Possible Reasons Your Garbage Disposal Isn’t Working

Jeff Palady
Vice President
Master Plumber

Website

When it works properly, it can make your life so much easier; when it doesn’t, the opposite is true. We’re talking, of course, about your garbage disposal. It’s so easy and convenient to put food scraps down the disposal, but when it stops running, it doesn’t take long to experience a backup and a smelly mess.

Troubleshooting a garbage disposal problem is usually a straightforward process depending on what symptoms you’re seeing. But before we go into these solutions, a word of warning: NEVER reach your fingers into a garbage disposal, even if you believe you’ve disconnected the power. Any accidental startup of the disposal could cause serious injury to your fingers. Most solutions won’t require you to place your hand inside, and even if you think it’s the easiest way to fix the problem, the risk isn’t worth it.

Having said that, let’s discuss the common reasons why your garbage disposal might not be working, and what you can do about them.

Disposal Doesn’t Turn On—No Sound from the Motor

 In most cases where the disposal doesn’t turn on at all, the power supply has been cut off at some point along the circuit. Try the following steps in order:

  • Check to make sure the unit is plugged in.(It seems obvious, but you’d be surprised how many times this is the problem.)
  • Press the unit’s red reset button.The reset button pops out and breaks the internal circuit to protect the motor when the flywheel is under too much strain. Pressing this reset button may solve your problem.
  • Check the circuit breaker. If pushing the reset button doesn’t work, the strain on the disposal may have triggered the circuit breaker. Locate the breaker box in your home and flip the breaker switch off and on again to restore power.
  • If none of these steps work—it’s possible the motor has burned out and the unit needs to be repaired or replaced.

Unit Hums but Doesn’t Grind

If your motor hums while turned on but the disposal itself isn’t grinding up food, you’ve probably got a piece of food or a foreign object jamming the fly wheel. Sometimes this will trigger the reset button or the circuit breaker, but if it hums in this condition for too long, it can destroy the motor. Try the following steps:

  • Disconnect power to the unit.
  • Grab the offset hex wrench that came with your unit (or buy one from the hardware store) and insert it into the hole at the bottom of the disposal.
  • Turn the wrench clockwise to turn the flywheel manually and dislodge the item jamming it.When it dislodges, the flywheel should turn easily.
  • If you can’t locate the wrench or the hex hole, try inserting a wooden spoon handle or similar object into the disposal to push the flywheel and try to dislodge the item.Again, don’t put your hand inside.
  • Use pliers or tongs to remove the foreign object from the disposal.
  • Hit the reset button and reconnect the power.

If the unit continues to hum without turning the flywheel, the motor might be burned out.

Disposal is Clogged and Will Not Drain

If water won’t drain from the sink, you’re probably dealing with a clog, either in the disposal itself or in the drain pipes below. You’ll either need to dismantle the pipes and clean out the clog by hand or contact a plumber to do it for you.

Disposal Runs but Grinds Poorly

If your disposal seems to be running but is having trouble grinding up the food scraps, try running more water down the disposal while operating it. If the problem persists, your blades may be dull or broken. Contact a plumber or repairman or replace the unit.

Whenever you’re in doubt about a fixing a malfunctioning garbage disposal yourself, don’t be afraid to call in a professional plumber. You’ll save yourself time and possibly money on costly repairs by calling someone at the first sign of trouble.

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