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How to Fix a Garbage Disposal

May 25, 2023
A closeup of an open drain in a stainless steel sink with water droplets inside

It’s easy to take your garbage disposal for granted. When you’re used to flipping a switch and having your meal scraps shredded and disposed of, it can be a major frustration to suddenly be without it. Not only are you worried about clogged drains and backed-up food, but now you have to figure out why your garbage disposal is on the fritz.

To help you find a solution and get your garbage disposal back up and running, let’s explore:

  • What causes a garbage disposal breakdown
  • How to fix a garbage disposal
  • Whether to repair or replace your garbage disposal

Is a broken garbage disposal interrupting your kitchen routine?

Call Jon Wayne today for a garbage disposal replacement estimate or quick repair. With thousands of 5-star reviews, you can rest easy knowing our expert plumbers will get the job right the first time and in just 1-2 hours on average.

What Causes a Garbage Disposal Breakdown

Understanding how a garbage disposal functions is a key part of maintaining and repairing one. When you throw your food waste into the sink, it washes down into the garbage disposal unit. There, a disc called an impeller plate spins rapidly and shreds the food into small enough pieces for flushing. Usually, the plate sits at an angle that pushes the waste within the unit.

Even the best garbage disposals can fail with time. Plus, like many appliances, there are several potential points of failure. Mechanical issues such as faulty wiring or general wear-and-tear may suddenly cause a garbage disposal to fail. Beyond this, a couple of usage issues may cause problems.

  1. Inserting too much food: Overloading the garbage disposal with too much food waste can cause a jam or even break the unit. This is especially true if you attempt to place items like bones or fruit pits into your garbage disposal. Don’t– this will easily damage your machine!
  2. Lack of maintenance: We recommend running cold water before, during, and after using the garbage disposal. Make sure to clean the disposal regularly and occasionally grind some ice cubes to remove clingy materials from the impeller plate. Without proper maintenance, your garbage disposal can start to fail over time.

Remember, always follow proper safety protocols when attempting to clean or repair your garbage disposal. Never stick your hand into a garbage disposal without disconnecting the power. To deactivate the garbage disposal, switch off the circuit breaker that controls the device in the electrical service panel. Then, make sure to flip the unit’s power switch to test if the power is disconnected correctly before moving forward.

How to Fix a Garbage Disposal When…

It’s Backed Up

If your garbage disposal hums but doesn’t grind, backed-up food or a foreign object is likely the cause. Once you disconnect the power to your unit, shine a light into the unit from above. If an object is visibly blocking the impeller, use pliers or a similar tool to pull it out.

If there isn’t a visible item, there could be a clog in the system. At the bottom of your machine is a flywheel turning hole. Depending on the model, this requires either an offset wrench or an Allen wrench—also called a hex key. Most machines come with the appropriate tool, but you can pick one up at most hardware stores if you don’t have one. After inserting the tool, rotate it back and forth to break up clogs.

Once you feel the impeller turning freely, reconnect the power and run some tap water into the disposal. Quickly flip the switch on and off for a short burst. If the impeller spins, do another short burst to dislodge any remaining debris fully.

If the humming continues or if the water backs up, it’s time to call the professionals. At Jon Wayne, we have more than 200 trucks on the roads throughout San Antonio. If you need help with your broken-down garbage disposal, contact us for help. We’re likely just around the corner!

It’s Leaking

If there is a pool of water beneath your kitchen sink, your garbage disposal is likely leaking.

If your unit leaks from the top, the garbage disposal doesn’t perfectly seal to the sink drain opening. Disconnect the power and look under the sink. At the top of the machine, there is a metal flange with a mounting ring. Turn the unit counterclockwise to remove it from this flange, then rotate the bolts holding it to the sink. Lift the flange above the sink and scrape off any old plumber’s putty. Re-apply a small amount of putty then set the flange back into the drain opening. Retighten the mounting bolts and reinstall the disposal.

When the garbage disposal leaks from the bottom, there is probably a more serious issue, such as failed seals or a crack in the unit's shell itself. Repairing these is difficult and requires plumbing experience, so it’s best to reach out to an expert to install a new garbage disposal.

It Won’t Turn On

When you flip the switch to your garbage disposal and hear nothing—no humming or grinding—an electrical problem could be the source of your issue. First, make sure the machine is plugged in and receiving power. If there is no issue, locate the disposal’s reset button near the bottom of the unit. Press it and then turn on the unit. If nothing activates, check your circuit breaker to see if the device has tripped the breaker.

Should this not fix your issue, you should probably contact a professional electrician. Since Jon Wayne is a full-service contractor, we can handle all your plumbing and electrical needs in-house!

Whether to Repair Or Replace Your Garbage Disposal

Problems like clogs or minor seal leaks are simple issues that even people without plumbing experience can address, so there’s usually no need to replace the unit. However, if the malfunction stems from an electrical issue or a broken piece of the unit, repairs may be more difficult and costly than simply replacing the unit.

Installing a garbage disposal can be straightforward, but doing so incorrectly will only lead to more problems in the future. If you’re looking to replace your garbage disposal, check with a plumber you trust to advise you on the best path forward.

Looking for a plumbing company that stands for integrity, honesty, and convenience?

With a fleet of over 200 trucks and some of the fastest response times in San Antonio, Jon Wayne’s expert plumbers can get your garbage disposal replaced or repaired quickly, often in under two hours. We’re so confident in our services that we offer a 100% satisfaction guarantee– no exceptions. Call today and experience the Jon Wayne difference!

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