How to Troubleshoot a Broken Garbage Disposal

Garbage DisposalHas this ever happened to you? It’s the end of the day and you are dutifully washing your evening dishes.  Your sink isn’t draining quickly, so you flip on the switch of your waste disposer expecting to hear the satisfying sound of your meal remnants being ground into a pulp.  Instead – to your shock and dismay – the disposal only hums, or even worse, does nothing at all. Frustrating, right?

Before you lose hope and spend the time and money replacing your disposal, try these “do it yourself” repair tips first.

Things You’ll Need:

  • A little time and patience
  • Willingness to get your hands dirty
  • An allen wrench
  • Dish soap or cheap cooking oil

STEP 1 – Many garbage disposals (a.k.a electric pigs) have a reset button located at the bottom of the unit that behaves likes a breaker switch or the reset button found on some electrical outlets. You may have to feel around for it if you can’t see it. While the disposal is off, press this button and then try to activate the disposal. If this works, skip the remaining steps and get back to doing your dishes! You solved the problem!

STEP 2 – If Step 1 didn’t work, turn off the disposal and unplug it from the power source. If you can’t unplug it, turn of the breaker to eliminate power to the disposal. This is an important safety step. Don’t ignore it. Be sure the power is off before you begin to work on it.

STEP 3 – Clear out the disposal to remove any bits of hard foods, bone shards or other fibrous gunk that may be preventing the grinding blades from rotating and pulverizing your discarded food. Use a tool (a pliers, wooden spoon, etc.) to do this. Putting your hand in situation where whirling blades of destruction are nearby is never a good idea. (That is what I’ve heard anyway.)

STEP 4 – If you must use your hands (again, not advised) to pull out all that funky goo, see STEP 2. The disposal must be powered off and unplugged. No exceptions. Not even on a double-dog dare. Also, make sure your hand will actually fit into the opening so that you can eventually remove your hand from the opening. You may need your hand later. If you think it is going to be a tight fit, I’d suggest that you not try it all. You’ve been warned.

STEP 5 – If you are one of those rebellious types that never listens to wise instruction, then take off any rings and make sure that your hand is lubricated with liquid dish soap or cooking oil to reduce the risk of it getting stuck in the drain opening. Also, have a phone nearby. If your hand does get stuck, you can then call someone (using your other hand, presumably) to call a friend or 911 for rescue. If at all possible, don’t call a friend with a video camera phone, because they’ll probably embarass you by broadcasting your plight on YouTube.

STEP 6 – Once you have cleaned out the disposal with a tool or your hand (at your own risk), return power to the device and try again. You did remove your hand first, right? If it works, congratulate yourself! You’ve retained all your fingers and you now have a working disposal again!    What? It didn’t work? Ok, please go to step 7 below.

allen wrench setSTEP 7 – You may have stubborn object stuck in the blades that is preventing the motor from rotating. This means it is time to apply a little muscle. Get your handy allen wrench out and insert the tip of the short end into the hexagon shaped hole at the bottom center of the disposal. If it doesn’t fit, find or buy one that does. They usually come in multi-pack sets with various sizes to choose form. Your disposal might have had one packaged with it. if so, find it and use that one. Once inserted, rotate it a half-turn clockwise and then a half-turn counter clockwise to see if the mechanism inside the disposal will move at all. If so, it will help to move the blades back and forth a few times to force through the obstruction. After you’re done, restore power to the disposal and turn it on. At this point, your efforts may have helped your disposal to work again. If not, try one more time.

STEP 8 – If all of the above steps fail, you may just have a bad disposal. Call a professional repairman or replace it yourself. Don’t fret about it, you did all you could to try and repair it!

Tips & Warnings

  • A stinky disposal can be freshened by grinding up a lemon, lime or other citrus fruit in the disposal. It helps kill the odor causing germs and leaves a fresh citrus scent.
  • Bleach or ammonia will also work, but be careful to cover the opening so that harsh chemicals aren’t spraying all over you and your kitchen.
  • Never mix bleach, ammonia and water. It’s a combination that can kill. Don’t do it. See link below.
  • Did I mention that is is dumb to put your hand into a garbage disposal?

Links to Other Resources

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