How to Fix a Garbage Disposal

Find out how to identify and fix these common garbage disposal issues.

herringbone tile kitchen
Photo:

Ryan Bent

Project Overview
  • Total Time: 30 minutes
  • Skill Level: Beginner

A garbage disposal is a helpful kitchen appliance that can be used to break down a wide variety of waste items. Having it located next to the sink increases kitchen efficiency, making it easier to clean up after a meal.

However, not every type of food waste can be put in a garbage disposal. To keep it working properly, avoid adding hot grease, oil, coffee grounds, seeds, stringy fruit, fibrous vegetables, and hard shells. If problems with your disposal do occur, you might be able to handle them on your own without calling a repair professional. Use this guide to learn how to fix a garbage disposal, including when it won't turn on, when it leaks, when it's clogged, and when it hums but doesn't grind.

Garbage Disposal Safety

When working on your garbage disposal, it's important to keep safety in mind. Always turn off and unplug the disposal to ensure it won't activate while you're working. You can also turn off the circuit breaker for the disposal.

To avoid repetitive repairs or costly replacements, make sure you're using the garbage disposal correctly. Don't put hot grease, oil, coffee grounds, seeds, stringy fruit, fibrous vegetables, or hard shells into the disposal. Additionally, you should never put chemical cleaners into the disposal.

Also, avoid sticking your hand or fingers into the disposal. If it's necessary to insert something into the disposal to retrieve an item or clear a clog, use a set of needle-nose pliers or even a thin, wooden handle of a scrub brush.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

Tools for Disposal That Won't Grind

  • 1/4-inch hex head wrench
  • Metal tongs
  • Needle-nose pliers

Tools for Leaky Disposal

  • Wrench
  • Channellock pliers

Tools for Clogged Disposal

  • Metal tongs
  • Needle-nose pliers
  • Wrench
  • Channellock pliers

Materials

Materials for Leaky Disposal

  • Bucket
  • Towels
  • Plumber's putty

Materials for Clogged Disposal

  • Flashlight
  • Plumber's snake

Instructions

How to Fix a Garbage Disposal That Won't Turn On

  1. Check the Circuit Breaker or Fuse

    Before worrying about the actual disposal unit, the first thing you should check if a garbage disposal won't turn on is the circuit breaker or fuse. If the circuit breaker has tripped or the fuse has blown, you'll need to reset the tripped breaker or replace the fuse to restore power to the disposal. Keep in mind that if the breaker continues to flip, there is likely a more serious electrical problem. Consult a professional electrician to identify and repair the issue.

  2. Unplug the Garbage Disposal

    If the circuit breaker was not the source of the issue, unplug the disposal. For homes with hardwired disposal, you will need to turn off the circuit breaker to the garbage disposal to ensure it is disconnected before proceeding.

  3. Step 3: Reset the Garbage Disposal

    Find the reset button on the bottom or side of the garbage disposal. In some cases, if there is an electrical issue with the disposal unit or the motor has overheated due to overwork, the overload protector will trigger, cutting power to the unit. To reset the disposal, simply press the reset button and wait a few minutes to ensure the disposal has had enough time to cool down. However, if the disposal regularly overheats and requires resetting, it may need to be replaced or repaired by a professional repair technician.

  4. Test the Garbage Disposal

    Turn on the circuit breaker and plug in the garbage disposal. Run cold water into the disposal and turn it on to test that it's working.

How to Fix a Garbage Disposal That Doesn't Grind

  1. Unplug Garbage Disposal

    When the garbage disposal makes a humming sound instead of grinding normally, it is typically due to a physical obstruction that is preventing the blades from rotating freely. Start this fix by unplugging the garbage disposal or turning it off at the circuit breaker if it is a hardwired model.

  2. Rotate the Flywheel and Impellers

    Most garbage disposals come with a 1/4-inch hex head wrench, but if your disposal did not, you can purchase one online or at a local home improvement store. Locate the small, hex-shaped recess in the bottom of the garbage disposal and insert the 1/4-inch hex head wrench. Firmly twist the wrench back and forth to rotate the flywheel and impellers in order to loosen the stuck item.

  3. Remove the Obstruction

    Once the item is loose inside the garbage disposal, use a set of metal tongs, needle-nose pliers, or even a thin wooden broom handle to reach into the disposal and retrieve the object causing the obstruction. Do not put your hands or fingers into the disposal.

  4. Test the Garbage Disposal

    Turn on the circuit breaker and plug in the garbage disposal. Run cold water and turn the unit on to test if it's working properly. In some cases, the obstruction will trigger the overload protector, so you may need to press the reset button to restore power.

How to Fix a Garbage Disposal That Leaks

  1. Turn Off Disposal and Locate Leak

    If you suspect that the garbage disposal is leaking, move everything out of the area under the sink and set up a bucket and a few towels to contain the leak. Inspect the plumbing around the disposal to find the source of the leak. The most common parts that leak into the hoses that run to and from the garbage disposal are the discharge drainpipe and the sink flange. Leaks coming from the body of the unit generally indicate that the disposal needs to be replaced.

  2. Tighten Hose Connections or Replace Leaking Hoses

    For leaks coming from one of the hose connections, simply use a wrench or a set of Channellock pliers to tighten the hose connections. If the leak persists, the issue is likely a worn-out hose. You will need to replace the hose and the hose connectors to stop the leak.

  3. Tighten the Drainpipe Bolts or Replace the Gasket Seal

    Leaks coming from the discharge drainpipe can usually be fixed by simply tightening the drainpipe bolts. However, if the gasket seal between the drainpipe and the disposal is worn out, you will need to disconnect the discharge drainpipe, replace the gasket seal, and reinstall the drainpipe to resolve the problem.

  4. Tighten and Seal the Sink Flange

    Sometimes the vibration of the garbage disposal can loosen the connection between the disposal and the sink drain opening, creating a leak. To fix this problem, start by turning off the power to the garbage disposal.

    Disconnect the garbage disposal from the mounting ring to access the mounting bolts. Inspect the plumber's putty between the sink flange and sink. If it shows signs of wear or improper installation, remove the old putty and apply a new bead of plumber's putty to seal the connection between the sink flange and sink.

    Tighten the mounting bolts to secure the sink flange to the sink and allow enough time for the putty to set. Once the plumber's putty has set, reinstall the garbage disposal to the mounting flange.

  5. Test the Garbage Disposal

    Plug in and turn on the circuit breaker for disposal. Run cold water into the disposal and turn it on to test if the leak is fixed. Remove the bucket and towels, then put back anything you took out from under the sink.

How to Fix a Clogged Garbage Disposal

  1. Unplug Garbage Disposal

    Unplug and turn off the circuit breaker to the garbage disposal to prioritize safety over a quick fix.

  2. Inspect Disposal and Remove Accessible Obstructions

    In some cases, you can see the clog from above by looking into the disposal with a flashlight. Having an idea of what the clog looks like can help you to clear the disposal. If possible, remove the obstruction with a set of metal tongs or needle-nose pliers.

  3. Disconnect and Remove Discharge Drainpipe

    If the clog isn't completely solid or it's too deep to reach, you'll need to remove the bolts holding the discharge pipe to the disposal. Once the bolts have been removed, disconnect the drain trap and the discharge drainpipe to access the clog.

  4. Clear Clogs or Obstructions

    Inspect the drain trap and discharge drainpipe to locate and clear the clog. If you can't find any clogs in the drain trap, discharge drainpipe, or the main garbage disposal unit, the clog is likely in the branch drain line. Insert a plumber's snake into the branch drain line to pull out or break up the clog.

  5. Reassemble and Test Disposal

    When the clog has been removed, reinstall the drain trap and discharge the drainpipe. Plug in the disposal and turn on the circuit breaker to restore power. Run cold water into the garbage disposal and turn it on to test that it is working properly.

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