What to do when your garbage disposal stops working

When your garbage disposal stops working, usually it’s a workable problem and doesn’t necessarily require a full replacement. In this article, we provide a few ideas on problems that can arise and what do about them.

Power Problems with Turning on the Unit

A power problem where the garbage disposal is not turning on can be caused by a variety of issues.

  1. Certainly, the most obvious is check whether the power plug has worked its way out of the power outlet. It’s obvious, but it saves trying other things when you haven’t looked at the most obvious reason yet. Being under the sink, anyone moving things around down there can knock the plug right out of the socket and you’d never know!
  2. Check if it’s a dual power outlet and if the other power outlet is working or not. It could be a blown fuse or a malfunction on one socket but not the other. Check the fuse box too.
  3. Then look at the button or air switch being used. Is it a mechanical issue with the button where it’s being depressed but the equipment has failed to send a signal to the unit to turn on? Check the electronical connection (turn off the power first) to see if it’s loose on the button or the button needs replacing.
  4. If there’s a manual switch on the side of the disposal unit to turn it on, try that to test it’s operational. That will help highlight where the issue is.
  5. Also, consider if there’s insufficient power to turn on the disposal unit if too many other kitchen appliances are being run simultaneously.

Is There a Sound Emanating from the Unit?

If there’s a sound coming from the unit, it could have something stuck inside that’s cause the grinding plates to get stuck in position. Their back and forth motion is then causing this whirring sound.

First, turn off the power. And check that it’s really turning off.

Second, use something safe to attempt to remove what’s gotten caught inside.

Third, if it won’t dislodge, then there’s usually the option on the garbage unit to adjust it with a tool to get the grinding plates to release enough so you can remove the item that was previously trapped.

Resetting the Disposal Unit

Sometimes, a unit just gets confused about its life and what it should be doing! In which case, find its reset button and reset it. That often is all it takes to get it back to working order again.

When too much food has been fed into the unit, it can cause it to overload and stop. Then it’s a perfect example of why a reset is then necessary.

Nothing Else Found?

If there isn’t something stuck inside when examining it and the unit won’t power up whatever you try, then if the unit is inside the warranty, get it checked out. Other than that, it’s up to you whether to look to get it fixed or choose to upgrade to a newer model anyway.

What Size Garbage Disposal Do We Need

When it comes time to install a garbage disposal or replace an old one, the most important thing to consider is the size of the disposal you’ll need. Buy one that’s too large, and it may not fit into the space under your sink. Buy one too small, and you’ll likely need to run it beyond its intended capacity to keep up with the demands of your busy household. But how do you decide which size garbage disposal is right for you? Below we’ll provide you with some common sense tips to ensure you get the garbage disposal you need.

Measure the Space

Before you waste your time looking at disposals that may or may not be right for you and your kitchen, you need to figure out how much space you have to dedicate to a disposal. So, take out the measuring tape and find out exactly how much space there is under your sink. As a general rule, the more powerful the disposal, the larger it’s going to be. So make sure you get accurate measurements of width, depth and height, and make a note of the size and location of any potential obstacles.

Determine the Number of People it Will Need to Serve

Now that you know how much space you have to deal with the next thing to do is ask yourself how many people it will need to serve. Do you have a large family that eats together most of the time? Or is there just one or two of you? Do you eat out a lot? Do you entertain large crowds for backyard BBQs and holiday parties? You don’t want to install a disposal that’s going to burn out from overuse.

Choose the Appropriate HP

  • If there are only a couple of people in the house, a 1/3 HP disposal should suffice.
  • If there are 3 – 6 people in the house you’ll want something in the 1/2 to 3/4 HP range.
  • If there are more than 6 people and/or you often entertain large groups a 1 HP disposal is what you should be looking for.
  • If the number of people you cook for is regularly more than 8 or 10, then consider a 1 or 2 HP disposal.

Keep in mind that different manufacturers offer different designs. So if you need a 1 HP disposal and the first one you look at is too big for the space under your sink, keep looking. You might well find a smaller one.


The process of determining the right garbage disposal for you and your home goes like this:

  • Determine the amount of available space.
  • Determine how many people the unit will need to serve.
  • Keep looking until you find a garbage disposal with the appropriate horsepower that will also fit into the available space.

Due to spatial constraints, you may need to compromise a bit on the horsepower. But if that’s the case, just make sure you get the closest HP to what you need.

Things to Do with a Leaking Garbage Disposal

The garbage disposal is one of those things that make the modern kitchen such a wonder of convenience. But as is the case with all mechanical devices there’s the possibility you might encounter a problem from time to time. One of the more common and vexing problems that can befall a garbage disposal is leaking. A leaking disposal is not like a leaking pipe. The liquid that comes from the disposal is full of organic material and can wind up producing a very foul smell if you don’t take care of it quickly. Below we’ll look at common reasons why a disposal might be leaking and propose a few simple fixes.

fix leaking garbage disposal

Reasons Your Garbage Disposal is Leaking

  • A loose sink flange – The sink flange is that part of the disposal assembly that is visible when you look in the sink. It’s typically made of stainless steel, is about 1/2 an inch wide and circles the drain opening. Over time this flange can become loose. Or the putty around it can degrade and develop leaks. To fix this, detach the disposal (after unplugging it of course), remove the flange, install new putty and reinstall the flange and disposal. A good afternoon job for a DIYer.
  • Loose drain lines – Drain lines are what connect your disposal to the rest of the plumbing. Sometimes they come loose and start leaking. If the disposal is leaking under the sink from its sides, this might be the problem. Try tightening all the screws related to the drain lines and see if that stops the leaks.
  • A broken seal – If the disposal is leaking from the bottom, it’s most likely because of a broken seal. If you have a broken seal on your disposal, you essentially have three choices. You can take the disposal apart yourself and install a replacement seal, you can pay a plumber or someone else to do the same, or you can replace the disposal. If you are unable to make the repair yourself, the smartest financial choice may be to simply replace the disposal.
  • Wear and tear – Even garbage disposals, as hale and hearty as they are, get old and start breaking down. If you notice the disposal is leaking from around the reset button it’s an indication of some pretty serious internal issues. In this case, the smartest option is to replace the disposal. Simply because it will likely cost you more to fix it than it will to buy a new one.

Is There a Way to Prevent Garbage Disposal Leaks?

There’s not much you can do if the unit is old. But if you have recently installed a new disposal, there are a few common sense things you can do to ensure it has the longest, healthiest, most trouble-free life possible. Make sure you:

  • Always avoid putting any foreign objects in the disposal.
  • Have cold water running when you are grinding up food in the disposal.
  • Avoid pouring bleach into the disposal for any reason.
  • Avoid putting eggs shells, coffee grounds, rice or gristle into the disposal.
  • Do periodic inspections to look for leaks and fix any you find ASAP.

How to Fix a Garbage Disposal That Is Humming

If you don’t have rancid odors wafting in through the kitchen window from the trash cans during the summer, thank the garbage disposal. A lack of foul odors emanating from garbage is one of the things that separates the contemporary kitchen from the kitchen of just 50 years ago. That said, the disposal is one of those things no one pays much attention to until there’s a problem. And one of the most common problems with disposals is when you flip the switch, and all you get is a low-level hum. No grinding. No whirling sound from the blades. Just humming. Below we’ll look at why this happens and provide a few easy ways to fix it.

Reasons Your Garbage Disposal is Humming

That humming sound coming from the disposal is an indication that it’s getting power, but something is interfering with its normal operation. Common types of interference include:

  • A foreign object in the disposal – It’s not at all uncommon for a piece of silverware to slip unnoticed into the disposal and jam the blades. Other objects that could cause a jam include bottle caps, gristle and large bones. Metal objects will typically make a lot of noise to alert you to their presence. But tough food objects may not make any noise.
  • The disposal has overheated – In some cases if you’ve been running the disposal particularly hard – say after Thanksgiving dinner – it may overheat and shut down. This isn’t very common, but it has been known to happen.
  • The GFCI has tripped – The GFCI or Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter is a device on the electrical outlet designed to protect people from electric shocks. If it detects an imbalance between the input and output current on an outlet, it “trips” and shuts the outlet down.
  • The disposal has died – This is only going to happen once in the life cycle of your disposal. So if the unit is only a couple of years old, this is very unlikely. However, if you try all of the fixes we’re about to propose, and nothing works, this may be the only logical conclusion.

Now that we have a better idea of what might be causing the malfunction in the garbage disposal, let’s look at some easy to apply fixes.

garbage disposal humming

Applying the Fix

The following are a half dozen steps to fixing a garbage disposal that humming instead of working. We’ll start with the 3 easiest solutions first. If none of them work, it may indicate that you have a physical blockage in the disposal. In which case you’ll need to go through steps 4 – 6.

Note: Make sure the disposal is switched off before you apply any of these fixes.

  • Step 1: Hit the reset button – Every modern garbage disposal comes with a reset button. This is a red button typically located on the bottom of the disposal. Once you locate it simply press it. That will reset the circuit in the disposal. After pressing the reset button, flip the switch and see if the disposal works. If it does, you’re finished. If it doesn’t flip the switch off and move on to the next step.
  • Step 2: Unplug/replug the disposal – If the reset button didn’t do the trick then try simply unplugging the disposal, waiting a few seconds and then plugging it back in. After that flip the switch to turn it on. If it works, you’re all set. If it doesn’t switch it off and try the next step.
  • Step 3: Check the GFCI outlet – Check the outlet the disposal is plugged into. If it has a red GFCI button in the middle (not all outlets do) and that button is popped out instead of being flush, it’s time to reset it. To do so unplug the disposal. Then press the red GFCI button in until it clicks into place. Then plug the disposal back in and flip the switch. If it works, you’re finished. If not, move on to the next step.
  • Step 4: Unplug the disposal – Don’t just switch it off. Switch it off and unplug it physically from the outlet so there’s no chance it will accidentally come on.
  • Step 5: Inspect the inside of the disposal – Once it’s unplugged, take a flashlight and look down into the canister. Do you see something that doesn’t belong there? Maybe a spoon or a piece of gristle or some other tough food that’s jammed into the blades?
  • Step 6: Remove the blockage – If you see something in the disposal, take a pair of tongs and remove it. If it’s particularly stubborn, avoid the temptation to reach in with your hand. Instead, go under the disposal and turn the blades manually. Most every disposal has a way to turn the blades using a hex wrench. That slot is located on the bottom of the disposal. Turn the blades in both directions until you loosen the obstruction. Then go back up top and remove it using the tongs. Once the obstruction is removed, plug the disposal back in and switch it on.

In the unlikely event that none of the above fixes bring the disposal back on line, you may have no choice but to call the plumber. It is possible that the disposal has died on you. Even if it is relatively new. If it’s still under warranty, then you can probably get a new one. But there may be something else interfering with the operation of the disposal. So before you send it back to the manufacturer have a plumber in to inspect things.


In most cases, a humming garbage disposal does not indicate anything is seriously wrong. It’s usually just a jam, or perhaps the GFCI outlet detected something it didn’t like and cut off power. If your disposal greets you with a hum next time you try to use it, go through the steps outlined above, and you should be back in business in no time. And if nothing works, call the plumber before giving up on the disposal.