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Garbage Disposal Smoking (Here’s Why & A Fix)

You may rarely see smoke or a burning smell coming out of your garbage disposal. Why does this happen and how to fix it?

The smoke or a burning smell from a garbage disposal is typically caused by a burnt-out or overheated motor. This could be the result of jams, leaking water short-circuiting the motor, manufacturing defects, lack of water when grinding or overloading the garbage disposal with too much food waste.

If you see smoke coming out, turn off the garbage disposal immediately.

1. The garbage disposal is stuck

A garbage disposal works using an impeller which helps to break down food waste. But the free movement of this impeller can be obstructed by jams or any hard objects. All garbage disposals come with a built-in circuit breaker that breaks the electrical connections to address such scenarios. But if you are unlucky, this circuit can fail to trigger, causing the motor of your disposal to overheat and burn out. This overheating leads to smoke coming out of the disposal, and even fire hazards in rare cases.

In most cases, you will get ample time and warning to switch off the disposal before it leads to any serious damage. If your garbage disposal stops running and you hear a humming sound coming from its motor, it means the disposal is stuck, and its safety mechanism failed to trigger. If this happens, switch off the disposer immediately and unjam it (here is a detailed guide to unjamming a garbage disposal).

If the safety mechanism worked, it would just stop working without making that humming sound. In that case, you can reset it to work again after removing the obstruction.

2. Water leaking into the motor

It is not unheard of garbage disposals leaking. A garbage disposal’s motor and electrical circuits sit below its grinding chamber. Leaks can occur if there is a blockage at the drain opening, causing water to back up and seep into the motor. There is a waterproof sealing between the motor and the grinding chamber to prevent any water from damaging the former. However, the grinding chamber can corrode and have holes, causing leaks.

If this happens, the leaking water can cause the motor to short-circuit and cause smoke. If you see any signs of this, immediately switch off the motor.

A leaking garbage disposal has a higher chance of catching fire as it causes short-circuiting.

In this case, there isn’t anything you can do to repair the garbage disposal. If the seals separating the motor and the grinding chamber of the disposal are broken, it is beyond repair. The best solution here is to replace the garbage disposal.

3. Manufacturing defects

Overheating and fire hazards can also happen due to manufacturing defects in the garbage disposal. These defects can cause its motor to overheat and burn.

4. Not enough water when grinding

Another reason for the garbage disposal motor to overload and smoke is the lack of running water when grinding. You should run plenty of water while running a garbage disposal. This helps to wash away the food as it is ground. The water also offers some level of lubrication for grinding. If there is not enough water, the food can accumulate inside the disposal, overloading its motor, and eventually leading to smoking.

5. Overloading the disposal with food waste

Overloading your garbage disposal by cramming lots of food waste into it at a time can prevent the garbage disposal working properly and add extra load to its motor. This will cause the motor to overheat and lead to you know what. This can also happen if you try to grind foods that are not garbage disposal friendly.

What to do with a smoking garbage disposal ?

In the infrequent event of your garbage disposal smoking, disconnect it from the mains. In such cases, seeking professional appliance repair services can help diagnose and fix the issue effectively. You probably cannot disconnect it from the power outlet because the outlet usually sits beside the disposal, and trying to reach there can endanger you. So the best option is to switch off the mains.

If there is fire; At no event shall you try to extinguish the fire with water. The best option is to use a fire extinguisher. Electrical fires are Class C fires, so you will have to use a suitable fire extinguisher. You can also try to smother the fire using baking soda, an active ingredient in fire extinguishers. But this can be impractical; since your disposal is suspended from the bottom of the kitchen sink, you cannot effectively pour baking soda over the fire.

It can be really tempting to handle the fire yourself but calling 911 is the best thing to do. You will also have to evacuate everyone.

Can you perform appliance repair on a smoking garbage disposal?

Overheating the garbage disposal doesn’t lead to long-term problems if you handle it well. If your disposal overheats, kill the power and let it cool. Then reset it using the reset button under the unit.

A burnt-out motor can also lead to unpleasant odors, indicating the need for a replacement. But if you see smoke rising from the garbage disposal, it is doubtful that it can be repaired. In most cases, it is cost-effective to replace that unit with a new disposal. Repairing the old disposal can cost as much as a new one, and there is no guarantee that the problem won’t come back again.

Can garbage disposal catch fire?

A garbage disposal can catch fire if it is stuck and the reset button fails to work. This causes its motor to overheat, which can technically lead to a fire hazard. But this rarely happens.

I had never heard anyone saying their garbage disposal was on fire, so I was inquisitive when a friend asked. Browsing the internet led me to a 10-year-old video that showed footage of an apartment burning due to a fire in a garbage disposal unit. Here’s the video;

There was also news of a recall from the company InSinkErator because some of their models posed a fire hazard due to water overheating the power module and outlet beneath the sink (Source).

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.