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Garbage Disposal NOT Working? Here Is How To Fix It

Garbage disposals are machines that require minimum maintenance. However, that doesn’t mean they won’t run into problems. One day, your garbage disposal can suddenly stop working.

Two common problems are;

  1. Garbage disposal won’t turn on
  2. Garbage disposal stays humming without running

There can also be performance issues with garbage disposals, like, it can run alright but it is not grinding food wastes well.

Fixing a garbage disposal that won’t turn on

There are three reasons why a garbage disposal won’t turn;

  1. The device is not properly plugged in
  2. Tripped reset button
  3. The motor is faulty

Make sure that the garbage disposal is properly plugged in

It is entirely possible that the power from the mains doesn’t reach your garbage disposal due to improper wiring. So if your garbage disposal won’t turn on, check and make sure that the wiring is done properly and that its plug is secure. You can also check whether the power reaches the garbage disposal or not by using a multimeter (Here is how to do it).

If there is no power in the plug socket, it could be that the circuit breaker is tripped. Try reconnecting the circuit breaker and see if your garbage disposal turns on. If the breaker trips again, either the motor of the garbage disposal is faulty, or the plug outlet is. To determine which of these is the problem, use an extension cord and connect the garbage disposal to another power outlet. If the breaker trips when the disposal is turned on, then the problem is with the motor. If it is not, you have a faulty outlet.

Now that you identified the problem, you know how to fix it. If the problem is with the power outlet, replace it, it is easy and cheap. However, if the problem is with the garbage disposal, it could be either that its overload protector is tripped due to overloading or the motor is faulty.

Reset the garbage disposal

All garbage disposals come with an overload protector. When the disposal is jammed, run for a long time, or has any faults, this overload protector breaks the electrical connections from the mains. This is done to protect the motor from burning out.

To know if the overload protector has tripped, look for the reset button of your garbage disposal. These buttons are either on the bottom side of the disposal (if you have an InSinkErator) or at the bottom part of its front-facing side. If the reset button is popped out, its circuit breaker is triggered, and no power reaches the garbage disposal.

In this case, push the reset button back into its original position and turn on the garbage disposal. If the garbage disposal is running, we fixed the problem. If it stops and the reset button is pushed out again, the unit could be damaged, and you need to call a professional to fix or replace it.

Resetting a garbage disposal

Check if the motor is faulty

If you already checked the electrical connections and tried resetting the garbage disposal, and either of them is not working, then there is a good chance that the motor of your garbage disposal is faulty. If you see slight smoke or experience a burning smell, then the problem is with the motor. Do NOT turn on the disposer again.

My best advice is, do not try repairing the motor, instead replace the entire garbage disposal. This is because repairing the motor and reinstalling it will cost as much as buying and installing a new garbage disposal. If you are curious to know how much it costs to install a new garbage disposal, here is a good source.

Fixing a garbage disposal that is humming but not running

Sometimes when you turn on your garbage disposal, it sits there humming without running. This means that the motor is turned on, but the garbage disposal blades are unable to move. This is caused by foods jamming them or due to foreign objects blocking their free movement.

If the garbage disposal stays humming, then immediately turn it off. Trying to run it can cause the motor to burn out.

The only solution to fix your garbage disposal is to remove the obstructions. Here is how to;

  • Step 1: Disconnect the garbage disposal from the mains to prevent it from accidentally turning on.
  • Step 2: Look into your garbage disposal using a flashlight to see whether it is food or any objects like spoons that are obstructing it. If there are any hard objects like spoons or bones, use a pair of tongs to remove them.
  • Step 3: Free up the garbage disposal blades by manually rotating them using an Allen key if your garbage disposal has a hex hole under it. Or, you can use a garbage disposal wrench or a broom handle and rotate the blades from the top through the sinkhole. Rotate the blades in 360 degrees in both directions until they start rotating smoothly.
  • Step 4: Once your garbage disposal starts turning freely, run plenty of water and then turn it on.

Here is a detailed guide on unjamming a garbage disposal.

If the garbage disposal still hums without running, it is better to seek professional help without further damaging it.

Fixing a garbage disposal that is not grinding well

Garbage disposals, too, have performance issues. They may grind everything you throw at them when they are new. But over time, their blades can get blunt, and they fail to grind well.

But garbage disposals do not have blades.

They have a flywheel that has freely rotating lugs on it. These lugs are blunt, and all they do is throw the food wastes at a stationary grinding ring which breakdown these food wastes into smaller sizes. So what causes the drop in their performance? The answer is lack of proper cleaning. Garbage disposals need to be cleaned regularly. Otherwise, some food wastes will remain in them, sticking to the grind rings and their other grinding parts, making it difficult for food to pass. This will lead to jams and clogs.

To fix a garbage disposal that is not grinding well, all you have to do is clean it once a week.

How to clean a garbage disposal

Using ice cubes is the best and most effective way to clean a garbage disposal. To do this;

  • Step 1: Dump two or three trays of ice cubes into your garbage disposal while it is NOT running. Fill your garbage disposal fully with these ice cubes.
  • Step 2: Run hot water and turn on the garbage disposal. You will be surprised at the amount of dirt that is backed up into the sink. Keep the garbage disposal running until all the ice cubes are ground. Keep the water running for another minute or so.

Now your garbage disposal and its blades are all clean and shiny.

If you want to know more about cleaning your garbage disposal here is a good article.

My name is Thomas Anderson, author of DisposalQA. I have 15 years experience working as a plumber in CA, and this is where I answer common questions about garbage disposals.