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How to Fix a Garbage Disposal – DIY Solutions Explained

by Lisa Hayden
How to Fix a Garbage Disposal

Are you suffering from a garbage disposal that won’t turn on? There could be two possible reasons for this: 

  1. It is badly clogged, and you need a good garbage disposal cleaner to clean it up
  2. (And this is more likely) It has stopped working.

Cleaning your garbage disposal with a store-bought or homemade cleaner is pretty straightforward. But fixing it is challenging. Garbage disposal units are used daily, so wear and tear can cause them to clog or break down quickly. 

But don’t worry! The next time your garbage disposal jams, stalls, or starts humming without working, don’t spend your money and call the plumber immediately. Follow some easy DIY hacks mentioned below and try to fix it yourself. But if it still doesn’t work, you should contact a professional or get it replaced.  

Related: Best Garbage Disposal Unit to buy in 2022

How Does a Garbage Disposal Work?

Before we dive deeper into troubleshooting your broken garbage disposal, you need to know how it works, or you won’t understand precisely where the problem lies. 

Check out this diagram of garbage disposal:

How Does a Garbage Disposal Work?

Source: Wrrooteryoungstown.com 

As the diagram shows, a garbage disposal is an electrical unit that uses the power from a motor to enable the shredder ring (which contains impeller blades). The impeller blades shred the big chunks of food into small pieces so they can pass effortlessly through the drain pipe. 

You must already know that turning the cold water tap on while the garbage disposal is working is recommended. This is done to ensure that the food waste gets pushed down to the impeller blades due to the force of the water. Moreover, hot water can loosen the grime and buildup around the impeller and drain pipe and cause unnecessary clogging. So cold water is a better choice. 

The dishwasher outlet is also connected to the garbage disposal in many kitchens. This allows the disposal blades to chop up any big food chunks from the dishwasher. 

Types of Garbage Disposals

Garbage disposals come in multiple types. Most of the time, their repair method shouldn’t differ based on the style. However, it’s good to have a little knowledge of each type so you can easily figure out the minute problems with your particular system. 

There are three main types:

  • Batch Feed Garbage Disposals

You can put waste in these in batches, and you’ll have to close the top lid before activating the garbage disposal blades. Without the cover on, it won’t start working. 

  • Continuous Feed Garbage Disposals

These types of garbage disposals are entirely the opposite of batch feed ones. They do not need the lid to be on to start working. You only have to turn on a switch after putting the waste in. 

  • Air-Activated Garbage Disposals

These garbage disposals are activated using air. They are less common than the above two types. 

Regardless of the type of garbage disposal in your kitchen, their power supply would come from an outlet under the sink. It’s super important to have the power turned off before you insert your hand into the disposal to check the blades or other components. 

Remember, even if your garbage disposal is faulty, it may suddenly start. If your hand is inside, you may get injured. 

Additionally, when your garbage disposal stops working (i.e., no humming sound and the blades do not move), use a tester to see if the power supply is functioning correctly. This will help you avoid unnecessary labor because if there’s a fault in the power supply line, you don’t need to fix your garbage disposal at all. 

Telltale Signs of a Faulty Garbage Disposal

Now that we have the design and working of garbage disposals down, let’s briefly explore what possible problems signal broken garbage disposal. Here are some of the most common ones:

  • Garbage disposal won’t turn on even though the power switch is on.
  • It fails to drain or drains water very slowly.
  • The garbage disposal unit is emitting a humming sound but not working, i.e., the blades are not rotating.
  • There are puddles of water underneath the sink, or water is leaking from the garbage disposal and collecting under the sink.

If you notice any of these signs, prepare your toolbox because you’ll need to spend a couple of hours fixing the garbage disposal. Keep reading to learn the step-by-step process of doing so. 

How to Fix Garbage Disposal – Step-by-Step Solution for Every Single Problem

The tools you’ll need to fix your garbage disposal will vary depending on the problem. But here are the tools you should have handy generally:

  • Screwdriver
  • Hex Key
  • Garbage Disposal Wrench
  • Pliers
  • Buckets
  • Clamps
  • Plumber’s Putty
  • A Bright Flashlight

Let’s explore the methods of fixing garbage disposal for all problems one by one.

  1. Garbage Disposal Won’t Turn On Even Though the Switch is On

The most likely problem, in this case, is electrical. There may be a problem in the internal circuit of your garbage disposal if the tester shows no issues with the power supply. 

Steps to Follow

  1. Check the Reset Button: The reset button is located at the bottom of the garbage disposal and is usually red. The internal circuit has been temporarily broken if it’s slightly popped out. Push it in and check to see if the garbage disposal restarts. If this step doesn’t work, move to the next one. 
  2. Turn off the Circuit Breaker: Before moving any further, it’s necessary to eliminate the chances of the disposal turning back on. Turn off the main circuit breaker near your power outlet. Also, ensure that the switch of the disposal itself is turned off. 
  3. Inspect the Switch: Take apart the garbage disposal switch, unscrewing it carefully and saving the screws for later. If there’s a loose connection, tighten it using pliers or a screwdriver. This should remedy the faulty garbage disposal. However, if the problem is more severe, like a burnt wire, move on to the next step. 
  4. Replace the Switch: Go to the official brand website of your garbage disposal and find a spare switch compatible with your model. Replace the old faulty switch with the new one. 
  5. Check: If the garbage disposal doesn’t start working even after this, it may be faulty beyond repair. In that case, you should seek to buy a new garbage disposal system. 

2. Garbage Disposal Makes a Humming Sound, But the Blades Do Not Work

A jammed flywheel causes this problem in a garbage disposal. When the flywheel is jammed, the reset button will quickly break off the circuit to prevent the motor from overheating. As a result, your garbage disposal will hum for a few seconds and stop working altogether. 

This issue occurs in garbage disposal when a significant food particle is stuck between the shredder ring and the impeller blades. This chunk prevents the blades from rotating. 

Steps to Follow

  1. Turn off the Disposal: Turn off the garbage disposal switch. If your disposal system is hardwired, use the main circuit breaker to turn it off. 
  2. Insert Wrench Into the Flywheel: Insert the garbage disposal wrench from the bottom of the disposal unit into the flywheel turner. If you’re unfamiliar with the garbage disposal anatomy, look at the diagram above. Or check out this video. 
  3. Rotate the Flywheel Clockwise: Use the wrench to rotate the impeller blade clockwise and dislodge it. Once that happens, you’ll feel the flywheel spinning freely. 
  4. Use a Wooden Object Instead of Wrench: If you don’t have a wrench handy, use a firm wooden spoon to reach the flywheel and rotate it. Any other suitable, firm object also works. 
  5. Reset and Check: Once the impeller blade starts rotating again, it’s time to turn the power back on. Also, press the reset button and check if the garbage disposal starts working. Ensure you turn off cold water while checking the disposal because that will help dislodge any food remnants. 

3. Garbage Disposal Drains Water Very Slowly or Does not Drain

Slow or no draining can usually only happen if the garbage disposal is clogged. While using a garbage disposal cleaner is a solution, it doesn’t work for extreme clogging. The best solution is to clean the drain pipe and trap it manually. 

Steps to Follow

  • Turn off the Garbage Disposal: Again, begin by turning off the garbage disposal or the circuit breaker. 
  • Open the Drain Trap and Pipes: Unscrew the bolts and holders connecting the drain pipes to the drain pipe or trap. Check the drain pipes and trap, and use a long object to unclog them. Remove all dirt and run water through the pipes to flush it out. 
  • Check the Drain Line: Thoroughly inspect the drain line as well. It may be centrally clogged, so you might need to call a plumber. 
  • Check the Garbage Disposal: Finally, turn on the garbage disposal and test it to see if it’s draining like usual. 

4. Leaking Garbage Disposal

Leaky garbage disposals usually result from a weak sealant or a crack in the body of the disposal system. Usually, there can be two types of leaks in the garbage disposal: they may leak from the top or the bottom of the disposal. 

How to Fix a Garbage Disposal Leaking from the Top

  1. Disassemble the Disposal Mounting Flange: A top leak indicates a loose metal flange inside the sink. Unscrew the mounting flange by rotating it anticlockwise. Remove the disposal from the flange. Lift the flange above to detach it from the sink thoroughly. 
  2. Wipe off the Old Sealant: A plumber’s putty is usually used as a sealant. Scrape off the remaining putty and wipe the sink thoroughly. 
  3. Put on Fresh Putty: Use fresh putty and apply it where the old putty was. Place the mounting flange again and screw it on tightly. 
  4. Turn on and Check: Turn on the garbage disposal and check if it has stopped leaking. 

How to Fix a Garbage Disposal Leaking from the Bottom

  1. Detach the Drain Pipe: Loosen the drain pipe connector to the sink and let the remaining water drain into a bucket. If you have a dishwasher hose connected to the drain pipe, detach that as well. 
  2. Disconnect Disposal from the Sink: The next step is disconnecting the disposal from the sink. Use a hex key to rotate the mounting bracket anticlockwise and detach the garbage disposal from the sink. Using a wrench or a screwdriver is also fine if you don’t have a hex key. 
  3. Inspect the Disposal Unit: Inspect the detached disposal unit. If it has cracked, you should replace it. If it hasn’t and the leak doesn’t stop even after tightening every screw, you may need to replace the disposal. 

Is it worth it to repair garbage disposal?

Whether or not it is worth it to fix garbage disposal depends on the actual problem. You should always consider repair over replacement if there’s a minor problem, like a leaky garbage disposal due to a loose mounting flange or clogged disposal. 

Most of the time, even if you call a plumber, it will cost you less than $100 to fix the garbage disposal. If you do it yourself, the cost will be dramatically lower. But the cost of replacing a garbage disposal can be between $200 and $ 1000. So unless there’s no repair solution for your broken or faulty garbage disposal unit, do not replace it. 

What Causes a Garbage Disposal to Stop Working?

As I mentioned, your garbage disposal may stop working for various reasons. Here are some of the most typical reasons for a garbage disposal to stop working:

  • There’s a fault in the internal circuit of your garbage disposal.
  • The switch of your garbage disposal is burnt/faulty.
  • Some portion of the garbage disposal is broken. This may include the blades, shredder ring, collector, drain pipe, or other parts. 
  • The shredder ring is clogged with big chunks of food waste, preventing the blades from rotating. 

Best Practices for Using a Garbage Disposal

Religiously follow these best practices to make your garbage disposal unit last longer. 

  • Keep your garbage disposal clean. Use a store-bought garbage disposal cleaner or DIY methods like lemon peels/vinegar and baking soda to clean it. 
  • Always run water when using the garbage disposal.
  • Never put more than a cup of food waste into the disposal. 

FAQs

1. How do you know if your garbage disposal motor is burnt out?

If the fan works but the blades don’t rotate after turning on the garbage disposal, it may be because of a burned-down garbage disposal motor. In this case, you’ll need to replace your garbage disposal unit. 

2. Can I run the dishwasher if the garbage disposal is broken?

Yes, you can run the dishwasher if the garbage disposal is broken. However, if your dishwasher’s hose pipe is connected to the garbage disposal drain pipe and the drain pipe is leaking, you may have water underneath the sink after you run the garbage disposal. In this case, you should detach the hose pipe from the drain pipe and place it in a large bucket or near another drain. 

3. How often should a garbage disposal be replaced?

Unless any grave fault develops within your garbage disposal unit, you must replace it once every eight to 15 years. Garbage disposal units are expensive, but they have a long life and should last for at least eight years if used properly. 

4. Why isn’t my garbage disposal spinning?

The primary reasons why your garbage disposal may not be spinning include:

  • A burnt-out motor
  • A clogged shredder ring/a jammer inner flywheel

You will need to replace the garbage disposal unit in the first case. To fix a jammed flywheel, scroll up to see the step-by-step method. 

Conclusion

Garbage disposals are long-lasting home appliances. If they break down or become faulty, you should try fixing them yourself. Using the step-by-step guide above, it should be pretty straightforward. However, if you’re nervous about taking apart your garbage disposal unit and damaging it, leave the job to an expert. 

Have more questions about fixing your garbage disposal? Please leave them in the comments below!

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