A malfunctioning garbage disposal is a frustrating kitchen inconvenience. The usual grinding and whirring sounds of food waste disposal are replaced by an ominous silence, a worrying hum, or the slow gurgle of a clogged drain. Before calling in an expensive repair, troubleshooting the issue yourself can save you time and money. In this post, we’ll delve into the common causes behind a garbage disposal that won’t work and provide step-by-step solutions to restore your kitchen sink to its efficient best.

What is garbage disposal?

Garbage Disposal not Working

A garbage disposal is a handy kitchen appliance that makes food waste management a breeze. Installed under your sink, it efficiently grinds down food scraps into tiny particles, allowing them to be safely flushed down the drain. Say goodbye to smelly food scraps in your garbage can! With a garbage disposal, you’ll enjoy a more convenient and hygienic way to deal with leftover food, reducing odors and potential insect problems in your kitchen.

How garbage disposal work

How garbage disposal work

Garbage disposals don’t use sharp blades to chop up food waste. Instead, they employ a powerful grinding process. Inside the disposal, a spinning plate with blunt lugs, called impellers, uses centrifugal force to fling food waste against a stationary grind ring. This ring has small holes and a rough surface, repeatedly pulverizing the food into tiny particles. These minuscule bits of food, now almost liquefied, are then easily flushed away by running water down the drain and into your wastewater system.

 Reasons why your garbage disposal not working

Reasons why your garbage disposal  not working

Most common reasons why your garbage disposal might not work:

1. Electrical Issues

  • Lack of Power: Ensure the disposal is plugged in and the circuit breaker hasn’t tripped.
  • Reset Button: Most disposals have a red reset button on the underside. If the unit overheated, press it to restart.
  • Defective Switch: Check the wall switch controlling the disposal for any faults.

2. Jams and Clogs

  • Stuck Flywheel: Food debris or a foreign object might be jamming the internal blades (flywheel). Never put your hand in the disposal; use tongs or pliers to remove the obstruction after unplugging the unit.
  • Drain Clog: If the sink drains slowly, the problem might be a clogged drain, not the disposal itself.

3. Overheating

  • Built-in Protection: Many garbage disposals shut off automatically if they overheat. Wait 15-20 minutes for the motor to cool down and then press the reset button.

4. Worn Out Motor

  • Humming Without Grinding: If the motor hums but doesn’t turn the blades, the motor might be failing or have a broken internal component.
  • Age and Usage: If your disposal is old and heavily used, the motor might simply have reached the end of its lifespan.

Important Reminders:

Important Reminders
  • ALWAYS unplug the disposal before working on it.
  • Never put your hand inside the garbage disposal.
  • Consult your garbage disposal’s owner’s manual for specific instructions.

Call a plumber or electrician if you encounter complex electrical issues, severe leaks, or are unsure of how to proceed

Steps to fix garbage disposal not working

Steps to fix garbage disposal not working

Here’s a detailed guide on fixing a garbage disposal that won’t work, covering common scenarios:

Before You Start

  • Safety First: ALWAYS unplug the garbage disposal before attempting any fixes. Never put your hand inside the disposal.
  • Gather Tools: You’ll likely need pliers, screwdrivers, a flashlight, and potentially an Allen wrench (hex key).

Troubleshooting and Solutions

  1. Check the Power
    1. Is it plugged in securely?
    1. Test the outlet: Try plugging in a different appliance to ensure the outlet has power.
    1. Circuit Breaker: Check your circuit breaker panel and reset any tripped breakers.

Reset the Garbage Disposal

  • Locate the reset button: This is usually a small, red button located on the bottom of the disposal unit.
    • Press and release the button. You may hear a click.
    • Test the disposal: Plug the unit back in and try turning it on.

Clear a Jam

  • Unplug the disposal.
    • Shine a flashlight: Look down the drain to identify any obstructions.
    • Remove obstructions: Use tongs or long-handled pliers to safely remove the item. Never put your hand inside.
    • For stubborn jams: You might need an Allen wrench (hex key). Insert it into the hole at the bottom center of the disposal and turn it back and forth to dislodge the jam.
    • Reset and Test: Plug the disposal back in, reset the button if needed, and try it again.

Address a Clogged Drain

  • Slow drain: If the sink drains slowly, the issue is likely a clogged drain, rather than the disposal itself.
    • Run hot water: Let hot water run directly down the drain, sometimes this is enough.
    • Baking Soda and Vinegar: This classic solution can help loosen food-based clogs.
    • Plunger: Use a plunger to try and dislodge the blockage.
    • Chemical drain cleaner: Use as a last resort and always follow instructions carefully.


  • Wait: Unplug the unit and give it time to cool down (15-20 minutes).
    • Reset: Press the reset button.
    • Prevent Future Issues: Avoid running the disposal for extended periods and never pour grease down the drain.

Worn Out Motor

  • Humming, No Grinding: This usually indicates a failed motor or capacitor.
    • Age and Usage: Old disposals are more prone to motor failure.
    • Replacement: In this case, replacing the entire unit is likely more cost-effective than repairing the motor.

When to Call a Professional

  • Electrical problems beyond your expertise.
  • Persistent issues after troubleshooting.
  • Severe leaks from the disposal.
  • Very old disposal units.

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While a non-working garbage disposal can be a nuisance, most issues are easily addressed with a bit of troubleshooting. Remember to always prioritize safety by unplugging the unit before any inspection.

Simple fixes like clearing jams, resetting the unit, or addressing a clogged drain often resolve the problem. If the disposal still struggles, consider its age – an older unit could have a worn-out motor, making replacement a more practical option. Should you feel uncomfortable with any step, don’t hesitate to seek professional help from a plumber or electrician.

FAQs: Garbage Disposal Not Working and How to Fix It

Q: My garbage disposal won’t turn on at all. What should I do?

  • A: Check if the disposal is plugged in.
  • Ensure the circuit breaker hasn’t tripped.
  • Press the reset button (usually red) located on the bottom of the disposal.

Q: My garbage disposal hums but doesn’t grind. Why?

  • A: This often indicates a jam:
    • Unplug the disposal.
    • Use a flashlight and tongs/pliers to carefully remove any lodged objects.
    • Check the flywheel for free movement (often accessible with an Allen wrench through the disposal’s bottom).

Q: My disposal is running, but the sink drains slowly. What’s wrong?

  • A: The issue likely lies with a clogged drain rather than the disposal itself:
    • Run hot water directly down the drain.
    • Try using baking soda and vinegar to clear the clog.
    • Use a plunger for stubborn blockages.

Q: My garbage disposal seems to be leaking. What do I do?

  • A: Leaks require attention to prevent water damage:
    • Minor leaks might be fixable by tightening connections or replacing gaskets. Refer to your manual.
    • Severe leaks often necessitate professional repair or replacement of the unit.

Q: My garbage disposal overheated and shut down, now what?

  • A:
    • Unplug the unit and let it cool down completely (15-20 minutes).
    • Press the reset button.
    • Prevent future overheating by running shorter cycles and avoiding tough food waste.

Q: My garbage disposal is old and not working well. Should I fix it or replace it?

  • A: Consider these factors:
    • Age of the disposal: Very old units might be prone to more frequent problems.
    • Severity of the issue: Motor failure likely necessitates replacement.
    • Cost of repair vs. replacement: Obtain quotes to make an informed decision.

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