How to Fix a Garbage Disposal How to Fix a Garbage Disposal
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How to Fix a Garbage Disposal

Garbage Disposer Parts Diagram

Is your garbage disposal jammed, clogged, or leaking? This illustrated step-by-step guide offers expert advice for repairing these and other related garbage disposal repairs.

Indispensable in the modern kitchen, a garbage disposal (also called a garbage disposer) helps make food preparation and cleanup easy and fast. Attached to the underside of a kitchen sink’s drain, it works by chewing up food scraps fed down the drain with a heavy flow of water.

A shredder breaks the food down in the grinding chamber, and then an impeller arm and plate force the liquid and particles down the drain. Dishwasher drain water also runs through the garbage disposal so that any large particles are chewed up and drained away.

A good garbage disposal can last a decade or more with proper care and usage. Simple problems are easy to fix; with a serious problem, you’re usually better off replacing the entire unit.

If you need help repairing your garbage disposal, call a pre-qualified garbage disposal pro.

Garbage Disposal Jammed

You’ll know your disposal is jammed or clogged when the motor hums but the disposal doesn’t grind, is overly noisy, or runs and then stops before you turn it off.

The problem is often a piece of bone, a fruit pit, or the like stuck between an impeller blade and the drain hole. Don’t continue to run the disposal when it’s jammed as this can burn out the motor.

Be sure to turn off the electrical circuit that powers the garbage disposal before making any repairs.

To clear a jammed disposal:

1Unplug the unit and check the instructions in your owner’s manual.


Use the reset button or a hex wrench on the underside to free-up a stuck garbage disposer.

2Under the sink, look at the bottom of the disposal for a hex-shaped hole. If you see one, look for a hex wrench that fits the hole (it’s often attached to the disposal). Fit the hex wrench into the hole, and force it back and forth in both directions to free the impellers. (Note: Some models have a reversing switch that accomplishes the same action.)

3If your disposal doesn’t have a hex hole or you can’t find a hex wrench, put a short broom stick into the disposal (with the switch turned off!), force it down against one of the blades, and try to rotate the impeller.

4If something has been put in the disposal that shouldn’t have—such as metal, rubber, glass, or fibrous food waste such as artichoke leaves or banana peels—use tongs or pliers to pull the material out. Never use your hand.

Disposal Grinds Poorly

Drain plunger's bell-shaped end folds up for sinks. Photo: Neiko

Drain plunger’s bell-shaped end folds up for sinks. Photo: Neiko

If your disposal grinds poorly, make sure that you are running enough water while operating the unit and that you are not grinding matter that you shouldn’t.

If you can hear the garbage disposal running but it is not grinding, the blades may be broken. It’s usually easier and cheaper to just replace the entire unit. See How to Install a Garbage Disposal.

Disposal Drain Is Clogged

When water stands in the sink, it means the drain is clogged either in the disposal or further down the drain line. This isn’t a garbage disposal problem but rather a plumbing problem. See How to Plunge a Clogged Drain.

Garbage Disposal Leaks

If you notice leaks below the disposal, pinpoint the source of the leak, and tighten the offending connection. If necessary, replace the drain gasket or the unit’s mounting screws.If the unit is unreasonably noisy, check that something hasn’t entered the unit that shouldn’t have. If all is clear, you may need to replace the blade, impeller, or motor; this should be done by a pro. Because these types of repairs can be costly, it’s often cheaper, faster, and wiser to replace the entire unit.

Featured Resource: Find a Local Pre-Screened Garbage Disposal Pro

Garbage Disposal Care

Garbage disposals work best if you follow these basic rules:

• Use cold water when grinding food (hot water can melt fats and clog the mechanism and the pipes)

• Do not overfill

• Do not pour bleach, drain cleaners, or other chemicals into the unit

• Do not grind overly fibrous materials, bones, or coffee grounds (check the owner’s manual) or such materials as glass, metal, or rubber

• Run water before and after you use the disposal

If something has been put in the disposal that should not have been, use tongs or pliers to pull the material out. Never use your hand.

To clean a garbage disposal of built-up sludge and debris, fill it with ice cubes and a cup of rock salt and then run it for about five seconds. If your garbage disposal smells bad, you can deodorize it by running warm water down it while you grind a quartered lemon.

Featured Resource: Find a Local Appliance Repair Pro

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About Don Vandervort
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Don Vandervort developed his expertise more than 30 years ago as Building Editor for both Sunset Books and Home Magazine. He has written more than 30 home improvement books and countless magazine articles. He appeared regularly on HGTV’s “The Fix,” and served as MSN’s home expert. Don founded HomeTips in 1996.
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