3 Common Garbage Disposal Issues and How to Fix Them

food in a sink over a garbage disposal drain

Garbage disposals are a useful kitchen item, helpful for cutting down on waste and quickening cleanup. They typically receive heavy use, though, so they’re prone to issues from time to time. Before you call in a professional to get your sink's gears grinding again, here are some troubleshooting options that can fix the most common disposal issues.

Issue 1 - The Disposal Won’t Turn On

If you flip the switch to initiate your garbage disposal and don’t hear that familiar hum of the motor, your initial reaction may be panic. This likely indicates an electrical problem, and there could be some simple DIY solutions.

First, make sure the disposal is plugged in, which is surprisingly the most typical source of the issue. If the disposal is plugged in, move to the next possible solution. Press the reset button, most commonly found at the bottom of the disposal unit. If this button is pressed outward, it means that it was somehow “tripped”, interrupting the electrical current. If this is the case, pressing it should launch the disposal back into working condition.

If that’s not the case, move to the main service panel to see if the circuit breaker responsible for the garbage disposal was inadvertently tripped. If it is, reset the lever to restore your disposal.

man fixing garbage disposal

If you’ve ruled out all of these potential root causes, it’s possible that the issue lies in a wiring problem. To test this, turn off the circuit breaker lever that powers the disposal and locate the switch that powers the unit, usually located either on the wall or under the sink. Remove the switch plate and check that the wire connections are all intact. If any wires are loose, tighten them to see if that rectifies the problem.

If this doesn’t offer a fix, try replacing the switch. It’s possible it’s faulty and the cause of the disruption. Turn the power back on and test the disposal. If that doesn’t fix the problem, it’s likely time to call in a professional.

hand with rag under a leaking garbage disposal

Issue 2 - Jammed Garbage Disposal

If your disposal begins humming and doesn’t grind, it’s a sign that it’s jammed. Don’t worry—there are ways to troubleshoot this yourself. Don’t keep trying to run the disposal if this happens, as it can damage the motor.

To fix this, unplug the disposal and cease electrical power to the mechanism first. Then, locate a hex-shaped hole at the bottom of the disposal, under the sink. Use a quarter-inch hex wrench to free the impellers. If your disposal model doesn’t have this hole, put a short broomstick into the disposal and force it against the blades. Slowly rotate the broomstick to rotate the impeller.

If this doesn’t remove the jam and you suspect there’s something in the disposal that is causing the clog - like a fruit pit, banana peel, or something of that nature - use tongs to pull the material out. Never stick your hand down the disposal. If these efforts don’t work in clearing the jam, it’s time to call in a plumber and maybe even replace the motor or disposal unit.

hand using wrench on pipe under sink to garbage disposal

Issue 3 - Slow Draining Disposal

A slow draining disposal is a pain and causes quite a mess in your sink. This issue may be caused by a number of reasons, but it’s usually attributed to a clog in the pipe of your disposal. You can fix this by disassembling the drain pipe and discharge pipe in order to remove the clog. To do this, start by removing the bolt holding the discharge pipe to the disposal. Next, disconnect the drain trap and remove the trap as well as the discharge drain pipe. Clean out any clogs or obstructions.

If no clogs exist, you’ll have to move to the branch drain line that connects to the wall. Use a sink auger to clear the obstruction here. Reassemble the pipes and trap and test your work by running the water and turning on the disposal to ensure it’s working correctly and draining freely. Never use chemical drain cleaners or solutions on your garbage disposal as they will not work in freeing a clog and will cause more harm than good.

Avoiding Garbage Disposal Issues

Although these issues may be fixable, you undoubtedly want to avoid having them in the first place. Do so by avoiding running fibrous foods such as coffee grounds, eggshells, bones, glass, rubber, or metal in your disposal. Also be careful to never overfill the disposal and avoid using chemical drain cleaners on it.

Whenever you’re using your disposal, run cold water and use a drain strainer to avoid clogs and debris buildup in the pipe.

Keeping your garbage disposal in working order is simple, and even when common issues arise they can usually be fixed by following the above tips.