4 Reasons Why Your Garbage Disposal Isn’t Working

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A garbage disposal may be convenient, but it’s a poorly named appliance. Despite the word “garbage” being prominently featured in the name, you’re not likely to force old magazines, broken glass, empty egg cartons, or damaged furniture into the sink opening (seriously, don’t attempt this!). No, the garbage you’re disposing of should be strictly food waste. In fact, “food processor” would be a more apt name, but that one was already taken.

Okay, we’ve gotten off track here; let’s start again…

So, you say your garbage disposal isn’t working? Then you’ve come to the right blog article. Repair Clinic has identified the top four reasons why garbage disposals stop working, so read on, and let’s get that disposal fixed together.

How garbage disposals work… when they are working

Garbage disposals (or disposers as they are often called) are designed to grind solid food waste into particles small enough to be washed down the drain. To accomplish this, the disposal is installed between the kitchen sink drain and the drainpipe which sends water and debris to the outside of the home.

“Continuous-feed” disposals are usually hard-wired to a wall switch

Not all garbage disposals operate in the same way. The more commonly installed units are known as “continuous-feed” disposals. These units are usually hard-wired to a wall switch near the sink. Turn the switch on and you can continuously insert food waste into the disposal, provided a steady stream of cold water continues to flow through the unit at the same time. “Continuous-feed” disposals use a splash guard attached to the top of the unit or positioned in the sink drain opening to prevent water from being slung upwards during operation.

“Batch-feed” disposals are turned on by rotating a stopper

“Batch-feed” disposals require the food waste to be inserted before turning the unit on. The disposal gets its name because the waste is being inserted in batches (depending on the model, the size of the “batch” can range from three to five cups of food particles). Once the food waste is inserted, a cover or stopper is positioned in the drain opening. The cover or stopper is then pushed down and/or rotated which actuates a start switch on the top of the unit.

The garbage disposal motor rotates a grinding plate to break down the food waste

Once the wall switch or start switch is activated, 120 volts of alternating current will flow to the disposal’s motor. The motor then rotates a grinding, or shredder, plate to break down the food waste. The grinding plate is very durable, but you should avoid attempting to dispose of fibrous food material such as potato peels, corn husks, or celery as these items can cause the plate to jam.

What to do if the grinding plate jams

If your garbage disposal isn’t working because the grinding, or shredder, plate has jammed, you can often insert an appropriate-size Allen wrench into the opening on the bottom of the disposal housing and rotate the wrench back and forth. This action should free the plate and allow for normal disposal operation. If your disposal model doesn’t have an opening on the bottom of the housing, a wooden broom handle can be inserted through the sink drain opening to turn the plate to clear the obstruction.

Troubleshooting a garbage disposal that isn’t working

What do you do if you’ve determined the grinding plate is rotating freely, but the disposal still isn’t working? Start troubleshooting. Here’s the course of action Repair Clinic recommends:

  1. Press the safety switch’s reset button – In order to protect the motor, garbage disposals have a safety switch that will shut the motor off if the grinding plate jams and needs to be unclogged. Make sure the obstruction has been removed and the grinding plate is turning freely. Next, try to press the safety switch’s red reset button on the side or bottom of the unit to restore power. If you’re still unable to get the disposal to work, the safety switch may be defective. You can use a multimeter to test the safety switch for “continuity” – a continuous electrical path present in the component. If the switch tests negative for continuity, the part is defective and will need to be replaced with a new one.
  2. Inspect the start switch – As mentioned earlier, “batch feed” disposals use a cover or stopper to activate a start switch, but if the switch is defective, the disposal won’t receive the voltage it needs to run. You should first check to see if a house fuse has blown or a circuit breaker has tripped. If you’ve determined the disposal should be receiving power but isn’t, the start switch could be faulty. As with the safety switch, you can use a multimeter to test the switch for electrical continuity to determine if the part has failed or not.
  3. Test the wall switch – If the disposal is started by flipping a wall switch, this switch can fail in the same way as a “batch feed” disposal start switch. Again, test the wall switch with a multimeter to determine if the part has electrical continuity or not.
  4. Listen to the disposal motor – Over time, the garbage disposal’s motor bearings can begin wearing out, especially if the motor is continuously being strained by a jammed grinding plate. Before a motor fails outright, the worn bearings will cause the motor to become very noisy during operation. Listen to the disposal motor for any audible grinding or chattering – that’s the sound of the motor bearings wearing out. Since neither the bearings nor the motor can be replaced or repaired, you will need to install a new garbage disposal if the unit’s motor has failed.
Garbage Disposer Not Working? Top 4 Reasons – Garbage Disposer Troubleshooting

Free repair help content from Repair Clinic

Looking for a step-by-step video showing you how to replace a safety switch on a KitchenAid Garbage Disposal (Model KCDB250G4)? Or, what about demonstrating the right way to use a disposal wrench to dislodge a stuck grinding plate? Both of these videos are just a sample of the free repair help content available in the “Videos & Articles” section of Repair Clinic’s website. With a few cursor clicks you’ll uncover thousands of troubleshooting and “how-to” videos, diagrams, schematics, and step-by-step guides; all created to assist you in taking on the repair yourself. You’ll gain the confidence you need to fix your appliances, outdoor power equipment, and heating and cooling products while saving money with every repair.

Repair Clinic has the right OEM part to keep your disposal working

Perhaps you need a new start switch or safety switch to repair your garbage disposal, or maybe you need to replace the splash guard or one of the flanges. Repair Clinic has the right original equipment manufacturer (OEM) part to keep your disposal working its best. Just enter the full model number of the disposal unit in the Repair Clinic website search bar to see a complete list of compatible parts from such top-name manufacturers as Kenmore, Emerson, Frigidaire, GE, Whirlpool, Insinkerator, Sinkmaster, Waste King, and Whirlaway. With Repair Clinic as your repair partner, fixing your garbage disposal will be easier than you think.

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