Trouble Starting Your Trash Compactor? 4 Likely Causes

Home » Trouble Starting Your Trash Compactor? 4 Likely Causes

Hopefully we all try to minimize the amount of household waste we create. But when we do have trash to dispose of, a trash compactor can reduce that waste by up to 75%. That means the garbage we create will take up less space in the garage and there’ll be fewer garbage bags to set out at the curb or take to the local landfill.

How does a trash compactor work and what should you do if you have trouble starting your trash compactor? Repair Clinic has the answers…

How does a trash compactor work?

Let’s start with how a trash compactor actually compacts the trash.

Trash compactors have power screws that move a ram up-and-down

Compactors use an electric motor to drive one or more power screws that move a ram up-and-down within the compactor drawer. The ram will compress the trash to make it easier to dispose provided the container is, at least, one-third filled.

The trash compactor drawer must be fully closed

To begin the compacting process, the trash compactor drawer must be fully closed. Otherwise, the contacts in the safety switch or switches will not close which will prevent the appliance from operating.

120 volts will energize the drive motor’s clockwise start winding and run winding

When the start switch is moved to the “start” position, 120 volts of alternating current is allowed to flow through the directional switch and energize the drive motor’s clockwise start winding and the run winding. The contacts in the centrifugal switch, located on the drive motor, will then open and the ram will move downward. The directional switch is triggered as the ram lowers and the contacts in the switch change position. Once the ram has compacted the trash, the motor slows then stalls, and the contacts in the centrifugal switch close briefly, directing current to the motor’s counter-clockwise start winding. This reverses the motor direction causing the ram to move upward. Once the ram returns to its top position, the directional switch will interrupt all current to the motor.

Many trash compactor models have a “hard-pack” option and a drawer tilt switch

Be aware that many trash compactor models offer a “solid” or “hard-pack” option which keeps the ram in the down position once the trash has been compressed. Some models also have a drawer tilt switch. If the drawer is out of alignment, the contacts in the tilt switch will close, immediately returning the ram to its top position to prevent further damage to the compactor.

The 4 likely causes of a trash compactor not starting

If you’re having trouble starting your trash compactor, there are four likely causes you should troubleshoot:

1) Incoming power problem – The first potential issue you should troubleshoot is to determine if there is an incoming power problem. Where do you start? With the circuit breaker or fuse box. Confirm the breaker for the electrical circuit the trash compactor is on has not tripped or the fuse for that circuit has not blown. Reset the breaker if necessary or replace the fuse. Be aware that if the circuit breaker continues to trip or the fuse continues to blow, there could be a short in one of the trash compactor’s switches or components. If applicable, you should also check to see if the electrical outlet the trash compactor is plugged into is providing sufficient voltage. You can use a multimeter to test the outlet to confirm the proper voltage is present for the compactor to operate.

2) Faulty start switch – If you’ve confirmed there is sufficient incoming power, your next step is to determine if the trash compactor’s start switch is faulty. When engaged, the start switch allows voltage to travel to the drive motor to start the compacting cycle. If the start switch is faulty it will prevent the trash compactor from starting. You can use a multimeter to test the start switch for electrical continuity – a continuous electrical path present in the switch. A switch that tests negative for continuity when activated will need to be replaced.

3) Malfunctioning drawer switch – The start switch isn’t the only switch that can prevent a trash compactor from starting. The drawer switch will not allow the unit to begin the compacting cycle unless the compactor drawer is shut. However, if that drawer switch is malfunctioning the compactor may not start even with the drawer fully closed. Once again, you can use a multimeter to test a trash compactor drawer switch for electrical continuity to determine if the part is functioning properly or not.

4) Defective drive motor – So you’ve confirmed that power is reaching the trash compactor and the start switch and drawer switch are both functioning normally. What’s next? While it’s not a common cause, it’s possible the unit’s drive motor is defective and unable to drive the ram. Using the trash compactor’s wiring diagram, you can determine where the power input terminals are for the motor so you can use a multimeter to test those terminals for incoming voltage. If voltage is reaching the motor but it doesn’t run, then it’s likely the motor is defective and a new motor will need to be installed.

Top Reasons Trash Compactor Won’t Start – Trash Compactor Troubleshooting

Repair your own trash compactor with help from Repair Clinic

As your repair partner, Repair Clinic can assist you in repairing your trash compactor yourself. Explore the “Videos & Articles” section of the Repair Clinic website for more troubleshooting information, schematics, and “how-to” videos such as this one showing how to install a new start switch on a model KUCS03CTBL2 KitchenAid trash compactor or this video showing how to replace a drive motor on the same model. Repair Clinic has a wealth of free repair help content covering all major home appliances, outdoor power equipment, and heating and cooling systems.

Repair Clinic carries genuine OEM trash compactor parts

Where can you find a start switch, drawer switch, drive motor, or any other replaceable component that matches your trash compactor model? The same resource that provides you with free repair help: Repair Enter the full model number of the trash compactor in the Repair Clinic website search bar to view a comprehensive list of parts compatible with the model, whether your compactor is built by KitchenAid, GE, Frigidaire, Kenmore, Maytag, Roper, Broan or any other top manufacturer. You can then use the “Part Category” and “Part Title” navigation filters to refine that list to identify the specific part you’ll need to fix the compactor. The parts that Repair Clinic carries are genuine original equipment manufacturer (OEM) components, so you know you’re always getting the best quality replacement parts specifically designed to keep your trash compactor functioning properly.

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