Garbage Disposal Repair 101: How to Fix Your Garbage Disposal

What’s the one thing in your kitchen that helps you cook and is a feature in many horror movies? It’s your garbage disposal! This helpful, yet potentially dangerous device gets rid of tiny bits of food you don’t feel like scraping out of the sink.

But what happens when it breaks? Do you always need to call a plumber to do garbage disposal repair? No, you can try to DIY.

If the DIY solutions don’t work or you’re not comfortable working with plumbing, the professionals are always ready to help!

How Garbage Disposal Works

Before you have any hope of fixing a garbage disposal on your own, you need to understand how it works.

Unfortunately for you, it has a lot of moving parts and levels, so you’re in for a bit of a vocabulary lesson. There are about 15 parts to one sink disposal. We’ll go over what they do below.


The garbage disposal mounts into your sink – it won’t necessarily come with a unit. To do that, there are flanges that you secure around the drain of your sink.

Once you’ve attached the flanges – the unit is mounted in your sink and you can plug it in. When your house was built, they should have installed an outlet under your sink, in the cabinet.

This is where you’ll plug your disposal in. One of the outlets is switched, so you’ll have to figure out which one.

The easiest way to do that, without messing with blades and motors, is to plug a nightlight in under the sink. Plug it in the first one and turn the switch – does that turn it on?

If not, try the other outlet opening and do the same thing. Now you know, without a doubt, that turning on the wall switch will start your garbage disposal

Inner Workings

The mechanisms inside your garbage disposal are dangerous and include a few scary-sounding parts. There are the shredder and the impeller. The shredder is the blade system that grinds up loose food.

It spins, which gives the power and speed of the blade. From there, the ground up food and liquid goes into the drain chamber, through the shredder housing, and down the drain.

The drain isn’t a large pipe – which is why you need to make sure you use water when you turn on the disposal. It keeps the food particles from becoming a paste that will muck up your pipes.

From there it drains into your water pipes and goes on its way to a water treatment facility, like whatever else you dump down the sink.

You shouldn’t put too much food down the disposal anyways – it’s not your built-in compost system. Small shavings and organic material are fine – but don’t decide to throw out a whole tomato and push it down the sink.

This will definitely lead to a clogged disposal, which makes scary sounds, and can lead to very gross repairs.

Speaking of gross repairs, you can do some of them yourself. Try the three steps below, if you feel comfortable.

If the steps below don’t work or you don’t want to deal with built up food grossness, you can always call a licensed plumber. They’re better equipped with disposal specific tools and aren’t grossed out by pipe slime and boogers.

If you turn the switch on your garbage disposal expecting the normal racket but hear nothing, the first thing you should do is check the circuits. Your garbage disposal is an electrical system within your sink.

Option 1: Electrical Garbage Disposal Repair

First, check the circuit breaker and the fuses at your home’s panel. Flip the appropriate switch on and off once, to make sure power is coming from the walls to the disposal.

Make sure you turn off the disposal before you go switch the breaker, so you’re not grinding the gears dry.

If that doesn’t fix the problem, reach down into the cabinet and find the disposal unit. There should be a switch on it labeled reset or thermal overload. Press it and then try to turn it on with the wall switch again.

If none of that fixes the problem and you still think it’s electrically based, call an electrician.

Option 2: Manual Motor Maintenance

Before you open the disposal and do anything with the blades, make sure it’s unplugged from the wall under the sink. Then go under the sink with a flashlight and find the hex head Allen wrench hole.

Insert the wrench and turn counterclockwise. Your goal here is to dislodge anything that could be blocking the rotor blades. Then, turn it clockwise to see if anything is lodged. You want to make sure it’s moving freely before you put it back in place.

Make sure everything is tightly in place and you plug the disposal back into the wall before you turn it on.

Then, run the water and flip the wall switch. If it works and no longer sounds like something’s stuck, you’re set to go.

Option 3: Like 2 but From Above

The third way to clear stuck blades is to take a special garbage disposal wrench and insert it from above. Reach down with the wrench and fit it onto the wheel in the middle of the shredder.

Using some elbow grease, turn it one way, then the other until whatever is stuck clear out. Make sure you have the switch off while you do this and you can unplug it for even more peace of mind.

Once the wheel feels like it’s turning loosely, you can pull the wrench out and turn the water on. Turn the switch – does it sound healthy again? If so – you did it!

If not, and you’ve tried the other two options, it’s time to call a plumber like Ben Franklin Plumbing. They’re the ones who can help you now.

Regular Garbage Disposal Maintenance Tips

While using your garbage disposal in your daily life, there are some tips you need to follow. We covered one above, but we’ll go back over it for clarification.

Don’t treat your garbage disposal like a compost bucket, it’s made to dispose of little pieces, not big chunks of food. Two, always run water while you use your disposal, that will cut down on your need to do garbage disposal repair.

Finally, make sure, if you’re setting up a new sink, you have a professional install the unit. That will make cleaning and repairing it much easier in the future!

Want more guides on how to do daily activities, like install wooden floors? Check out our guide.

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