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Table of Contents

Understanding Garbage Disposals

Troubleshooting Common Issues

Fixing Leaks and Slow Drainage

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How to Fix a Garbage Disposal: Solve the 6 Most Common Problems

6 min readUpdated Jun. 13, 2024Eric WoodKitchen Appliances
A focused homeowner examines his kitchen sink, checking for any garbage disposal issues in a bright, modern kitchen setting.

In the hustle and bustle of kitchen chores, a garbage disposal simplifies cleaning up after meals by grinding food waste into tiny pieces that are washed away with water. When this handy kitchen helper malfunctions, it can lead to a mess and an unwelcome interruption to your daily routine. Fortunately, with some basic knowledge and a few tools, most issues with garbage disposals can be resolved without needing to call a professional. Understanding how your disposal works will enable you to identify and address common issues effectively.


  • Regularly clean your garbage disposal with cold water and natural cleaners to prevent clogs and odors.
  • Diagnose common issues like electrical malfunctions or mechanical jams using simple troubleshooting steps.
  • Schedule professional maintenance to ensure long-term efficiency and prevent unexpected breakdowns.

Understanding Garbage Disposals

Garbage disposals offer a convenient way to manage food waste, keeping sinks clean and reducing the amount of trash headed to the landfill. Positioned under the kitchen sink, this appliance shreds food waste into small pieces, small enough to pass through plumbing. The components, from the electric motor to the drain holes, work together to efficiently break down food waste. Using the disposal correctly will help keep the unit working problem-free.

How a Garbage Disposal Works

A garbage disposal is a relatively simple machine. It consists of a motor that powers spinning blades (or impellers) to chop and grind food waste into small particles. Here's a closer look at its operation:

  • Electric motor: Activated by a switch, this motor turns the impeller.
  • Impeller plate: Connected to the motor, this spins and forces food waste against the grind ring.
  • Grind ring: Breaks down the food into fine particles.
  • Drain holes: Allow water and ground particles to pass into the plumbing system.

Best Practices for Using a Garbage Disposal

To extend the life of your disposal and prevent issues, follow these best practices:

  • Run cold water: Always use cold water while the disposal is operating to solidify any grease or oils that can be ground more effectively.
  • Feed waste slowly: Overloading the disposal can lead to clogs and jams.
  • Avoid hard and fibrous materials: Items like bones, corn husks, and celery stalks can damage the blades or cause clogs.
  • Regular cleaning: Regularly clean your disposal with baking soda and vinegar to prevent odors and buildup.

Troubleshooting Common Issues

Most common garbage disposal issues, from electrical malfunctions to mechanical hindrances, can often be diagnosed and resolved with some basic troubleshooting steps. Ensuring the electrical connections are secure is an important first step, as many problems stem from simple issues like unplugged units or tripped breakers. If the disposal won't turn on, the solution may be as straightforward as pressing a reset button or clearing a jam. Even when the disposal hums without grinding, a few simple tools and techniques can usually restore functionality. By systematically addressing these common setbacks, you can often fix your sink disposal without the need for professional assistance.

  • 1. Identifying Electrical Connection Problems: Before attempting any repairs, make sure the problem isn't electrical.

    • Check the plug: Ensure the disposal is firmly plugged into the outlet.
    • Reset button: Look for a red reset button on the bottom of the unit. If it has popped out, press it to reset.
    • Circuit breaker: Check your home's circuit breaker or fuse box to make sure the switch for the disposal hasn’t tripped.
  • 2. Fixing a Garbage Disposal that Won't Turn On: If your disposal won't activate, follow these steps.

    • Press the reset button: As mentioned, this can often resolve the issue.
    • Check for jams: Turn off the power and use a flashlight to look for any objects that might be blocking the impellers. Clear any obstructions with pliers.
    • Test the switch: If other steps fail, the issue might be with the switch itself, which may need replacing.
  • 3. Resolving a Humming but Non-Turning Disposal: A humming sound indicates that the motor is running but the impellers aren’t moving.

    • Turn off power: Safety first! Always turn off the power at the circuit breaker.
    • Use an Allen wrench: Insert an Allen wrench into the hole at the bottom of the disposal and wiggle back and forth to free up the impellers.
    • Remove obstructions: As with a non-starting disposal, check for and remove any debris.

Fixing Leaks and Slow Drainage

Leaks and slow drainage in garbage disposals are common issues that can lead to bigger problems if not addressed promptly. A failed seal can cause leaks from the top, while internal wear and tear could cause the unit to leak from the bottom. Both scenarios require different approaches—tightening bolts or replacing gaskets for top leaks, and inspecting or potentially replacing the unit for bottom leaks. Slow drainage usually stems from clogs within the disposal or connected piping. Addressing these issues involves methods like using a plunger or cleaning out the trap, which can restore normal function and prevent future blockages. Properly diagnosing and fixing these problems not only prevents water damage but also maintains the efficiency of your kitchen’s waste disposal system.

  • 1. Fixing a Garbage Disposal Leak from the Top: Leaks from the top usually occur due to a poor seal between the sink and the disposal.

    • Tighten the mounting bolts: This can often solve the problem if the seal has loosened.
    • Replace the sink flange gasket: If tightening doesn’t help, the gasket may need to be replaced.
  • 2. Resolving a Leak from the Bottom: Leaks from the bottom are often more problematic and may indicate a failed internal seal.

    • Inspect for cracks: Check for any visible cracks in the housing.
    • Consider replacement: Unfortunately, internal leaks typically require replacing the disposal.
  • 3. Clearing a Slow-Draining Garbage Disposal: A slow drain can be frustrating and is usually caused by clogs or buildup.

    • Disconnect the power: Always ensure the disposal is turned off.
    • Use a plunger: Attempt to clear the clog with a plunger first.
    • Clean the trap: Remove the trap and clean it out thoroughly.

By following the steps outlined in this guide, you can effectively diagnose and resolve many of the most common issues that affect garbage disposals. This knowledge not only saves you time but also helps in maintaining the efficiency of your disposal. However, certain problems can be complex, and attempting repairs without the proper expertise may lead to further damage or even personal injury.

If you encounter persistent issues with your garbage disposal or if you're not confident in your ability to safely perform repairs, don't hesitate to seek professional help. Schedule a repair appointment with Sears Home Services to ensure that your disposal is handled by experts. To prevent future problems and extend the life of your disposal, schedule routine maintenance with our skilled technicians. Regular professional servicing can help keep your disposal running smoothly and prevent unexpected breakdowns.

Schedule your kitchen appliance repair now!

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Call (213) 596-2538 or schedule online now.

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