Under the sink garbage disposal unit

Like most appliances in your home, you don’t realize how much you rely on them until they stop working. The kitchen sink garbage disposal is one of those tools that many rely on regularly. Whether your garbage disposal is clogged, or the disposal switch is not turning on, there are solutions to fix a garbage disposal that is not working. 

How Does a Garbage Disposal Work ?

Your kitchen garbage disposal is an electrical appliance that is housed underneath your kitchen sink. If your kitchen has a double sink, the disposal is commonly mounted on the drain nearest an electrical source. 

The kitchen disposal works by spinning blades on an impeller plate rapidly when turned on by a switch – much like a blender. These sharp blades process food scraps, making them smaller and ready for flushing down the kitchen drain. 

Why Is My Garbage Disposal Not Working?

It is very common for your kitchen garbage disposal to have issues. After years of use, most kitchen sink disposals have issues. Some common issues include the garbage disposal leaking from the bottom, the garbage disposal not turning on, getting clogged, or the garbage disposal humming. It should be noted that these are all fairly common issues to see with a garbage disposal, each with a common solution that requires very little work to fix. 

Maintaining Your Garbage Disposal

Water from tap running into stainless steel sink with pot scrubber lying in it.

It may seem backwards, but running your disposal often is good. Regular use of your garbage disposal will prevent corrosion and a built-up of rust. Like any sharp blade or knife, regular use will dull the blade over time. To sharpen your disposal blades, pour a cup of ice into the disposal and run until the ice is gone. The ice helps to sharpen the blades. 

When you are putting food scraps into the disposal, aim for only processing approximately one cup at a time as more than this commonly overloads or clogs the garbage disposal. When using the disposal, stick to using cold water as hot water will liquify any fats or greases, leading to clogs in your drain later on. Finally, you should aim to periodically clean your disposal by using a small amount of dish soap and cold water. You can do this by pouring a small amount of soap into the disposal, and let cold water run for about a minute as the disposal runs. 

How to Fix a Garbage Disposal 

A plumber laying under a house hold sink working on a garbage disposal.

Whether your garbage disposal switch is not turning on or your garbage disposal is leaking, fixing your garbage disposal’s issues is much easier than many realize. Before you start any work on your disposal there are two important things to remember: do not ever put your hand in the disposal while it is plugged in, and always disconnect the disposal from its power source before doing any work on the unit. 

Leaking Garbage Disposal 

Sometimes a leaking garbage disposal goes undetected for quite some time. Because it can leak slowly, drip by drip, under your sink, it often does not get noticed immediately. The leak is most commonly caused by a loosened mounting flange between the disposal unit and the sink drain opening. It is common for this to come loose over time as the disposal is used. 

Other times, an old sealant can be the cause of the leak. To repair a leaking garbage disposal, start by disconnecting the unit from its power source. If you haven’t already, determine the area of the leak on the disposal unit. If the leak is from the top of the unit, it is most likely from the metal flange located directly inside the sink drain. Turn the disposal unit counter clockwise to loosen and separate it from the mounting flange. Next, loosen any mounting bolts and remove the flange from the top of the sink. Clean off any residue or plumber’s putty, and apply a new amount of plumber’s putty on the top of the flange, then set it back into the sink drain opening. Next, set and tighten the mounting bolts and twist the disposal back into place, re-connect the power source, and test for leaks. 

If the garbage disposal is leaking from the bottom, this points to a cracked shell of the disposal itself or a broken seal. Rather than repairing a leak from the bottom of the disposal, the unit will need to be replaced. New garbage disposal units have installation instructions specific to their model included which provides a more in-depth set of instructions for installation based on the individual features and components of each disposal unit. Alternatively, you can contact a local plumber to install your new garbage disposal system. 

Garbage Disposal Reset Button

One of the first things to troubleshoot for disposal issues is the electrical connection to the unit. If your garbage disposal is not turning on, or is unresponsive, there is a good chance that electrical connection issues are the problem. In these instances, you’ll want to locate the garbage disposal reset button that is typically located on the bottom of the disposal unit. Before pressing the reset button, reconnect the disposal to its power source, then press the reset button, then test the disposal to see if this solved the issue. If it did not, your next steps would be checking the electrical panel or wiring of the disposal installation. 

Garbage Disposal Blades Stuck

Occasionally, the blades in your disposal will get stuck. To fix this common disposal issue, start by disconnecting the disposal from its power source. Next, insert the Allen wrench (also called a hex key) into the blade access hole on the bottom of the disposal unit. Rotate the Allen wrench back and forth to turn the blades until the clog is broken up and the blades rotate freely. Finally, reconnect the power source and test to see if the clog is cleared. 

Garbage Disposal Humming Sound

If your garbage disposal makes a humming sound, the cause is something inside the disposal preventing the impeller plate from turning. This can create more problems if not promptly addressed as it can quickly burn out the motor. To fix the humming sound in your garbage disposal, disconnect it from its power source, and use the garbage disposal wrench to turn the impeller clockwise to free its clog. This is done by placing the disposal wrench into the hole on the bottom of the disposal unit. Once this is done, reconnect the power source and check to see if the disposal is working properly again. 

When to Call in an Expert 

Food scraps in stainless steel sink

Depending on your level of comfort with plumbing repairs, calling a local plumbing expert to take care of your garbage disposal issue could save you both time and money in the long run. If you find yourself overwhelmed with the process of finding the cause of your disposal issue, are unfamiliar with using tools, or are unfamiliar with how to disconnect the unit from power, calling a local plumbing expert may be a good solution for you. 

If you are a seasoned pro with home repairs but find yourself unable to locate the cause of your disposal’s issues, or run into any unforeseen problems while trying to fix the disposal, that is also a great time to call in a plumbing expert.

Larkin Plumbing is the most trusted plumber in Las Vegas and has been serving residential and commercial plumbing clients since 1936. With 24/7 emergency plumbing and no extra charge for weekends, nights, or delivery, Larkin Plumbing is an expert in fixing your kitchen disposal issues.