Why did my garbage disposal stop working?

leaking garbage disposal unit

Dealing With a Broken Garbage Disposal

If your garbage disposal is going to quit working, there can never be a worse time. And what time is that? Well – pretty much any day. Whether it’s Thanksgiving morning or a typical Saturday evening, you don’t want to add garbage disposal repair to your to-do list. Fortunately, the problem might just be something minor that you can take care of on your own. And this leads to questions like “Can you repair a leaking garbage disposal yourself?” 

A leaking garbage disposal is almost certain to be messy, and dealing with it can be a hassle until you get those garbage disposal repairs done. Leaving a garbage disposal unrepaired isn’t an option either, because if you don’t fix it, other problems can arise. However, there are some repairs you can do yourself and save money on before hiring a plumber, and this is what we’re going to review here today. 

Stay Safe While Working

Safety and preparation should be taken care of first and foremost when doing garbage disposal repairs. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  1. Turn the garbage disposal off and unplug the unit before doing anything else.
  2. Place a small bucket or garbage under the garbage disposal. 
  3. To find the leak, fill the sink halfway with water. 
  4. Add a bright food coloring to the water. 
  5. Examine the garbage disposal from the bottom and sides, looking at the pipe going out and the pipe coming from the dishwasher. The food coloring should help you identify where the leak is located. 

The first place to look for garage disposal leaks is where the unit connects to the sink and at the drain hose. The food coloring in the sink won’t help you find every leak. However, if you run the dishwasher long enough, leaks will appear there if that is where they are located. Finding them is the first big step in taking care of any needed garbage disposal repairs.

Next, look where the drain line and the garbage disposal connect under the garbage disposal unit. If there is any food coloring water in this area, you’ve narrowed it down to this spot and have come closer to taking care of your own garbage disposal repair. If you’re ready to get the job started, here are the steps to take.

The Sink Flange

If your garbage disposal is leaking around the flange, you may be able to do a garbage disposal repair with plumber’s putty and/or by tightening the flange. Sometimes, the flange has become corroded and replacing it may be the best solution. To do that, follow these steps: 

  • Turn the power off and unplug the unit. 
  • With a screwdriver and wrench, disconnect the disposal under the sink.
  • Scrape off the preexisting putty, reseal with new putty, and then reinstall the existing flange or a new flange. 
  • Make sure the screws are tight around the flange to compress the plumber’s putty seal. 
  • Now, reconnect the garbage disposal and try it. 

Broken Interior Seal 

If your garbage disposal is leaking from the bottom, that is typically an indication that the interior seal is broken. However, it can also be nothing more than just a worn-out garbage disposal. In this case, the big question about your barbage disposal – repair or replace – is quickly answered: replace it. 

A good garbage disposal that was properly installed and that has been maintained without being abused can give you up to 10 years of service. If after five years you begin having trouble with the unit, it may be best to replace the unit instead of attempting garbage disposal repairs. The same is to be said if your garbage disposal is leaking at the reset button; in this case, replacement is better than a garbage disposal repair. 

Another Big Question

The garbage disposal is jammed. How do I fix my garbage disposal myself? And can I?

Most of the time, yes – you can do your own garbage disposal repair for a jammed unit. Any time you’re going to work on your garbage disposal, make certain it is turned off and unplugged before doing anything. And though you’ve probably heard this a thousand times, we’ll repeat it for safety’s sake – never place your hand inside a garbage disposal! If the sink has water in it and it can’t drain, use a bucket, glass, or pot to empty the water. Now, follow these steps for your garbage disposal repair attempt at unjamming:

1. Locate the factory-supplied wrench, which is usually fastened to the bottom of the unit. 

2. Locate the hole on the bottom of the unit and insert the wrench. 

3. Turn the wrench back and forth, and note that this may take some force. Don’t be worried about harming the unit – the wrench will bend before the garbage disposal is damaged. 

4. Once the wrench is turning in circles in both directions, go to the next step. 

5. Under the sink, locate the overload protector. This is the small red square button. Press it gently. If doesn’t stay pushed in, wait 10 minutes, and then try again. 

6. With a flashlight, check inside the garbage disposal at the grinding chamber. If you see anything in there, use tongs or a similar instrument to pull it out. 

7. Turn the water on and then turn on the garbage disposal. If it jams up again, use the wrench process we described once more, and note that you may need to do this several times. 

If all of these steps fail, you’ll need to call a professional plumber to inspect your garbage disposal. Repairing it may not be an option, and they can advise you of that fact once they have inspected the matter. 

Dealing With a Noisy Garbage Disposal

Can you do a garbage disposal repair for humming noises? 

The garbage disposal is a simple, yet still incredibly valuable machine in today’s kitchens. When it quits working, everything else stops, or so it may seem until the garbage disposal repair is complete. So a humming garbage disposal is never entertaining, especially if it’s not working. 

If yours is buzzing or humming and the blades aren’t turning, all is not lost. It’s still getting power, so it could be clogged or jammed. The clog could be pieces of food under the impeller blades or in the drain. Try the steps we listed above for jams and see if that gets your garbage unit working again. 

Other issues that can cause a garbage disposal to hum and not work could be a foreign object stuck inside the unit. This could be somebody that’s been put in there that shouldn’t have been – often, it’s because a child has tossed something into the sink.

However, the problem could also be a dripped GFI switch or the GFCI electrical outlet. Either of these can keep the unit from working, though the motor could still buzz or hum. Pushing the reset button on the part under the sink will usually fix that problem. However, if none of these suggestions or tips work, call a professional plumber. 

Who to call for garbage disposal repair?

A professional residential plumber is your best source for garbage disposal repairs. But this may have you wondering “How much does it cost to repair a garbage disposal?” This will typically depend on the plumber you use and any extra work they need to do. Professional plumbers charge approximately $75 to $80 an hour for labor plus the parts needed for the garbage disposal repair. A lot of work may leave you with repair costs around $250.00 or more.

Leading to One Final Question

 Is it worth it to repair a garbage disposal?

At that point, $250.00, you may want to look at what a new unit and installation will cost. If the repair is 50% or more of a new unit, then a garbage disposal repair is generally not worthwhile. And you may be wondering, are garbage disposals hard to replace? 

If you have basic DIY homeowner aptitude and basic knowledge of plumbing and electricity, it is fairly easy. New garbage disposals will come with instructions, there are multitudes of YouTube videos available, and manufacturers often have videos on their websites. However, if you feel you are going to be in over your head attempting the replacement, don’t risk damaging anything in your kitchen. Call a professional plumber! 

view of garbage disposal unit under the sink

In Closing

In all matters of garbage disposal repairs, we cannot stress the importance of safety first and foremost. Always make sure the unit is turned off and unplugged. If you can’t find or reach the spot where it is plugged in, turn the circuit breaker to the unit off. And always remember, electricity and water are not friends. Proceed with caution as you attempt any garbage disposal repair.