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Why is my garbage disposal not working?

In a busy household, garbage disposals get quite a workout. Nothing can put a damper on cooking a nice dinner or cleaning up your dishes and kitchen than when a garbage disposal gets clogged or jammed, flooding your sink with debris or even leaking. So how do you know when it’s time to replace or repair it? Read on to get some ideas.

Garbage disposal lifespan

A good-quality disposal could last for decades. There have even been instances of a higher-horsepower “pro” model (1 HP versus a cheaper 1/5th HP model) lasting for 30 years. This isn’t to say they don’t eventually die. But there are a few things you can do to extend the life of your disposal.

How to extend the lifespan of a garbage disposal unit

Run cold water when using it

Cold water will cause food caught in the drain to harden, making it easier for your garbage disposal to grind it up. While you may think hot water is the answer, warmer temperatures can actually melt that remaining food, causing it to stick to the pipes instead of being broken down by the appliance’s blades.

Know what not to put down the garbage disposal

Certain things are a given when it comes to what shouldn’t go down your drain: metal and plastic items. However, there are several other things that should be kept away from your disposal, such as eggshells and potato peels. Never pour fats, oils or grease down the drain. Don’t send fibrous vegetables such as celery down the drain either; their skins can become tangled in the blades. Lastly, bones and fruit pits should go in the trash, not the disposal. These items could cause the blades to break and result in a costly repair.

On occasion, pour in boiling water

This is a good tip to follow once a month. The boiling water will help wash away any food that has been caught in either the drainpipe or the disposal chamber.

Let the disposal run

Keep your disposal running for an extra minute or two, with the water running, once it has completed grinding up excess food. This makes sure that all food is completely flushed down the drain. To prevent any further clogs, try sending a little bit of dish soap down the disposal. This will ensure that there is no food left behind and will keep it clean inside.

Clean garbage disposal blades with ice

Throwing an ice cube or two in your running disposal can help remove debris stuck to the blades. You don’t want to do this too often, though; once a week for heavily used disposals should be fine.

Why is my garbage disposal not working?

When your disposal stops working and can’t be restarted, or when the motor fails or “blades” break off, it’s time to get a new one. (Most of the time, motor failure necessitates replacement.) But there are a few things you can look for if your disposal is not working:

Garbage disposal clogs

If the water in your kitchen sink isn’t draining, then it’s your kitchen sink pipe (not the disposal itself) that’s probably clogged. Your kitchen sink could clog for several reasons, including grease, sediment or food buildup. Clogs happen all the time, even if your disposal works. If your disposal isn’t working, however, kitchen sink clogs are one very common symptom.

Grinding or humming noises

If the disposal’s motor is running but the disposal won’t work, it sounds loud, or it starts and stops, then it’s probably jammed. Disposals jam when something gets lodged in the “flywheel,” which is the rotating plate inside the mechanism. You can fix a jammed flywheel yourself, but NEVER stick your hand down the garbage disposal, and be sure to turn off and unplug your garbage disposal immediately. Most garbage disposals have an Allen wrench opening on the bottom of the disposal motor, connecting to the motor shaft. Use the wrench provided with the disposal or one you have to work the shaft back-and-forth to free up the disposal. You may need to remove the object causing the jam, but turn off the power first and use a flashlight to find the object.

Power problems

If the garbage disposal won’t turn on, then it’s probably not getting power. First, make sure it’s plugged in. It’s easy to forget that some disposals have wall outlets. It’s also easy to knock plugs out of those outlets accidentally, especially in dark places. If the disposal is plugged in, check the reset button on the bottom of the disposal unit. If the disposal requires resetting, the button will be popped out. Press it and try the disposal again.

If the disposal is plugged in and doesn’t need to be reset, check the circuit breaker. The breaker could be flipped, preventing your disposal from getting power. If that’s still not the problem, then either the outlet is dead, the circuit breaker is malfunctioning, or the disposal needs to be replaced.

Most garbage disposals are hard-wired and often have a disconnect switch inside the sink cabinet that can be accidentally bumped into the OFF position.

Leaks from the top or bottom

If your disposal is leaking from the top, the likely culprit is your sink flange. (Garbage disposals are connected to your sink with a flange and/or plumber’s putty.) This seal can corrode and loosen over time. It can also leak if the garbage disposal is hit hard enough to loosen the seal (most commonly from doing other plumbing work under the sink).

If your garbage disposal is leaking out of the bottom (and not from higher up and just dripping to the bottom), the most likely cause is the garbage disposal itself, which has internal seals that wear out over time. In this case, the disposal will need to be replaced.

Who can repair a garbage disposal unit?

Depending on the building codes in your area, both a plumber and an electrician may be required. With standard units, only a plumber is required. But if a garbage disposal unit has a ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlet, then an electrician may also be needed for the installation, i.e., to provide a switched outlet under the sink.

Garbage disposal types and cost

Disposals come in two basic types: continuous feed and batch feed.

Continuous feed garbage disposal

Continuous feed disposals are the most common and generally the easiest to use. They are the open-mouth disposals that turn on and off with a wall switch. Continuous feed garbage disposals operate continuously when a switch is turned on, regardless of whether a stopper is used. They generally cost $80 to $200.

Batch feed garbage disposal

Batch feed disposals require you to fit a stopper lid into the mouth of the disposal to activate the unit. This makes it impossible to turn on the disposal while your hand is fishing around inside the unit. It also helps prevent accidental mishaps such as turning on the disposal just as a fork is slipping into its mouth, so they are a little safer. Batch feed disposals can be more expensive than continuous feed and generally are less commonly available. They cost an average of $220.

Time and cost of replacement

Most plumbers charge between $85 and $150 per hour, with most disposal installations running $85 per hour for three hours total, making the labor costs roughly $255. The average current pricing for a garbage disposal ranges anywhere from $100 to more than $700 depending on type, horsepower and quality.

Get a remote diagnosis with Anew

If a garbage disposal continues to not work correctly, it might be symptomatic of a more serious issue, and you might want to consider hiring a professional. Anew offers an easy, efficient and affordable repair service with remote diagnosis for only $20.

Get answers with Anew

Video chat with an expert to pinpoint your home’s issues, then get them repaired fast.

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Get answers with Anew

Video chat with an expert to pinpoint your home’s issues, then get them repaired fast.

Get Started

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