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What to Do When Your Garbage Disposal Has Stopped Working

Most of us are familiar with the basic function of a garbage disposal. The appliance uses a motor to power rotating, circular blades that grind up food waste. Because garbage disposals are one of the home’s most frequently used appliances, it’s not uncommon for them to become clogged or jammed. If your garbage disposal is not working, it can ruin an otherwise productive day in the kitchen.

There are many different kinds of garbage disposal problems. There are some that you’ll be able to fix yourself. Others are going to require the services of a professional plumber to resolve. Only you can decide what you are capable of doing, but for safety’s sake (and that of your garbage disposal!), don’t take any unnecessary risks.

Here are a few of the most common your garbage disposal has stopped working:

  • Garbage disposal won’t turn on. More than likely, the problem is caused by an electrical issue. First, double check to make sure the disposer is plugged in. If it is, unplug it, wait 1 minute, and then plug it in again. If it works now, then you probably had a tripped circuit.
  • Overheating. If you turn on the power switch and your disposer does not make a humming noise, it has probably overheated and tripped itself. There should be a (usually red) reset button on the underside of your garbage disposal. If nothing happens when you press the reset button, the next step is to go look at your home’s circuit box and see if a breaker has tripped. This problem is more common than you might think and is something you can easily fix on your own.
  • There is a whirring noise, but the disposal won’t do anything. If your garbage disposal stopped working, but is still producing a humming or whirring noise, the flywheel has probably become stuck with a jam or clog. Jams and clogs are the most common reason for why a garbage disposal won’t drain. First and foremost, never stick your hand down the garbage disposal! A broom handle might work for dislodging a stuck flywheel. If not, you can use the wrench that came with your disposer and attack the problem from underneath the sink. (Always remember to disconnect the power source first.) Alternately, run cold water in your sink for a few minutes as you turn the power switch on and off. This will sometimes dislodge a stuck flywheel.
  • It’s leaking. This is a common problem, but it’s one that is fairly simple to fix. Turn off your garbage disposal and disconnect its power source. Grab a flashlight and take a close look at the bolts holding it in place underneath the sink. If the bolts are loose, tighten them. If the disposer is still leaking after tightening, you’ll need to invest in some plumber’s putty to temporarily stop the leak. If the leak is not originating from the bolts, it could be because the garbage disposal has a cracked housing. If it is not still under warranty, then you’ll more than likely need to buy a new unit.
  • It’s dead. If none of these options seem to be why your garbage disposal not turning on or has quit working, then the problem is more serious, and your best bet is probably to purchase a new unit. Before you do, check your disposer’s warranty to see if it is still covered by the manufacturer. (Many brands like InSinkErator and Waste King offer extended in home warranties on their disposals.) If not, it won’t cost too much to buy a new, high quality model. Although these new models come with thorough installation instructions for homeowners, if you are uncomfortable with installing it yourself, call a professional plumber.

Remember that your garbage disposal is an important (and often undervalued) kitchen appliance, and it must be taken care of. Most of these problems can be avoided by being careful of what you put in your disposal, not overfilling it, and always running cold water while it is in use. On a final note, don’t ever try to use chemical drain cleaners to remove a jam or clog. These agents are designed to work on food waste disposers, and you’ll be left with a sink full of toxic, foul smelling chemicals.

Justin Curtis
 

I am not a professional plumber, but I do feel like I am pretty handy :). I would love to hear your comments about this post or others. Thanks for reading!

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 2 comments
Andy - January 4, 2017

This is very helpful. Until recently, I didn’t know that garbage disposals could overheat. I thought mine had died and was looking at new units. Luckily, I went poking around beneath the sink and found a red button. I pressed it and the disposal was back up and running.

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    Justin Curtis - January 11, 2017

    Glad you got it up and running again Andy!

    Reply

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