Garbage Disposal Not Working? Here’s How to Troubleshoot and Fix It

Key Takeaways:

  • Garbage disposals can malfunction due to power issues, overloading, jams or dull blades.
  • Always troubleshoot with the power off for safety.
  • Common fixes include resetting the unit, dislodging jams and checking wiring.
  • Seek professional help if simple troubleshooting steps don’t resolve the issue.


In many homes, garbage disposals are essential for keeping kitchen sinks clean. It’s not until this machinery stops working that homeowners might realize its convenience. On average, garbage disposals can last 10 to 15 years, depending on quality. However, improper use, like putting eggshells in a garbage disposal, can cause damage and reduce lifespan. Other factors may also explain why your garbage disposal stopped working. Dedicated to helping homeowners make the most of their appliances, Cinch Home Services offers garbage disposal troubleshooting tips and discusses home warranties that may cover garbage disposals.


How does a garbage disposal work?

Located under the kitchen sink and connected to the drain, electric-powered garbage disposals cut food waste into smaller pieces so it can pass through plumbing systems. The drain on your dishwasher is also connected to the garbage disposal. A garbage disposal features two lugs on a steel plate that rotate and chop food waste in a grinding chamber. It has impellers and a plate system to push chopped pieces down the drain. Garbage disposals may also be called sink disposals.

In addition to simplifying kitchen cleanup, garbage disposal helps with waste management. Cutting up food waste into smaller pieces enables faster biodegradation. Plus, many cities have wastewater treatment plants where wasted food can be transformed into fertilizer or for energy.


Why is my garbage disposal not working?

Proper garbage disposal use may vary slightly depending on the model. Most garbage disposals are intuitive; homeowners turn on a switch to activate the machinery. So, when your garbage disposal is not turning on or working like it once did, you may wonder what caused the issue. Common reasons a sink disposal isn’t working include:

No power

Sometimes it’s the most obvious problem — your garbage disposal might not be plugged in. However, if there’s no power when the sink disposal is plugged in, you might have a tripped circuit breaker. Electrical shorts within the garbage disposal can cause these trips. Wiring problems might also prevent the disposal from turning on. A loose connection to the machinery could be the issue.

Overloading protection

Double-check how much the food canister on your garbage disposal can handle at one time. Overloading the grinding component can cause malfunctions.


Food waste can get caught in the garbage disposal. If you notice humming noises with no grinding or unusual grinding sounds, it could be a jam.

Faulty or worn-out motor

Garbage disposals can last up to a decade, but some parts can become worn out before others. Burned-out or faulty motors may cause your garbage disposal to stop working.

Switch issues

The problem may have nothing to do with the sink disposal but rather the switch. Malfunctioning switches are due to faulty wiring and require professional service from an electrician.


Vibrations from the garbage disposal may loosen connections to the unit and the sink. Common areas where leaks occur include:

  • Sink flange: The sink flange connects the garbage disposal to the bottom of the sink at the drain opening.
  • Dishwasher connection: This rubber hose channels wastewater from the dishwasher to the sink disposal.
  • Discharge drain pipe: This plastic pipe moves wastewater from the disposal to the drain trap. Leaks may happen when gaskets deteriorate.

Dull blades

If the garbage disposal drains very slowly or not at all, it may be dull blades. Regular wear and tear can dull blades, preventing them from cutting up food waste as effectively and causing backups.

Clogs in plumbing

Clogs in any pipe attached to the sink disposal may also impede draining. Fixing this issue often requires a plumbing professional to disconnect the plumbing.


Troubleshooting your garbage disposal

A malfunctioning garbage disposal is inconvenient, but many issues have easy fixes. Before tinkering with your unit, check the various components. Consider these troubleshooting tips if your garbage disposal is not turning on:

  • Make sure you troubleshoot with the power off to prevent safety hazards.
  • Confirm the unit is plugged into the outlet.
  • Check if the reset button at the bottom of the garbage disposal has popped out. Push it back into place and check the power.
  • Push the reset button to reset the circuit breaker. Test the disposal.
  • If resetting the garbage disposal doesn’t work, check the home’s circuit breaker panel for tripping.
  • If the garbage disposal still won’t turn on, remove the electrical plate from the switch and ensure the wiring is tight. Check the wiring attached to the unit also.
  • If the issue still hasn’t been resolved, you might need to replace the light switch.

Using a voltage tester can make garbage disposal troubleshooting easier. It can identify issues like faulty breakers quickly so you can determine if it’s an electrical problem.


How to fix a garbage disposal that’s not working.

Many garbage disposal problems are easy for homeowners to fix themselves. Discover solutions to the common causes of garbage disposal malfunctions.

Preventing overloading

To prevent overstuffing the food canister, run the disposal every few days. Keeping the sink faucet running while the garbage disposal is on helps ensure food waste goes down the drain. Generally, using garbage disposal requires significant water usage. If you’re concerned about water usage, explore ways to save water while using your garbage disposal, such as retrofitting the unit with a load sensor.

Dislodging jams

Garbage disposal humming without grinding is most often due to a jammed impeller or inner flywheel. Jams usually prompt the unit’s reset button or home circuit breaker to trip. If it doesn’t, a jam could wear out the garbage disposal’s motor and cause further issues.

The first step is to turn off the disposal switch and the corresponding circuit breaker switch. Next, use an offset wrench to turn the flywheel clockwise and dislodge jams. An offset wrench may come with your unit. If you don’t have an offset wrench, use an Allen (hex) wrench. You may also use pliers or tongs to remove a hard-to-reach obstruction.

Run tap water into the disposal and double-check the reset button and circuit breaker before testing. Flip the switch on and off quickly. With the unit unjammed, the flywheel should start spinning away.

Fixing leaks

Before fixing any leaks, turn the garbage disposal off and ensure no water is running through the sink or dishwasher. Examine the unit for moving connections, loose bolts or rust to identify the leak’s source. Steps for correcting leaks differ depending on the source.

If there’s a leak at the sink flange, loosen and remove the garbage disposal from the flange. Apply plumber putty between the flange and the sink and tighten the mounting bolts. Wipe away any excess putty. Reinstall the unit and turn on the power. Run the water and monitor for leaks.

If the leak is at the dishwasher connection, tighten the clamp on the dishwasher hose connected to the inlet on the garbage disposal unit. If the leaking continues, replace the hose.

For leaks at the discharge drain pipe, first ensure the bolts connecting the discharge pipe to the disposal are tight. If this doesn’t stop leaking, remove the bolts and pipe to replace the gasket seal. Reinstall the bolts and ensure they’re tight.

Sharpening blades

When the blades get dull, throw some ice into the sink disposal and turn it on. Ice helps sharpen the blades. Improper use can also dull blades, so ensure only the right items go into the garbage disposal. Although they’re called blades, the apparatus that cuts food waste aren't metal blades but impellers. Some homeowners mistakenly believe eggshells can sharpen garbage disposal blades, but the coating on the shell's interior may wrap around the impeller and cause damage. 

Clearing clogs

If clogs cause slow or no draining, locate the source and clear it out. First, shine a flashlight into the sink disposal. The obstruction might be visible. Don’t attempt to pull it out with your fingers; use pliers or tongs. Once you clear the obstruction, run water to flush the disposal and turn it on. If water runs freely, you’ve cleared the clog. 

If you can’t see the obstruction, it could be further down the drain pipe or in another part of your plumbing system. Unless you have plumbing experience, you’ll want to call a plumber for help.

You can prevent clogs by ensuring certain items don’t go down the drain. These items can also cause jams or damage. They include:

  • Fats, oils and grease (FOG)
  • Hard foods (animal bones, fruit pits and nuts)
  • Coffee grounds
  • Onion skins
  • Banana or potato peels
  • Foods that expand in water and can get mushy, like pasta or rice


Stay safe when fixing a garbage disposal yourself.

Your safety is the priority when fixing your garbage disposal. Never stick your hand into the sink disposal, even if the power is off. An obstruction might be visible, but you should still remove it with pliers or a similar tool. Disconnecting the power doesn’t just prevent you from cutting your hand if the blades turn on unexpectedly. It also protects you from possible electric shock. For clogs, you may need to disconnect the drain pipes.

Knowing the type of garbage disposal you have helps, too. The two main types are batch-feed and continuous-feed. Batch-feed disposals have lids over the opening. You place a small batch of food waste into the canister, close the lid and turn on the disposal. This manual design can make it easier to avoid safety hazards.

Continuous-feed garbage disposals automatically grind food waste when the switch is on. While this design can reduce the likelihood of an internal clog, it can increase the chance of a safety hazard when troubleshooting. Take extra care to ensure the power is off with continuous-feed disposals. Ultimately, you want to be cautious no matter the type of garbage disposal you have.


Seek professional help if you don’t have experience.

The DIY approach is often more convenient. Plus, with garbage disposal, troubleshooting is straightforward. If the preceding steps don’t fix a malfunctioning garbage disposal, getting professional help is crucial. For example, if the circuit breaker trips repeatedly, the unit might have an electrical short. You’ll need a professional electrician to assess the situation further. 

Don’t hold off if simple troubleshooting doesn’t fix your garbage disposal. Repairing your unit now can prevent you from needing to replace it one day soon. The costs for a new unit can be significant. According to some estimates, installing a new garbage disposal can cost between $160 to $700. So, get help from a professional to continue getting the most out of your garbage disposal.


Cover garbage disposal problems with a home warranty.

These garbage disposal troubleshooting tips will help you identify potential problems and determine the appropriate solution. However, you can experience greater peace of mind with a home warranty* that covers appliances like garbage disposal units. Cinch Home Services offers several home protection plans with benefits like a 180-day workmanship guarantee on covered repairs and protection for unknown pre-existing conditions. To determine which home protection plan is right for you, contact (844) 324-5688 to speak to a customer service associate.

*The product being offered is a service contract and is separate and distinct from any product or service warranty which may be provided by the home builder or manufacturer.

The information in this article is intended to provide guidance on the proper maintenance and care of systems and appliances in the home. Not all of the topics mentioned are covered by our home warranty or maintenance plans. Please review your home warranty contract carefully to understand your coverage.