What to Do When Garbage Disposal Stops Working: 3 Most Common Problems


Garbage Disposal Stops Working

Solve your garbage disposal problems with detailed tips on what to do when your garbage disposal stops working. Get expert tips, troubleshooting steps, and maintenance advice to keep your kitchen running smoothly.

A well-functioning garbage disposal is essential in modern homes, providing an efficient way to manage food waste and maintain a clean and hygienic kitchen environment.

However, like any appliance, garbage disposals can malfunction, causing inconvenience and frustration. This guide aims to help you understand, troubleshoot, and resolve common issues with your garbage disposal, so you can keep it running smoothly and efficiently.

Understanding Your Garbage Disposal

Before diving into the troubleshooting process, it’s crucial to understand how a garbage disposal works and its key components. A garbage disposal is an electric-powered device installed under your sink, designed to grind food waste into tiny particles that can pass through your plumbing system without causing blockages. The main garbage disposal components include the motor, grinding chamber, impeller, and drainpipe.

Safety Precautions Before Troubleshooting

Safety should always be your top priority when dealing with any electrical appliance. Before troubleshooting your garbage disposal, ensure the power is turned off by unplugging the unit or switching off the circuit breaker.

Wear protective gear, such as gloves and goggles, to avoid injury. Be cautious of sharp components, such as the grinding blades, and never place your hand directly into the disposal unit.

Inspecting the Garbage Disposal

Begin by visually inspecting your garbage disposal and checking for any obvious issues, such as leaks, damage, or foreign objects. Listen for any unusual sounds or smells indicating a problem with the motor or grinding components. Once you have identified the specific issue, you can proceed to the appropriate troubleshooting steps.

Common Problems and Solutions When Garbage Disposal Stops Working

1. Garbage disposal won’t turn on

If your garbage disposal fails to turn on, the first step is to press the reset button, typically located at the bottom of the unit. If this does not resolve the issue, check the power source, ensuring the unit is plugged in, and the outlet is functioning. You may also need to replace a blown fuse or reset a circuit breaker if the power supply is disrupted.

2. Garbage disposal is jammed

Jammed garbage disposals are often caused by foreign objects or fibrous materials, such as bones or corn husks, becoming lodged in the grinding chamber. To resolve this issue, first, disconnect the power supply and use pliers or tongs to remove the foreign object.

If necessary, use an Allen wrench to manually turn the disposal by inserting it into the hex-shaped hole at the bottom of the unit.

3. Garbage disposal is leaking

Leaks can occur due to loose connections, worn gaskets or seals, or cracks in the disposal unit. Tighten any loose connections, replace worn gaskets or seals, and inspect the unit for damage. If you find cracks, you may need to replace the entire disposal.

Maintenance Tips for a Long-lasting Garbage Disposal

Proper use and regular maintenance are vital to extending the lifespan of your garbage disposal. Avoid putting fibrous or hard materials down the disposal, and always run cold water while the unit is in operation.

Clean the disposal regularly with a mixture of baking soda and vinegar or a specialized garbage disposal cleaner. Periodically inspect the unit for signs of wear and tear, addressing any issues promptly.

When to Call a Professional

If you cannot resolve the issue yourself, or if the problem persists, it may be time to call a professional plumber or garbage disposal specialist. Look for a reputable, licensed professional with positive reviews and experience working with garbage disposals. Be prepared to describe the issue in detail, so they can provide the most effective solution.

Replacing Your Garbage Disposal

1. Signs that it’s time for a new disposal

If your garbage disposal is frequently jamming, leaking, or making unusual noises, it may be time to consider replacing it. A typical garbage disposal has a lifespan of 8-12 years, depending on usage and maintenance. A replacement might be more cost-effective than continual repairs if your unit is approaching or exceeding this age range.

2. Choosing the right garbage disposal for your needs

When selecting a new garbage disposal, consider factors such as motor power, noise level, size, and compatibility with your plumbing system. Research different brands and models, read customer reviews, and consult a professional to make an informed decision.

DIY installation vs. professional installation

While some homeowners may feel comfortable installing a new garbage disposal, hiring a professional plumber or installer is generally recommended to ensure the job is done correctly and safely. This can prevent potential leaks, electrical issues, or damage to your plumbing system.

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Preventative Measures to Avoid Future Issues

1. Proper waste disposal practices

Prevent future issues with your garbage disposal by practicing proper waste disposal habits. Avoid putting grease, oil, and fibrous materials down the disposal, and always run cold water while it is in operation. This helps to flush debris through the system and prevent clogs.

2. Regular maintenance routines

Establish a routine for cleaning and maintaining your garbage disposal. This may include regular cleaning with baking soda and vinegar or a specialized cleaner and periodic inspections for signs of wear and tear.

3. Investing in a higher-quality garbage disposal unit

Higher-quality garbage disposals are typically more durable and efficient, making them less prone to breakdowns and issues. Investing in a reputable brand with a solid warranty can save you time, money, and frustration in the long run.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. How long does garbage disposal typically last?

A well-maintained garbage disposal can last between 8-12 years, depending on usage and maintenance practices.

  1. Can I put certain types of food waste in my garbage disposal?

While garbage disposals can handle most types of food waste, avoid putting grease, oil, bones, and fibrous materials, such as corn husks and celery, down the disposal.

  1. How do I properly clean my garbage disposal?

Clean your garbage disposal regularly using a mixture of baking soda and vinegar or a specialized garbage disposal cleaner to prevent buildup and odors.

  1. Are there any environmentally-friendly alternatives to garbage disposals?

Composting is an eco-friendly alternative to garbage disposals, allowing you to recycle food waste into nutrient-rich compost for your garden.

  1. What should I do if my garbage disposal smells bad?

Bad smells can be eliminated by regularly cleaning your garbage disposal with baking soda and vinegar or a specialized cleaner. You can also try grinding small amounts of citrus fruit peels to freshen the disposal.


When dealing with a garbage disposal problem, such as your garbage disposal not working or the garbage disposal humming without actual operation, it’s crucial to understand several ways you can troubleshoot and possibly fix the issue before resorting to professional garbage disposal repair.

For instance, the disposal might not work because it’s unplugged. The first thing to do is to locate the power source, ensure it’s firmly plugged in, and if it’s hardwired, check if the circuit breaker has tripped.

If your garbage disposal is not working and you hear a humming noise when the unit is turned on, this might indicate a jammed flywheel. In such a case, you can try to dislodge the obstruction using a wooden spoon or a long stick, being careful not to put your fingers into the drain opening as it poses a risk.

With the power off, insert the stick into the sink drain opening and push against the shredder ring. Several seconds of gentle, medium pressure might free the jam. If this solves your problem, run water before you start the disposal to ensure everything is completely cleared.

One of the most common causes of garbage disposal humming but not working could be overheating due to overloading. If your disposal is humming but not operating, turn it off and let it cool down. After several minutes, locate and push the small red button underneath to restore power. If the disposal still hums but doesn’t start, it might be a sign the machine needs to be replaced.

In the case of a clog in the discharge pipe or disposal drain, you may hear a humming noise as the motor tries to turn the jammed flywheel. Before fixing the clog, shut off the disposal and unplug it.

You can use a bucket and cup plunger to dislodge the clog. Fill the sink with water, enough to cover the base of the plunger. Position the plunger over the drain opening and forcefully pump it several times. This could dislodge the clog, and water should start draining. Once the water runs freely, you can reconnect the drain trap and test the disposal.

If your garbage disposal is still not working, there might be an electrical problem, so you should contact a professional. Chemical drain cleaners, for example, should not be used in the disposal drain as they could cause damage to the pipes and the disposal unit itself. Furthermore, fibrous food scraps can clog the disposal and jam the flywheel. Throwing away fibrous materials or cutting them into small pieces before washing them down the drain is recommended.

To prevent future garbage disposal issues, consider a few maintenance tips. Firstly, always run cold water while the disposal is operating to help carry the waste through the discharge drainpipe. In addition, hot water should be used after use to help clean the disposal and keep the blades sharp. Pour bleach into the sink flange and let it sit for several minutes to disinfect and deodorize.

In conclusion, if you follow these steps and your garbage disposal stops working, it might be time to consider a new one. Installing a new garbage disposal can be a DIY job if you have some handyman skills, but for most people, the easiest way is to hire a professional.

Always remember to be careful when dealing with devices with sharp blades connected to electricity, and never hesitate to pay for professional help when you suspect a more severe problem, as it can save you time and prevent further, potentially more expensive damage.

Last update on 2024-06-24 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API