Garbage Disposal: Repair and Info

Garbage disposal

It’s important to know the basics of garbage disposal repair if you have one in your kitchen. Garbage disposals are one of the more controversial appliances in recent history. They were actually banned in New York City until 1997, because officials believed that the garbage being sent down the drain would damage the city's sewer system. In countries in Europe and in the U.K., it's still hard to find people who own one. Some municipalities have zoning laws forbidding their use, to encourage composting instead of disposing of green waste. But in homes that have one, the garbage disposal is still one of the most used appliances in the kitchen.

Many people associate the spinners inside the garbage disposal with the actual blades. That's incorrect. The spinners are actually dull and are used to push the food toward the outside edges of the disposal, which is where the shredders are.

How it Works

garbage disposal drain

Food items enter the disposal through the sink drain. Inside the disposal are a series of spinners that spin freely, sometimes called "the hammers." The hammers are connected to a turntable spun around by the motor. Along the outer wall of the disposal are the shredders. When you turn the disposal on, the motor spins the turntable at an extremely high speed. This causes centrifugal force that pulls the food outward towards the shredder. The hammers spin around and assist with pushing the food into the shredder. The shredder tears the food into tiny parts that get flushed down the drain along with the water. Garbage disposals should never be run without the water running. They are dependable appliances, but clogs do occur.

When it Clogs

If you hit the switch on the wall and the disposal screams to life and then... nothing, or you flip the switch a couple of times only to be met with a humming and then a "click," and now when you hit the switch, you don't even get the humming, this is a common problem and an easy one to fix.

When something clogs the garbage disposal, there is a button underneath that trips a circuit breaker. It's best to wait about 15 minutes to let the disposal cool down and then hit the reset button. It's located on the bottom of most disposal systems, and it's usually colored red. If you push it in and you hear a "click," then it's been reset.

With the water running, try turning the disposal on again. If it's really jammed, it will probably trip again. If it does, leave the switch off and don't hit the reset button yet. Remove any large items from the disposal with a pair of tongs. Next, grab a long screwdriver and try to get it to catch hold in one of the bottom holes on the turntable.

TIP: Our plumbing consultant Mark Vander Sande suggests, “A broom handle works wonders on this, or there is a wrench that comes with the disposal. It is an Allen wrench that fits in the center of the bottom of the disposal where the reset switch is. This is the easiest way to unjam it. If you don’t have one, you can buy one at the hardware store.”

Once it catches, try to manually turn the turntable to help break the jam. Once you free the obstruction, remove the screwdriver, hit the reset button, turn the water on, and hit the switch. It should be running smoothly now.

Now, let's look at a few other problems and their remedies.

Problem - The disposal isn't running at all.

pipes leading into garbage disposal

Solution - It could be the problem we just discussed, or it could be a power problem. Check the power to the circuit that feeds the disposal. If the breaker is OK, then check the power at the switch. If you have power coming to, but not leaving the switch, then the switch is bad. Turn the circuit off and replace the switch.

Problem - The disposal is draining poorly.

Solution - Make sure that the water is running full blast when using the disposal; the more water, the better drainage. If it's still draining slowly, disconnect the "J" bend in the drain and check for a clog. Sometimes grease and other nasty things will accumulate in your pipes over time.

Problem - The disposal is leaking.

Solution - If it's leaking around the drain, try tightening the screws on the sink mounting ring. You will need an offset screwdriver to be able to reach the screws once the garbage disposal is already assembled. If the leak is coming from the drainpipe, tighten the screw that holds the drain gasket. If the leak persists, try replacing the drain gasket.

Problem - The garbage disposal noise is out of control.

Solution - With the switch off, grab a flashlight and take a look down the drain and see if you notice anything that can be causing the noise. Plastic or metal items are usually the culprits. Fish out the item with tongs. If there's nothing in the disposal, check the mounting screws. They could be loose enough that when it's turned on, it vibrates enough to cause a lot of noise. It could also mean that you have a damaged flywheel. If that's the case, you're better off buying a new disposal than trying to replace that.

With these simple repairs, your disposal should last for years. If you don't have a garbage disposer yet or would like to install a new one, read our step-by-step installation guide here.