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What Are the Pros and Cons of a Garbage Disposal Air Switch?

By Mal Baxter
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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A garbage disposal air switch is a type of pressure or plunger control knob that activates a garbage disposal by pushing a burst of air through a plastic or vinyl tube to a control unit mounted under a sink. These air switches do not rely upon electricity and thus permit mounting on counter or sink surfaces. This allows easier button access compared with traditional wall or cabinet-mounted electrical switches. Buttons are sometimes sold individually or as part of sets including tubing, power cords, and single or dual outlet receptacles for activation of the garbage disposal from the switch box. They are often easily installed but higher priced and harder to fix, and they may be limited to continuous feed-type disposals.

Electrical switches are best mounted off the surface area of a counter or sink, which sometimes places them out of arm's reach of the disposal unit, or even across the room. Instead of mounting an electrical switch on the flat surface of the counter, where water leakage could create a potentially fatal shock hazard, a garbage disposal air switch eliminates that danger and permits a user-preferred placement on a horizontal surface. This versatility works well with island sink installations, for example, while dual-outlet designs offer an additional power source for hot water dispensers.

The switches work with most types of garbage disposals with common power ratings. Power receptacles, however, must usually be placed within a few feet of the disposal unit under the cabinet. A hole is drilled into the countertop to support the cylindrical mount of a garbage disposal air switch, which typically has a flange and button design, with a raised or flush button, or sometimes a fiber-optic touch-sensitive pad. Users who are not comfortable or equipped to drill a hole in a given countertop material might hire a service technician to complete the installation for them.

These switches are less common compared to electrical varieties. A disadvantage of the garbage disposal air switch is a higher price, as well as additional installation issues such as power access. Garbage disposals wired directly into a wall for safety may require the services of an electrician to install a switch box. Additionally, enough air tubing must be provided to reach from the switch to the disposal unit.

An added consideration includes the material or finish of the garbage disposal air switch. These buttons come available in traditional and modern materials. Some specialty finishes, such as satin and polished or brushed metals, might be damaged by cleaners used on the sink and fixtures. A more resistant surface, such as brushed or satin stainless steel, can better withstand the heavy cleaners and bleaches of heavy-duty residential or commercial use.

What Is an Air Switch for a Garbage Disposal?

As previously mentioned, your garbage disposal's air switch allows you to easily turn your disposal on and off. It places push-button operation within convenient reach — literally. This ingenious innovation works by routing pulsed air through a PVC pipeline that links to a control box right underneath your kitchen sink.

How Your Garbage Disposal Air Switch Works

Garbage disposal air switches are rather simple assemblies. Most consist of only three basic components: the air switch control box, PVC piping and a countertop button. The disposal is plugged into the control box, which in turn is plugged into an electrical outlet. When you press the countertop button, an air pulse travels through the PVC line and activates the switch inside the control box. This turns the garbage disposal on. Since it's a simple switch triggered by pulsed air, you use also press the countertop button to turn the disposal off.

Electrical Wiring for an Air Switch

Due to its design, a garbage disposal air switch doesn't expose you to electrical current in any fashion. It operates pneumatically because the countertop button only pushes air down the PVC line. The air pulse turns the control switch under the sink on and off, so your fingers never even touch it. Wet hands and countertops do not pose a shocking hazard.

How To Install an Air Switch for a Garbage Disposal

In most modern kitchens, you'll find a standard 120-volt electrical outlet in the cabinet under the sink. With easy access to this outlet, you can likely install the air switch yourself. There are a couple of exceptions, however. Those who don't have an outlet under the sink should consider hiring a professional. Also, you may need assistance if you need to drill a hole in your countertop and you're not comfortable doing it on your own.

If you plan to do it yourself, you should know that it's a straightforward job that requires just one tool: a vinyl tubing cutter. As long as you already have a hole in your countertop for a soap dispenser, you don't even need to do any drilling. You can simply insert the countertop button into that hole. Following step-by-step instructions will help you complete this task:

  • Place one end of the PVC tubing into the bottom of the air switch button.
  • Insert the tubing into the hole in your countertop.
  • Rest the air switch button on top of the hole. You may want to put a heavy item on the button to temporarily keep it in place. 
  • Measure enough tubing to reach the outlet, then cut off the excess length. 
  • Install the button by connecting the washer, sealing up your tubing and tightening it to the thread at the button's bottom.
  • Connect the free end of the PVC tube to the air switch control box.

Your final two steps are plugging the control box into the wall outlet, then plugging the garbage disposal into the control box. Now, the only thing you need to do is enjoy your new push-button garbage disposal.

Are All Garbage Disposals Compatible With an Air Switch?

Installing an air switch can make your garbage disposal safer and easier to use. Unfortunately, not all disposals are compatible with an air switch. Most will work with air switches, but older and heavy-duty models may not support the upgrade. Before buying the parts and trying to install an air switch, it's wise to check if your disposal's compatible.

You won't be able to use an air switch with batch feed garbage disposals because they don't use switches in the first place. These disposals only operate when you place the included magnetic stopper at the top. This safety feature prevents objects from entering the disposal while it's running.

Troubleshooting Air Switch Problems

Your garbage disposal air switch should work dependably after installation. Just in case you encounter problems, you'll want to check for common issues with disposal air switches:

  • Kinked, torn or disconnected PVC tubing
  • Water or debris inside the countertop button
  • Internal button part broken or faulty
  • Faulty air switch control box
  • Electrical issues with under-sink outlet
  • Garbage disposal unit nonfunctional

A few troubleshooting steps should help you diagnose the issue. First, check the countertop button and ensure that you can easily press it. You should also inspect the PVC tubing connection between the button and the air switch control box. Finally, you can try plugging the garbage disposal into the wall outlet.

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Discussion Comments
By anon1007227 — On Jun 20, 2022

On an island sink, there is no wall to place a switch so it has to be placed into the countertop, which gets wet and is dangerous. The air switch mean there is no electricity to the switch. Imagine pushing on a balloon to turn on a switch.

By anon961972 — On Jul 21, 2014

@Drentel: If you don't already have electricity wired under your sink, this is a good solution rather than bringing in an electrician which could cost you an arm and a leg.

By Sporkasia — On Feb 28, 2014

We have an air switch that works well with our island sink garbage disposal. I prefer this to having to walk across the room to get to the garbage disposal wall switch and then having to walk back to the sink and so forth.

And the air switch is definitely safer than having an electrical switch on the counter. I have had that setup before and did not feel it was as safe as it should be because water was always being spilled on and around the switch.

By Drentel — On Feb 27, 2014

Before reading this article I was unfamiliar with the use of an air switch for garbage disposals. After reading this article, I don't understand why these switches are needed. Even if they could be obtained and installed for free I wouldn't need one.

I'm definitely not going to pay for one. On top of that, the article says they can be expensive. Am I missing something here?

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