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Garbage Disposal Not Working? Take These Steps

Garbage Disposal Not Working? Take These Steps

Garbage disposal not working? Don’t panic — fixing a disposal starts with identifying the problem. Whether it won’t turn on, won’t spin, or drains at a snail’s pace, we have a few simple solutions you can attempt. 


Disclaimer: The information included in this post is for informational purposes only and should not be taken as legal, financial, or DIY advice. We highly suggest consulting a professional before attempting any DIY home improvements or repairs.


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Garbage Disposal Not Working?

A garbage disposal not working can really throw a wrench into your day. Find easy fixes and learn how to determine what’s going on with your garbage disposal in our troubleshooting guide. 

If you rely on your garbage disposal to get rid of food scraps, discovering your garbage disposal not working usually happens a little too late.

You may have already dumped food into the disposal before you realize it’s not working. It doesn’t take long for organic matter to start to break down and begin smelling.

The reason your garbage disposal won’t work often comes down to one of two things:

  1. A power issue
  2. It’s jammed on something

Both problems are relatively easy to address. With a few basic tools and some standard safety precautions, you’ll have your garbage disposal up and running again. 

Read Next: The 5 Best Garbage Disposals

A Word of Caution

CAUTION word written on wood block to consider proceeding with caution when fixing a garbage disposal not working

Fabrik Bilder/Shutterstock

Sometimes, a non-working garbage disposal displays alarming signs like smoke or a burning smell. And attempting to run a problem garbage disposal will burn it out.

This is an expensive problem requiring a complete replacement. These are just a few reasons why it’s a good idea to get to the bottom of the problem quickly.

There are some insanely easy fixes for common garbage disposal problems you can try. Some will require a professional’s expertise. 

Before you check the troubleshooting tips, read through the garbage disposal do’s and don’ts to see if you’ve been putting the wrong things in yours.

Garbage Disposal Do’s and Don’ts

Before you diagnose a garbage disposal not working, you first need to learn some basic maintenance tips for these delicate appliances.

Dos

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Roman Samborskyi/Shutterstock

DO put food items like fruit and vegetable peels or small chunks, fruit pits, corn cobs, and small, soft bones (like fish bones) in your disposal.

DO run plenty of cold water down your disposal as you grind anything in it. Let it run for about 30 seconds to ensure all the food debris is washed away. The cold water helps keep the motor cool as it runs. 

DO inspect your disposal for cracks and leaks every few weeks. With lots of connections and parts, there are many opportunities for a new leak to spring or a crack to form on the disposal housing.

By checking frequently, you can catch a problem before it becomes irreparable or causes damage.

DO use baking soda and vinegar to clean your disposal safely and effectively. Sprinkle 1/2 cup baking soda into the disposal, then add a cup of warm white vinegar to bust up any small clogs, refresh the scent, and bubble away debris.

Dont’s

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Borysevych.com/Shutterstock

DON’T place your hand inside the garbage disposal at any time, whether it’s on or off. The blades inside are extremely sharp and will cause serious injury. Don’t allow children to be near the garbage disposal unsupervised. 

DON’T put hard food items like bones, eggshells, lobster or crab shells, or nuts into your disposal. They can damage the blades or get jammed in the unit. 

DON’T put fibrous items like corn husks, coconut fibers, banana peels, onion skins, artichokes, or celery stalks into your garbage disposal. The fibers can get tangled in the blades and stop them from turning. 

DON’T put fatty or greasy foods in your garbage disposal, like meat, cooking oil, rendered fat, or oil-based dressing. These will quickly clog your pipes and wreak havoc on your plumbing.

Pasta, rice, noodles, and bread are also bad for your disposal because they expand when wet. This leads to clogging. 

DON’T use cleaning chemicals in your disposal, even those marketed for garbage disposals. They often contain corrosive ingredients that hurt the metal materials inside your disposal.

Bleach in a disposal will damage the seals over time and cause leaks. And then you’ll have to replace the entire unit.

DON’T leave washcloths, sponges, or dishrags near the disposal. If they fall in without you noticing, the blades will get jammed and could burn the motor out. 

DON’T turn the disposal off when it’s grinding. Ensure all food is ground up and continue running the water for about 30 seconds afterward to wash it all down.

5 Common Causes for Garbage Disposal Not Working

Now that you’ve read the do’s and don’ts of garbage disposals, let’s look at the potential causes for a garbage disposal that stops working. 

Different problems can cause a garbage disposal to stop working. Some are mechanical, and some are electrical. Figuring out which is the root of your issue starts with looking at the symptoms. 

How did you notice your garbage disposal wasn’t working? Look for the section that matches your situation to see what’s behind your garbage disposal not working. 

Garbage Disposal Won’t Turn on and Is Silent

Garbage Disposal under the modern sink, waste chopper concept to try when a garbage disposal wont turn on

Mariakray/Shutterstock

A garbage disposal that does nothing – won’t turn on and doesn’t make any sounds – likely has an electrical problem. It could be unplugged. Or, it might have tripped the circuit breaker.

It could have triggered the disposal’s internal breaker and may need to be reset. 

Unplugged

It happens more often than you’d think! A garbage disposal’s plug gets jostled around when you move or use items under the sink.

Over time, it can wiggle its way out of the outlet and unplug completely without your knowledge. The next time you go to use the disposal, nothing happens.

The first thing you should do when you see your disposal isn’t working is to check the plug. If it’s still plugged in, move on to the next possible cause.  

Tripped Circuit Breaker

If your garbage disposal is plugged in but doesn’t seem to have power, it may have tripped the circuit breaker. This could be due to the circuit being overloaded. 

If you have too many appliances plugged in on the same circuit at once, running the disposal can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

If this is the problem, you’ll notice that the disposal throws the breaker when you also have a toaster, coffee maker, charger, etc. plugged into kitchen outlets. 

A garbage disposal can also trip the circuit breaker if the motor begins overheating (usually if the blades are jammed), if it’s overfilled, or if the motor has seized up.  

Go to your electrical panel to check for a tripped switch. The switch will be out of line with the others. To reset the circuit breaker, push the switch into the Off position.

Then, push it all the way up into the On position. You should hear a click when it’s in the On position. Now, give the garbage disposal a try to see if it fixed the problem. 

Garbage Disposal Reset Button

If the circuit breaker switch for the kitchen area wasn’t tripped, the garbage disposal might have automatically shut off. This means it will need to be reset.

A garbage disposal may shut off automatically if:

  • It begins to overheat
  • The blades get jammed
  • It’s overloaded with food

Before you find and press the reset button, make sure nothing is left in the garbage disposal. Use a flashlight to look into the disposal for food or foreign objects trapped in it.

Do not reach inside. If you don’t see anything inside the disposal, look on the side or bottom of your disposal under the sink. Press the button firmly one time and wait for it to turn back on.

If the button doesn’t stay depressed, or if it runs for a moment and pops back out, there’s probably something jamming your disposal, or the motor is overheating.

Don’t try to run it anymore, or you risk burning the motor up. Call a plumber to come inspect it. 

Garbage Disposal Won’t Run, but Hums

Wooden spoons in wicker basket on table against white wall

Africa Studio/Shutterstock

A garbage disposal that won’t run but still hums is a different type of problem. Here, the disposal is still receiving electrical current (hence the humming), but the blades aren’t turning.

Most likely, this is because there’s something caught in the blades. Be sure to unplug the garbage disposal or shut it off at the breaker first. Don’t keep trying to run the disposal!

It’s very important to cut the power to the garbage disposal before proceeding. This will protect you from injury, shock, and further damage to the blades or motor. 

Foreign Object Obstruction

If the blades aren’t spinning, but you hear a humming sound, it means the electrical current is coming into the disposal. The blades aren’t turning because the motor isn’t strong enough to work against whatever is caught in them.

Commonly, forks, spoons, rings, and other items are the cause. Most garbage disposals come with a 1/4 inch Allen wrench. You’ll probably find it taped to the side of the disposal under the sink. Insert the wrench into the wrench socket on the bottom of the disposal and twist it back and forth with a firm hand.

This rotates the grinding blades and may dislodge the foreign object. If it fails to remove the object, try the handle of a wooden spoon. Use it to rotate the impeller slowly and attempt to dislodge the object. Do not reach into the disposal, even with it unplugged. 

If this doesn’t work, you’ll need to call a plumber. They will either:

  • Disassemble and reassemble the entire unit to remove the obstruction, usually if the unit is less than 10-15 years old
  • Recommend a replacement disposal, usually if the unit is 10-15 years old

Burned Out Motor

Another possibility if your disposal is humming but not running is a burned-out motor. Garbage disposals typically last 10-15 years, and small motors don’t run forever.

Your motor may be old, or it could have burned out from being overworked. If the motor burned out, you might have smelled a burning odor or even seen smoke.

These are signs that you should call a plumber. A bad motor on a garbage disposal can cost as much to fix as a new unit. They’ll likely recommend that you have a new disposal put in instead.

Things to Consider

To illustrate how to fix a broken garbage disposal, such a device below a sink above a wrench

Steve Cukrov/Shutterstock

When it comes to fixing your garbage disposal, there are a few things to consider before you attempt to fix it or call a pro, such as: 

  • Its age. If it’s close to or over ten years old, fixing your garbage disposal might not make sense. Instead, you might want to consider a replacement. 
  • Your habits. If you’ve been a little less than careful with what you let fall down the drain, you may fix things only to face the same problem a few months later. Ensure you don’t allow coffee grounds, eggshells, or starchy potato peels fall into the drainage chamber in the future.
  • If it hums, don’t let it run. If your disposal is humming but not turning, don’t keep flipping the switch on in hopes of a miracle. Doing so is a good way to burn the motor out, which can lead to smoke. It also ensures you’ll have to purchase a replacement garbage disposal.

If you suspect a clog, you can use Drano, but be cautious. You can use Drano or the equivalent in a garbage disposal, but doing so comes with dangers. Be sure to follow the instructions on the bottle for use with a garbage disposal, and avoid any product that doesn’t explicitly say garbage disposal safe.

Frequently Asked Questions

Making garbage disposal repairs often brings up other questions. Let’s see if we can answer a few of them. 

How Long Should a Garbage Disposal Last? 

Garbage disposals, in general, should last for ten years or more. Many last for up to fifteen years with proper maintenance. 

Can You Still Use the Sink If the Garbage Disposal Is Broken?

Yes, you can use the sink if the garbage disposal is broken, but it may require some extra effort. Your sink is still connected to the drain, but if the disposal is clogged with junk, it could lead to a water backup.

So, you may need to clean out the debris as best you can. And, of course, you’ll have to avoid adding any waste or food scraps to the sink until you fix the disposal. 

How Much Does It Cost to Replace a Garbage Disposal? 

Garbage disposals cost anywhere from $50 to over $2,000 to replace, and professional installation may cost you a couple hundred on top of that. Typically, the higher the horsepower on the disposal, the higher the price. But, with increased horsepower comes more grinding power and, possibly, a longer motor life.

When to Leave It To a Professional

Portrait of a plumber at work fixing a broken garbage disposal

Minerva Studio/Shutterstock

Garbage disposals are extremely convenient to have around when they’re in working order. But they are not usually suitable for DIY-repair. Their sharp blades and connection to electricity and water lines make them very dangerous to work with.

If keeping your hands and fingers safe isn’t enough reason to rely on a professional for garbage disposal repairs, consider the risk of expensive water damage, electrical shock, or even death. If the problem is simply that the disposal came unplugged or tripped an overloaded circuit breaker, you should be able to handle those fixes yourself safely.

Suppose the problem is due to the disposal throwing the circuit breaker or reset button from an overheated motor, a foreign object that doesn’t come out right away, or a bad motor.

Connect With a Professional

In that case, you need to call in the professionals. These repairs can be potentially harmful or deadly if the power isn’t properly shut off or if hands are placed inside the disposal. 

If you’re unsure which plumber to call, use our form to find the best plumber near you and get a free quote. Just enter a brief summary of the problem with your garbage disposal to get your quote!

Or, simply click the link below to use the Networx system to find a local trusted and vetted plumber.

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Garbage Disposal Not Working?

Garbage disposal not working? We hope not! We’ve tried to give you all the knowledge you need to fix the issue quickly and easily. In fact, we’ve tried and tested a few of these with great success.

And while you’re here, be sure to check out our other guides to help you navigate the murky waters of homeownership.

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