Try these steps if your garbage disposal is not working

Keep your fingers to yourself, follow these tips, and you’ll be in good shape.

Garbage disposal not working: key tips to remember

  • Never stick your fingers in a garbage disposal
  • Learn how your model works and use it with care
  • Avoid disposing of problematic items
  • To fix garbage disposal problems, troubleshoot first
  • Replace the whole unit if you must

Wondering how to fix a garbage disposal? Never stick your fingers in it! Now that you know the most important rule, you’re ready to start learning more about unclogging a garbage disposal, debris removal, cleaning the garbage disposal and troubleshooting problems. 

How it works

Don’t let this sarlacc pit of kitchen appliances intimidate you. Mounted under the sink, you’ll find the humble garbage disposal. It works when a disc (the impeller plate) spins its blades to chop up food waste inside your drain. Batch-feed units require a cover for the blades to engage. Continuous models operate with a switch. An air-switch design activates with air. Both versions receive power via an outlet typically situated under the sink near the unit.

Problematic items to avoid

Remember, nothing should go into a garbage disposal except organic waste from food — though not all types of food. Avoid chemical drain cleaners, which manufacturers pack with toxic chemicals that could damage the unit and even void your warranty. Keep all of these problematic items out:

  1. Coffee grounds and eggshells
  2. Cooking fat, grease and oil
  3. Large meat portions
  4. Rice, pasta and potato peels
  5. Shrimp and seafood shells
  6. Bones, seeds, cores and raw vegetables

Troubleshooting: No power (reset garbage disposal)

Garbage disposal not working? First, gather tools, like sets of screwdrivers, wrenches and hex keys, a garbage disposal wrench, needle-nose pliers, fastener clamps, clean rags, a headlamp, a handheld flashlight for backup and a bucket. If you have no power and aren’t hearing any humming from the motor, there’s likely an electrical problem. Try these steps:

  1. Is the unit plugged in?
  2. If yes, hit the garbage disposal reset button on the bottom of the unit.
  3. Still no power? Check the circuit breaker in your main electrical panel.
  4. If cycling the reset and your circuit breaker fails, it’s the wiring or a bad disposal.
  5. Turn off the power at the breaker box.
  6. Take apart the power switch, inspect the wires, and tighten any loose connections.
  7. Cycle the power again. No luck? Replace the switch and cycle the power again.
  8. Still not getting power? You’ll need to replace the disposal.

Garbage disposal stopped working (but it’s humming)

If your garbage disposal is humming but failing to spin, it’s likely the impeller is stuck. Usually, this causes the reset button to pop out or prompts the breaker to flip. You’ll want to address this problem quickly before the motor has a chance to burn out. Try these steps:

  1. Cut the power at the breaker box and wall switch.
  2. Use your garbage disposal wrench in the hole in the disposal’s bottom.
  3. Turn the wrench clockwise to loosen the impeller.
  4. Lacking the wrench, try a wooden-spoon handle in the disposal to unstick the parts.
  5. Peer into the drain with your light(s) to spot and remove the foreign object with pliers.
  6. With the impeller freed, flip the breaker back on, but leave the power off to the unit.
  7. Under the sink, hit the red reset button.
  8. Run cold water down the drain, and switch the disposal off and on a few times.
  9. No luck? You need to call a professional.

Disposal not working plus smoke equals trouble

Smoke means your motor is nearly kaput or that you’ve managed to burn out your home’s electrical circuit. You can fix either scenario. Turn off all power to the unit and try these steps:

  1. Check other appliances on the circuit to make sure it’s only the disposal.
  2. Disassemble the cover cap at the bottom of the disposal.
  3. Look for and replace any burned wires, including any damaged wire insulation.
  4. Reattach all new wiring into the proper places with the same connections.
  5. Replace the lower cover, turn the power back on, and see if your disposal works.
  6. No luck? It’s time to call a pro. 

Troubleshooting: Leaks

Tighten the hose clamp that connects the dishwasher inlet to the disposal, or replace the hose if you must. Replace the gasket seal between the drainpipe and the disposal, then tighten the bolts holding the pipe. If your leak involves the sink flange, follow these steps:

  1. Cut the power to the unit at the breaker box.
  2. Where the unit meets the sink, turn the disposal counterclockwise to loosen it.
  3. Three bolts mount and hold the flange to the sink. Tighten these.
  4. If the bolts are tight, you need a new seal of plumber’s putty. Loosen the bolts.
  5. Squirt a new seal of putty between the sink and flange in a complete circle.
  6. Tighten the bolts into the new seal until the putty is forced out, then wipe it away from the edge.
  7. Reinstall the unit and restore the power at the breaker box. Test and check for leaks.
  8. Still leaking? It’s time to call in a professional. 

Troubleshooting: Slow drain

Sink disposal not working? A slowly draining garbage disposal usually points to a clog, which you can usually fix by taking apart the drain trap and discharge pipe, then digging out any obstructions holding up the water flow. Here are the steps you can follow to accomplish this fix:

  1. Remove the bolts attaching the discharge pipe to the disposal.
  2. Disconnect and remove the drain trap and discharge the drainpipe.
  3. Look for anything that could be causing the blockage and remove it.
  4. If you find no clogs, there’s probably one in the drain line.
  5. Clear the drain-line blockage with a sink auger.
  6. Put the drain trap back together with the discharge tube on the side of the disposal.
  7. Turn on the water, then the disposal. Make sure the water runs freely.
  8. No luck? Call a professional. 

Replacing a garbage disposal and the cost of a garbage disposal

Replacing a garbage disposal usually costs between $100 and $300. If you’re handy with a wrench, you can likely install it yourself without much trouble. If you have any issues, you can refer back to this article for tips on how to proceed with a DIY method, but remember that a home warranty from Cinch includes garbage disposal coverage.

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.

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