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What to Do When Your Garbage Disposal Stops Working?

We’ve all been there – You stand at the kitchen sink, flip the switch, hear the old garbage disposal grind for a second… and then it conks out entirely. It’s one of those really frustrating household moments that instantly raises the blood pressure. Unfortunately, folks around Ohio and Indiana are quite familiar with balky garbage disposals acting up.

These essential kitchen workhorses make quick work of food scraps that would otherwise clog up sinks and pipes. With a simple flip of the switch, even the stickiest messes get pulverized and washed away. But when yours refuses to whir into action, it disrupts the entire household routine. Before you know it, the sink is backing up with that unmistakable funk of rotting food waste. Not an aroma anyone wants lingering around the kitchen!

But there’s no need to panic! We’ll walk you through all the common reasons disposals jam up or stop working altogether. We’ll troubleshoot each issue with easy, step-by-step fixes any homeowner can handle themselves. You’ll have plenty of DIY tricks to avoid a visit from professional plumbers. However, we’ll also tell you when it’s best to call our services for some professional backup.

With this guide, you’ll be grinding away like a champ with a smoothly running garbage disposal once again!

Garbage Disposal

How a Garbage Disposal Works

A garbage disposal is a pretty simple kitchen device. This hardworking unit relies on some basic but heavy-duty components to pulverize all that icky food waste into teeny-tiny particles that are small enough to safely rinse away.

The core mechanism is driven by an induction motor that spins and rotates a grinding plate and shredder ring. This shredder ring has tough impellers called lugs or teeth. As the plate and ring spin together rapidly, they create a powerful vortex that shreds any food waste into tiny particles.

Now you might be thinking – “But won’t my leftover meatloaf wreak havoc on those blades?” Good question! The grind components are made from hard metal alloys that stay razor-sharp for years. Most disposals can handle all kinds of food waste like bones, pits, and even frozen leftovers without issue.

Having this kitchen crusher on hand is a serious convenience. Instead of carefully scraping plates into the trash, you can simply sweep all those food remnants right into the drain. This eliminates the unpleasant task of fishing food particles out of pipes and prevents soggy waste from creating odors.

While you’ll still want to avoid putting fibrous or starchy items down the disposal to prevent clogs, for most food waste it provides an efficient no-mess solution. It’s like having a tiny garbage truck right there under your sink!

A well-maintained garbage disposal can be a true workhorse in making your kitchen cleanup smoother and more convenient for years to come. But what can you do when it suddenly stops working? Let’s explore this in the next section.

Safety First

Before you dive headfirst into any garbage disposal repairs, let’s get one thing straight – safety comes first, last, and everything in between! These kitchen workhorses may seem innocent enough, but they’ve got some serious grinding power under the hood. One wrong move could leave you with a nasty cut or worse. No leftover scraps are worth risking life and limb over!

The very first step, even before breaking out the toolbox, is ensuring that disposal is completely powered down. No taking any chances here. Most units have an easy power switch right on the front or under the sink. Give the switch a firm flip to the “off” position. In fact, it’s best to keep that disposal unplugged from the wall.

And just to be safe, you can also cut power at the circuit breaker panel to eliminate any chance of a surprise zap. Just locate the breaker for the kitchen circuit, switch it off, and you’re in a truly power-free zone to work safely.

Now that it’s de-energized, go ahead and grab your basic toolkit – a sturdy set of pliers, an adjustable wrench, maybe some Allen wrenches. Oh, and don’t forget a nice bright flashlight to properly inspect the grinding chamber. Also, some work gloves will help protect your hands from any jagged disposal innards.

With the power killed and your protective gear on, you’re ready to do some troubleshooting tricks like a pro. No need to go charging in blindly and risking an injury. A few simple safety steps make all the difference when wrangling this kitchen mechanism back into shape.

Troubleshooting Common Issues

Even the most reliable garbage disposals can run into hiccups from time to time. Here are some of the most common issues you may encounter, along with detailed steps to get your hard-working kitchen companion back on track:


Jams often occur when fibrous or hard items like banana peels, celery stalks, or fruit pits get caught between the grinding plate and shredder ring. You’ll likely hear the telltale sound of the motor straining or humming, but the blades won’t be turning.

To clear a jam safely:

  1. Make sure the disposal is powered off and unplugged.
  2. Use tongs or a wooden spoon handle to try dislodging the jam from the drain opening. Never stick your hand inside.
  3. Most disposals have a hex-shaped socket at the bottom where you can insert an Allen wrench.
  4. With the wrench inserted, work it back and forth to manually rotate the blades and free up the jam.
  5. Once cleared, reinsert the drain cover and run water to flush away any debris before turning it back on.


Despite the disposal’s grinding ability, clogs can still form in the drain pipe from food particles, grease, and waste building up over time. Signs of a clog include slow-draining water and gurgling backup noises.

To clear a clogged drain pipe:

  1. Check that the disposal is turned off and unplugged.
  2. Try using a plunger first – ensure a tight seal over the drain opening and plunge vigorously several times.
  3. If that doesn’t work, you may need to disassemble the drain pipes under the sink and use a plumber’s snake to clear the clog.
  4. Feed the snake cable into the pipe slowly while turning the handle to drive it through the blockage.
  5. Run hot water down the drain once cleared to flush through any remaining debris.


Leaks commonly originate from cracked seals or piping joints underneath the disposal unit. You may notice water pooling under the sink or dripping from the unit itself.

To stop leaks:

  1. First, turn off the power and water supply lines to the disposal.
  2. Use a flashlight to locate the source of the leak – it may be cracked gaskets, a worn seal around the drain opening, or loose piping connections.
  3. For piping joint leaks, tighten slip nuts or clamps with pliers or a wrench.
  4. Cracked gaskets or seals may need to be replaced – take note of the parts needed for your disposal model.
  5. If the leak seems to originate from the grinding chamber itself, the disposal housing may be cracked, requiring a full unit replacement.

Electrical Issues 

Sometimes the issue could be electrical, like a loss of power, a tripped circuit breaker, faulty wiring, or a burned-out motor. You may notice the unit not turning on at all, or the reset button blinking.

To troubleshoot electrical problems:

  1. First, make sure the disposal is properly plugged into a working electrical outlet.
  2. Check if a circuit breaker has tripped by inspecting your home’s circuit breaker box and resetting any popped breakers.
  3. Most disposals have a red reset button on the underside – press firmly to reset the unit after any power interruptions.
  4. If resetting doesn’t work, the disposal may have an internal electrical fault requiring professional repair.

Strange Noises 

Pay attention to any out-of-the-ordinary noises as they can indicate various problems. Grinding or clunking sounds may mean something is stuck in the blades, while a humming noise often signals a jammed motor unable to turn.

To diagnose noise issues:

  1. Turn off and unplug the unit immediately if the noises seem excessive.
  2. Check for any obvious jams or clogs first using the methods above.
  3. For loud grinding noises with no apparent obstruction, the grinding components may simply be worn out from age and need replacing.
  4. If nothing obvious is causing the noise, the motor’s internal components could be going bad, which requires professional repair.

Stay patient and take things one step at a time. With some basic tools and this troubleshooting guide, you’ll have your trusty kitchen helper running smoothly again in no time!

When to Call in the Experts

There are times when even the most enthusiastic do-it-yourselfer needs to know their limits and call for professional backup on garbage disposal problems. While basic clogs or jams can often be resolved through some handy know-how, certain issues require the skilled eye and tools of professional plumbers. Attempting complex repairs yourself could not only fail to truly fix the underlying problem but potentially create new hazards or void product warranties down the line.

One major red flag that signals it’s time to call in the pros? Any indication of electrical issues with your disposal. Maybe you’ve noticed buzzing or smoke when flipping the switch, or it simply won’t power on at all despite your best reset efforts.

While changing out a tripped circuit breaker is manageable for most homeowners, any suspected faults in the disposal’s internal wiring are best left to a qualified electrician or appliance repair expert. Playing amateur with electrical components risks fires, shocks, or compounding the damage even further.

Similarly, if your usually trusty kitchen grinder has developed loud, worrisome grinding noises or the motor has completely seized up, it’s likely due for professional diagnosis and potential replacement. Trying to open up and repair the sealed motor housing and grinding components is an extremely delicate task without the proper knowledge and specialized tools. An experienced technician can properly assess whether an affordable fix is viable or if a full replacement disposal is recommended based on the unit’s age and condition.

Tenacious clogs that stubbornly persist despite your best sink plunging or drain snaking attempts may also require calling in a licensed plumber. They have access to specialized equipment like powered augers to thoroughly clear out the entire waste line from one end to the other. Leaving clogs unresolved can eventually lead to hazardous sewer gas backups and water damage that no homeowner wants to deal with.

If your leaky disposal appears to have cracks or damage in the main housing itself, it’s highly advisable to get a professional opinion before attempting any DIY repair. What may seem like a minor hairline fracture in the grind chamber can rapidly worsen over time, allowing contaminated wastewater to disperse and creating potential health hazards. A skilled plumber can determine whether it can be reasonably sealed or if replacement is the safest bet.

While the urge to take a hands-on approach to repairs is admirable, there are certain situations where prioritizing safety and preventing further damage is worth the investment of professional service. Don’t be afraid to wave the white flag and reach out to certified local experts once your troubleshooting skills have been exhausted on a particularly stubborn garbage disposal dilemma.

Replacement Considerations

Even with diligent maintenance, every hard-working garbage disposal eventually reaches the end of its lifespan. Knowing when to say goodbye and opt for a full replacement unit can save you from pouring money into an aging model plagued by constant breakdowns.

One major sign it’s time to start shopping for a new disposal? Its age. Most units have an expected service life of around 8-15 years with regular residential use. If your grinder is closing in on that 10-year mark and requiring frequent repairs, it’s likely more cost-effective long-term to just bite the bullet and install a fresh replacement model.

You’ll also want to consider replacing if your current unit has simply become unreliable or struggling with efficiency despite your best efforts at troubleshooting and maintenance. If jams, clogs, or strange noises have become the new normal, that’s a surefire indicator of internal components simply being worn beyond reasonable repair.

When weighing repair costs against replacement, do the math and think long-term. While replacing the entire disposal may require a bigger upfront investment, it could ultimately prove cheaper than paying for multiple service calls to try reviving an aging unit with recurring issues. Not to mention eliminating the ongoing headaches and hassles of a problematic model.

Disposing of your current unit and installing a new one isn’t as pricey a proposition as you might think for homeowners in Ohio and Indiana either. Entry-level garbage disposal models can typically be found in the $75-175 range from local home improvement stores. Step up to a midrange $175-300 model and you’ll enjoy features like higher horsepower motors, better insulation for quieter operation, and even premium components like stainless steel grinding chambers.

If your disposal is relatively new but just one component like the motor or grind chamber has failed, repair may be the smarter route as long as the unit still has years of expected life left in it. But for those units already pushing a decade of heavy use? Don’t throw good money after bad. Opt instead for a new reliable model that can give you peace of mind and years of clog-free operation.

Maintenance Tips

Treating your garbage disposal right is the key to enjoying years of headache-free kitchen service from this hard-working appliance. Just a little regular TLC goes a long way in keeping your trusty under-sink grinder humming smoothly.

Regular Cleaning

Don’t let a building sludge of stuck-on food waste and grime turn your disposal into a smelly, underperforming mess. An easy routine cleaning at least once a month works wonders.

Start by tossing a handful of ice cubes down the drain and letting the disposal crush them. The ice works like a natural scouring agent to help dislodge any grimy buildup stuck to the grind components. Follow that up with a half cup of baking soda then a cup of plain white vinegar. Let it fizz away for 5-10 minutes, then rinse everything down with hot water while running the disposal.

For an extra fresh lemony scent, try tossing in a few lemon or orange rinds after the baking soda and vinegar treatment. The citric acid gives things an extra deodorizing boost! With this simple cleaning ritual, you’ll keep foul odors and excessive gunk at bay.

Proper Usage

Part of getting the most lifespan out of your disposal comes from being smarter about what you put down the drain in the first place. Think of it like maintaining a finely-tuned machine – you don’t want to gum up the works with inappropriate items.

Obviously, you’ll want to avoid putting anything non-food related into the disposal. That means no glass, plastic, paper, utensils, or other foreign objects that could potentially damage the grinding components. Likewise, avoid particularly fibrous items like corn husks, celery stalks, or tough plant skins and membranes that have a higher likelihood of causing jams.

When grinding up appropriate food waste, don’t overload the disposal all at once. Feed items in a steady, moderated stream with plenty of running water to keep things flushing smoothly. Let it clear out between batches to avoid a buildup and potential overheating situation.

You’ll also want to skip putting extremely dense or expandable foods down there that could cause obstructions – things like rice, oats, bones, and starchy potato peels. While disposals can typically handle these items in small quantities, over time they promote drainage clogs that you’ll want to avoid.

By following these smart usage tips and developing a simple monthly cleaning habit, you’ll get the most out of your garbage disposal. It’ll stay fresher, last longer, and save you lots of headaches and repair costs down the road!

Tackling Garbage Disposal Headaches Head-On

A malfunctioning garbage disposal is one of the most frustrating things to handle… especially when your kitchen starts to become a smelly mess. But the good news is that many common disposal issues can be resolved through basic troubleshooting steps an average homeowner can handle.

In this guide, you have all the steps you need to tackle the most common disposal issues head-on – whether it’s jams, clogs, or leaks. Whether it’s manually rotating blades, snaking out clogs, or resetting after electrical trips, a little DIY spirit goes a long way in getting your sink area operating clog-free once again.

But if you do find yourself facing particularly stubborn disposal woes that have defeated your troubleshooting abilities, don’t go it alone. Anything involving potential electrical faults or serious damage to the disposal’s core components is best left to experienced professionals.

If you’ve worked through these troubleshooting tips but your garbage disposal still isn’t cooperating, it may be time to call in the professionals. Our skilled plumbers at Bassett Services are just a call away at (317) 360-0054. We quickly diagnose any issues and provide trustworthy advice on the most cost-effective repair or replacement solutions. Save yourself the headaches and future hassles – contact us today!

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