At your disposal

SkillLevel2When my ever-loving wife, “Contessa” (not her real name) yelled, “It’s all wet under the sink!”, my finely honed senses from many years of wedded bliss detected that the tone of her voice meant something other than, “Oh, I’ve been waiting such a long time and I’m so glad it finally got wet under the sink.”

We’ve had a variety of problems with disposals. Sometimes they won’t turn on. Sometimes they make that awful crunching-rock sound. Sometimes they plug up and the water won’t drain out of the sink. Sometimes they sound like a truck up against a brick wall with the gas pedal floored.

This time it was a wet sink cabinet floor, which as we all know is where you keep the dishwasher soap so it stays dry. Contessa was not amused.

Water was dripping out of the bottom of the disposal in a pretty steady stream. (Check the video below.)

I decided to check the selection of new disposals on line. Big mistake. There must have been hundreds of different brands and sizes. Apparently, the garbage disposal business is pretty lucrative and everybody and his brother make and sell them. Most houses have a disposal and the typical warranty is 1 – 2 years! You can do the math. (If you are looking for a new business opportunity, you heard it here first.)

So I went to the local Big Box store, which narrowed the field down to about eight choices and picked a medium quality disposal (with a whopping 3-year warranty!) that was fairly quiet. We don’t run a disposal often enough that noise is an issue but it is usually a good indicator of quality and durability. Many reviews ragged on disposals with plastic cases because they crack so I made sure this one had a metal case.

What’s nice about replacing a disposal as opposed to adding one for the first time is you don’t have to install the special collar in the sink drain that supports the disposal. You can just leave the old one there and hook on the new disposal. That saved me a lot of time.

The dishwasher drains into the disposal for two reasons. Dirty dishes can have chunks of food on them that get flushed out the dishwasher drain and you want to be able to grind them up so they don’t clog the sink drain. The other reason is that dishwasher water is hot and soapy and helps to clean the disposal and reduce odors. Wash your dishes; wash your disposal. It’s a two-fer.

Drain hose from dishwasher has a low spot instead of a high loop
Drain hose from dishwasher has a low spot instead of a high loop

After I cleaned out the soggy mess under the sink I saw problem #2. The drain hose from the dishwasher drooped down, went along the cabinet bottom, and then did a moon shot for the connection in the disposal. To see the problem, pretend you are grungy water sitting in the disposal and being devious, like all grungy water, you say to yourself, “How can I cause the most mess?” “Why I believe I’ll just run back downhill into the dishwasher and grunge it up and if I’m lucky, get sprayed back up on those (temporarily) clean dishes.”

high loop
High loop in dishwasher drain line keeps dirty water from draining back into the dishwasher

Hence the need for a “high loop,” which is when you run the dishwasher hose as high up under the countertop as you can and then back down to connect to the disposal. This way the grunge has to fight its way uphill in order to go back down to the dishwasher and even devious water has to obey the law of gravity.

The new disposal was about the same size as the old one so I was able to reuse the drain pipes and avoid having to cut new ones to the proper length.

Disposals can be a little heavy and awkward to hold up when reaching under a sink. A picnic cooler was just the right size to support the old disposal when I disconnected it.

Drain pipe with large burrs that would snag garbage
Drain pipe with large burrs that would snag garbage

When I disconnected the garbage disposal drain pipe from the other sink I found problem #3. The plastic pipe had huge burrs that trap chunks of what-not coming out of the disposal, which could cause the pipe to clog. (“What-not” is a colloquial expression meaning “a variety of undesirable substances.”)

Drain tube with rough burrs smoothed off
Drain tube with rough burrs smoothed off

The edge of a utility knife cleaned up the rough spots on the plastic pipe. (Sandpaper works on smaller burrs.)

Assembling the new disposal is not difficult. I connected the wires with wire nuts and again used a picnic cooler to hold up the disposal when I connected the plastic drain pipes and lined it up with the collar that holds it to the bottom of the sink. Ba-da-bing it was in.

That metal Z-shaped wrench you find under the sink when you are looking for the Brillo pads has a couple of uses. The one I knew about was that if the disposal gets jammed, the wrench will often fit in a slot in the bottom of the disposal so that you can manually crank the grinding blades back and forth to clear the jam.

The one I didn’t know about was that it fits in the three tabs of the locking collar so you can tighten and loosen it. I had always used a hammer and screwdriver to try to tap the collar tight or loosen it. Now I know.

Enjoy the video on how to replace a disposal in six minutes. (Well, that’s how long the video is.)

Dry dishwasher soap is a wonderful thing. Just ask Contessa. I can tell from her tone of voice.


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