How hard is it, really, to install your own garbage disposal? Well, to put it one way, it’s more difficult than changing a lightbulb, but easier than putting in a skylight. However, unlike when messing around with your roof’s integrity, there are relatively few things that can go wrong, and plenty of guidance available for DIY beginners. In fact, we’re pretty confident the videos we added at the end of this post will help the most clumsy two-left-handed men and women install their new garbage disposal.
If you’re a little more experienced, you probably don’t even need to see any videos. For the most part the installation is self-explanatory, and basically, it all comes down to confidence. You can certainly expect to hit a few snags, though, so we’ve compiled a list of how to evade some of the most common headaches.
Measure Before you Buy
Depending on how your sink was installed, you may not have a lot of space to work with underneath. Even if your preferred disposal can just about fit, it’s important to leave some clearance for maintenance. This may mean having to opt for a more compact garbage disposal with either a lower power output or a higher price point.
Get All your Tools Ready Before you Start
Having to fumble around for whatever you need wastes more time than you think, and the distraction can easily cause you to make a mistake. Depending on what model of garbage disposal you chose, you will probably want to lay out:
- Phillips and flat head screwdrivers
- PTFE tape and silicone sealant (or plumber’s putty)
- Putty knife
- Adjustable wrench
Be Ready for the Weight
Garbage disposals can weigh 15 lbs, 25 lbs, or even more. Holding this in place with one hand gets tricky. The best solution is to have a friend on hand to help, but the typical under-sink cabinet’s geometry doesn’t really lend itself to this. Placing a small stool or upturned bucket underneath to rest the disposal on is often an acceptable substitute.
Don’t Forget the Trap
A plumbing “trap” is a U-shaped piece of piping with the curved portion pointing downward. It’s not just there to connect your new garbage disposal to the wall pipe: its function is actually to catch solid objects before they enter the main drain line.
Traps also prevent drain odors from rising up into your kitchen, but that’s not why we discuss it here. You see, one of the most frequently encountered problems with garbage disposals is that flushing too much food waste down the drain results in clogged pipes. Most of the time, this should happen in the trap itself, which can easily be removed and cleaned. If no trap is present, the blockage can form anywhere, making the repair much more difficult.
So bottom line, if you don’t already have a trap like this, make sure to install one as well.
General Garbage Disposal Installation Tips
There are some things that experienced contractors know about installing a garbage disposal that ordinary people might not, and the typical way of learning these is still by making mistakes. Hopefully, you can take a shortcut through this process by reading through the following:
- Because the trap under the sink retains some water, taking everything apart tends to be messy. Vigorously plunging the sink with a plumber’s helper beforehand will drive at least some of this water out.
- When mounting something like a flange with multiple screws, don’t tighten one all the way before starting on the others. This may misalign the part, make it difficult to fit the final screw in its hole, and cause leaks.
- If you have to saw a PVC pipe to length, don’t try to do it once one end is already connected. Instead, clamp it to a work surface and support the outer end with your free hand for a neater cut.
- Similarly, if tapping (cutting a screw thread onto) a pipe end, make sure to use the clamp provided, or the pipe is likely to break.
- You’ll need a pipe wrench or other tool to join metal pipes, but plastic ones can and should be attached by hand.
- If a screw, slip nut, or connection feels tight enough, it usually is. Don’t overthink this, but be careful of over-tightening.
- Stainless steel sinks in particular can act as a sound board, amplifying the vibrations from the garbage disposal. If you have a double sink, expanding construction foam can be applied between them to damp out this effect somewhat.
- Whenever you get frustrated or confused, take a deep breath and try to look at the problem from a new perspective. Every project has a few hiccups; way too many mistakes are made by trying to force a square peg into a round hole when a simpler solution was actually available.
RTFM – Read the Friendly Manual
Some of us will remember a time when RTFM stood for something completely incomprehensible. This is still the case occasionally, like with this gem on the back of a mosquito zapper:
Luckily, the standard of technical writing for consumer products has improved considerably, although, in the United States at least, legal considerations mean that you’ll probably see eight pages of advice like “Don’t drink motor oil” and “For external use only.”
Anyway, to get back on topic, paging through the installation guide the night before tackling the job can prevent a whole lot of frustration. Most garbage disposals are 90% the same, but a few wrinkles and extra features occasionally make an appearance.
Try to picture each step in your mind. You can even try the assembly on a workbench first to practice and see how everything fits together. This same approach is sometimes used to dry-run and test multi-million dollar projects.
As promised at the beginning, here are two easy to follow videos with garbage disposal installation tips. If these don’t make you see the light, it’s probably time to call a professional.