How to Fix Your Garbage Disposal

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Posted April 8, 2018

Not all plumbing repairs are created equal, and, thankfully, many can be done with just a little bit of guidance. We’ve outlined a few tips and tricks for the easy repairs that you can DIY to fix your garbage disposal.

First, confirm that electricity is flowing to the garbage disposal. This can be done by checking the circuit breaker or fuses at the main electrical panel.

If your garbage disposal is not making any noise, not even a hum, then the problem is most likely that your unit is not receiving power. Most disposals have a switch at the bottom that works like a little circuit breaker and can “trip.” It works similarly to your GFCI outlets where a reset button (or thermal overload button) can “pop” to prevent any overloading.

If this fails to restore power to the disposal, then flip the disposal’s wall switch. If you hear the motor humming, immediately turn off the switch and unplug the disposal.

If the thermal overload button does not restore power, then you will need to call in a licensed electrician to inspect.

Humming or Jammed Garbage Disposal

You’ll easily be able to tell if you have a jam in your garbage disposal. When the motor starts humming, this means that something is causing a block in the rotation of the cutter wheel, and subsequently the motor. Jams can be caused by a lot of things – like a piece of bone, silverware, pits from fruit, and much more. If you suspect something other than food doesn’t cause the jam, don’t run water and try to unclog using the same methods as you would for food. If it’s a valuable object, you may need to call a plumber to ensure that it has the best chance of survival. If the clog has built up over time, then food is likely the culprit of this jam.

Pro Tip: Don’t continue to run your disposal if you suspect there is a jam. This will quickly burn out the motor.

1. Ensure your disposal is unplugged.

2. Then locate the hex-shaped hole on the bottom of the disposal. Insert an Allen wrench into the hole. Your disposal likely came with one, but if not, they can easily be found at your local home improvement store.

3. Manually turn the disposal’s motor shaft first counterclockwise, then clockwise until the obstruction is dislodged and the motor shaft spins freely. You may want to hold onto the disposer for support, so you don’t pull it off the sink. If you are still having trouble turning the motor, then move on to step 5.

4. Remove the wrench and plug in the disposal. Run water into the sink and turn on the disposal. If it runs smoothly, then you’re all set.

5. If the disposal motor is still jammed, turn it with a disposal wrench.

6. Push the wrench down into the disposal from above and rotate it until its jaws lock onto the cutter wheel. Forcefully, turn the wrench first in a counterclockwise direction, then clockwise until the jam is cleared and the motor can rotate freely.

Pro Tip: No matter what is lodged in your disposal, never use your hands to reach in and grab it. Always use tongs or pliers to pull it out.

7. Remove the wrench, plug in the disposal, and check its operation.

If the disposal is still having problems, then contact your local plumbing professional to inspect the unit further.

Disposal Drain Is Clogged

Sometimes when your dishwasher is running, it can cause water to back up into your sink. This is because there is a hose connected between the dishwasher and the disposal. If your cutter wheel becomes clogged, then water backs up and seeps through. The best way to fix this issue is to ensure that your disposal is clear of any buildup. Learn more on our blog about cleaning and maintaining your garbage disposal. If it’s not just when you run the dishwasher, then the clog could be in the disposal or farther down the drain line. This isn’t necessarily a garbage disposal problem, but rather a plumbing issue. See our blog on unclogging your drain for some DIY methods or call your local plumber.

Pro Tip: Don’t pour harsh chemicals down your drain in the hopes that this will clear the clog. The inside of your garbage disposal is made of plastic that will be corroded with chemical solutions.

Disposal Grinds Poorly

If you notice that your disposal doesn’t grind as well as it should (or used to!), then make sure you are running enough water while operating the unit and that you are only grinding appropriate items. If you are still able to hear the garbage disposal running, but the blades aren’t grinding, then you may have one or more broken blades. If this is the case, it’s often cheaper to replace the entire unit rather than just the blades. Contact a licensed professional to learn more about replacing your unit.

Leaky Garbage Disposal

Above the Sink

Most garbage disposals are connected to your sink with a flange or plumber’s putty. Over time the seal can loosen and corrode. For this fix, you’ll need to detach the garbage disposal, clean off any old putty, and reseal. If your garbage disposal is not connected this way, it can be a more difficult fix. The flange itself may need to be replaced, which requires removing and replacing drain pipes.

Below the Disposal

If you notice leaks below the disposal, try to find the source of the leak. If it’s not just a leak dripping from the top, then a bottom leak means that a seal on the inside of the disposal is broken. This can be something that naturally wears out over time. The best, easiest, and fastest fix for this problem is investing in a new disposal. While it’s true that you could replace or reseal the inside, it will probably be more work to do so then it’s worth. Garbage disposals aren’t terribly expensive, and they last anywhere from 5-10 years with proper maintenance.

From the Sides of the Disposal

A leak like this is probably from where the drain lines connect. When looking at your disposal, you will see two connections on the side. The smaller hose is where your dishwasher drains into the disposal. The larger pipe is the drain out of the disposal into the sewer. A leak like this could back up water into your sink. To fix your garbage disposal leak, tighten all connections. If tightening screws doesn’t stop this, then replace your rubber gasket as well.


Still have questions or concerns? Feel free to contact us with any of your garbage disposal fix questions or concerns. We would be happy to help you!

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