware that this does not keep your garbage disposal clean and sanitized.

To properly clean the garbage disposal, you will need to use bleach or a kitchen cleaner specifically designed for such a purpose. Most households have a bottle of bleach stored with their cleaning supplies. A little chlorine bleach will help tackle a big problem area.

Simply pour 1 teaspoon of chlorine bleach down the garbage disposal with a liter of water. The bleach and water will take care of the bacteria and germs that may be lurking in the disposal or drain pipe. When the disposal chops up the food, tiny particles get stuck in the garbage disposal and drain pipe. These food particles can not only make a sour odor, but may be breeding grounds for trouble.

Cleaning your garbage disposal thoroughly with the bleach and water will greatly reduce the risk of illness for your family. When you clean your kitchen, be certain to remember to clean your disposal, as well. Cleaning the disposal should be included in your cleaning routine.

Practicing Good Garbage Disposal Maintenance


There is most likely only two times in which you notice your garbage disposal: when you want to use it and when it is broken. However, there is a bit of preventative maintenance you should be doing all year long to keep this handy appliance in good condition.

First, it is important to understand the inner workings of a garbage disposal before you learn how to maintain it. Most of us don’t think much about a garbage disposal being anything other than what we shove leftovers down and turn on. However, what it really contains is a series of rotating blades. Think of a food processor inside a drain, chopping up pieces of discarded food into bits as it sends them down the pipes.

One good process for sharpening these blades is to run four to five cups of ice down the garbage disposal while it is running. Although it will make a loud noise, the hardness of the ice is actually working to sharpen the internal blades. Next, rinse the disposal with cold water. This will remove any built-up grime on the inside of the appliance.

If you live in an area with extremely hard or mineral rich water, you will want to combat this in your garbage disposal as well. Pour two cups of white vinegar down the disposal. Wait about an hour or so before running anything in the sink or down the drain. Then, run water on the hottest setting for two to three minutes. The vinegar will remove stuck-on sediment, while the hot water will rinse it down the drain.

If garbage disposal odor is an issue, consider taking an additional step other than the two mentioned above. Cut citrus fruits, such as lemons or limes, up into two inch chunks. Place the fruits, rind included, into the garbage disposal. Turn the appliance on while running hot water down it. The acidity in the citrus will help get rid of any bacteria that is causing your garbage disposal to smell badly.

Finally, if none of the steps mentioned help your garbage disposal work any better, it is time to call a repairman. While costly, hiring a professional can save you the trouble of having to work with tools under a dark sink on an appliance you might not know a whole lot about. Once fixed, apply the preventative maintenance techniques once every month or two for the best results.

How to Get Rid of Garbage Disposal Smells


A bad garbage disposal smell can really ruin your day. Nothing is worse than coming in your kitchen to cook and having to hunt down the source of that nasty smell. With a sinking feeling, you finally realize it’s your garbage disposal that smells.

There are several simple ways to get rid of garbage disposal smell without having to run to the store and buy a high priced cleaning agent to fix the problem.

What Causes a Garbage Disposal to Smell?

Think about what it is you use your garbage disposal for. You use it to dispose of food and greasy residue. Food rots over time and grease become rancid. Both of these create bacteria that can breed in your garbage disposal causing terrible smells.

Clean Your Garbage Disposal Unit

1. Dishwashing Liquid and Hot Water

You will need to get rid of all food and grease residue out of your garbage disposal before you try to freshen it up. I like to run the hot water and the garbage disposal, then add a long squirt of dishwashing liquid. Over the years, I have found the concentrated grease-fighting dishwashing liquids to be most effective at removing garbage disposal smells. Keep the hot water running until no more bubbles are obvious in your garbage disposal unit.

2. Clean the Rubber Trap Covering the Garbage Disposal Unit

The rubber trap covering your garbage disposal prevents chopped food from coming back into your sink. It stands to reason food and grease will collect on the bottom side of this as well. I prefer to unplug my unit for safety, then lift the rubber sections and wipe under them with a sponge soaked in a dishwashing liquid and hot water solution.

Kill Bacteria That Cause Odors in Garbage Disposal

1. Bleach

Chlorine bleach kills a wide range of bacteria. In a large bowl, mix a 10% solution of chlorine bleach and water. Without running the tap, pour this solution into your garbage disposal and let sit for 10 minutes. Then rinse well with hot water while running your garbage disposal.

For those who prefer not to use bleach, baking soda or vinegar can substitute for reducing the growth of odor-causing bacteria in your garbage disposal.

2. Eggshells

The egg shell is a great way to prevent garbage disposal smell, and it costs you nothing as you have already paid the price to eat the egg. While running water, put the shell down the disposal. When it’s fully down, turn on the disposal. The hard bits of shell will work to dislodge any particles stuck in your disposal. Run the water for at least 1 minute to be sure the shell bits go down, taking with them any particles which remain and could cause a stink. If you don’t have eggshells, ice cubes are a substitute.

3. Vinegar

Plain white vinegar is something most of us already have in our house. Pour one cup of vinegar down your garbage disposal, and let it sit for at least 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, turn on cool water first, and then the disposal. Continue for about 1 minute and when the vinegar smell goes away, it takes the garbage disposal smell with it.

4. Borax

Boric acid used to be very popular for household cleaning and it’s a shame people seem to be forgetting it. Borax is an excellent remedy for getting rid of garbage disposal smell. Pour ¼ a cup down the disposal, and let it sit 30 minutes. Then run cool water with your disposal on for 1 minute, and the smell should vanish.

5. Citrus and Baking Soda Combination

Each time you use a lemon, lime, or orange, don’t just throw away the peel. Cut the peel into small pieces, mix with ¼ a cup of baking soda and slowly pour this down your disposal while cool water is running and the disposal is on. Now you have gotten rid of that nasty garbage disposal smell and replaced it with the nice fruity scent! No need to buy expensive sprays to get that fresh feeling.

Finally, you can freshen your garbage disposal by adding a chopped lemon to it while it is running, being sure to run hot water the whole time. I’ve tried other citrus fruits and find that lemons leave my garbage disposal fresher smelling than the others.

Prevent Your Garbage Disposal from Getting Odors

You may find that if you use preventative measures to keep your garbage disposal from developing foul odors, you won’t have to do a full cleaning as often.

1. Frequent Mini Cleaning

Depending on how often you use your garbage disposal, every week or two squirt a small amount of dishwashing liquid into the unit to prevent odor-causing food build up. Be sure the unit is running and you keep the hot water running for at least half a minute after shutting the garbage disposal off.

2. Freshening the Garbage Disposal

At least once a month, it is good to reduce smells forming in your garbage disposal. You can use vinegar, baking soda or chopped lemon (or just the peels).

3. Don’t Forget the Rubber Trap

If you wipe the underside of the rubber trap covering the garbage disposal on a frequent basis, odors won’t have a chance to develop there. Depending on how often you use your garbage disposal, once or twice a month should be enough.

Although you may still have to perform a full-cleaning to remove smells from your garbage disposal a couple of times a year, using preventative measures will keep odors from getting the better of your garbage disposal.

These simple methods to get rid of garbage disposal smell cost virtually nothing as you probably already have them in your household. To prevent smell in the future, always put your egg shell down the disposal. There is no reason to waste the shells when simply grinding them in your disposal can help dislodge food waste. Always put your citrus peels in the disposal to maintain a fresh scent. Any time you even think a garbage disposal smell might be developing, use vinegar or borax to get it handled.

Conclusion: Garbage Disposal Do’s and Don’ts



  • Cold Water Stream
    You should always remember to keep the water running at least 20 seconds after the garbage disposal has been shut off. This makes sure that any loose food particles are washed completely down the drain.
  • Slowly Insert Food
    Try not in insert food all at once into your garbage disposal. This can clog up the system. Instead, put food in one at a time. This may take more time, but it will lengthen the life of your disposal.
  • Use Small Bones
    It is perfectly fine, and sometimes preferable to run small bones through your garbage disposal. This helps to scour the grinding chamber sides.
  • Run Disposal for Any Food
    Any and all food that goes down the garbage disposal should be run through the grinders. This prevents corrosion on the grinders because acid from certain foods won’t sit their too long.


  • Hot Water
    You should never use hot water when running your garbage disposal. This may seem backward since many people use warm water to rinse their plates. However, using cold water will help solidify grease so that it can easily be chopped up and thrown down the drain.
  • Forget Small Dishes
    When doing dishes in the sink, don’t forget to double-check for any small pieces that may have been unseen in the bottom of the sink. If these pieces go down the drain, they could harm your garbage disposal and be ruined forever.
  • Pour Fat
    Never pour liquid fat down a garbage disposal. Also, you should never put animal fat that has been uncooked down the garbage disposal either. Both of these things can clog the unit and create a big headache in the future.

After reviewing all the do’s and don’ts of garbage disposals, they sound like a big hassle. However, when used properly, they are one of the handiest appliances in any kitchen. To make sure your garbage disposal lasts as long as it should, follow the simple do’s and don’ts provided.

READ NEXT: Best Garbage Disposals & Buying Guide


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