How to Keep Your Garbage Disposal Running

Few kitchen appliances get as much use, or abuse, as the garbage disposal. Most homeowners don’t even quite realize how important this appliance is until it stops working one day and you’re left with a clogged drain full of smelly food waste. While garbage disposals are designed and built for heavy-duty daily use, the best way to avoid issues and unpleasant odors in your kitchen sink is by keeping your garbage disposal maintained and avoiding common factors that can damage it.

The Main Parts of the Garbage Disposal

The garbage disposal is an essential fixture in most residential homes to ease cooking preparation and food waste disposal. You’ll find the garbage disposal mounted to the underside of the kitchen sink. It’s designed to store waste in the upper part of the unit, called the hopper chamber. A switch triggers the motor, which spins the flywheel — and the attached impellers — at nearly 2,000 RPM.

These impellers toss the food waste into the shredder ring. Working together, they grind and crush the objects. Water from the faucet runs through the garbage disposal as it reduces the food waste and washes it through the flywheel and out of the waste line connected to the disposal’s discharge outlet. From there, it enters the sewer system.

Common Issues With Garbage Disposals and How to Fix Them

With regular use, it’s common to experience issues with your garbage disposal ranging from small clogs to jammed parts. When the garbage disposal stops working properly, it’s important to address the problem promptly to avoid unpleasant odors and damage to your kitchen plumbing. Remember to always keep tools, hands and other objects away from the disposal while it’s on, and remove these items before restarting a unit you’ve temporarily shut down. ALWAYS completely power off the unit at the electrical box or by unplugging the unit.

When your garbage disposal stops running, it’s likely due to one of the following issues:

  • Jammed disposal: If you hear a slight hum when the disposal is turned on, but the blades won’t spin, it’s likely jammed, turn it off immediately to avoid burning out the motor. This signals that something is trapped between the impellers and the shredding ring. Turn off the power at the electrical box or unplug the unit under the sink. Using a flashlight, visually inspect from the top and remove any foreign objects using long pliers. Then use an Allen wrench to try dislodging the jam by turning it clockwise and counter-clockwise in the unit’s bottom slot. If those haven’t worked, find a long, thick object like the wooden handle of a plunger and stick this down the drain then pull on the impellers to try to free the jam.
    Be sure to remove all objects before proceeding. Then, turn the power back on, push the disposal’s reset button, often located on the bottom of the disposal, and try using it again.
  • Leaking unit: First, identify where the leak is located. If the leak is happening at your dishwasher connection, simply tighten the hose clamp that’s connected to the disposal’s dishwasher inlet or replace the hose if it’s damaged. For top flange leaks, turn off the power, remove the disposal and replace the flange.
  • Power outage: If the disposal doesn’t respond when prompted, check whether it is receiving power. Make sure the plug hasn’t been loosened and the circuit breaker hasn’t been tripped. If the electrical connections are intact, check the reset button at the bottom of the disposal. If you’ve checked these areas and the problem persists, you might have a bad switch or a damaged disposal.
  • Clogged drain: When the food waste won’t drain, first power off the disposal, check the drain trap and remove any obstructions. If the clog remains, it may be trapped in the line connecting to the wall. The best method for removing the buildup is by using a plunger or sink auger cable, then clearing the space of all tools before restarting the disposal.
  • Damaged flywheel: If all clogs are removed and the garbage disposal still won’t work, it’s time to check the flywheel. Turn off power to the disposal, then use a hex wrench to detach the flywheel and clear out any debris. If you suspect a problem with the blades, disconnect the hose fitting and remove any buildup found in the impellers. Consult the manual to determine if the blades can be sharpened, then reassemble your disposal and — after making sure all tools, as well as your hands, are entirely clear of the area — test its functionality.

If you continue to experience problems with your garbage disposal, it may be time to upgrade to a newer model. Garbage disposals are designed with longevity in mind, but if your disposal is seven years old or older, it may be time to consider replacement.

How to Maintain Your Garbage Disposal

The best way to avoid issues and premature failure of your garbage disposal is by avoiding dumping certain items and performing routine garbage disposal cleaning and maintenance.

Avoid Putting These Items Down the Disposal

While it’s tempting to quickly discard all unwanted items down the kitchen sink to avoid trash buildup and unwanted smells in your kitchen, certain items can wreak havoc on your plumbing and garbage disposal over time. Prevent garbage disposal problems by keeping these items away from the drain:

  • Grease, oils and fats
  • Coffee grounds and eggshells
  • Hard food waste like bones, fruit pits and seeds
  • Fibrous foods like celery, corn husks, pasta and potato peels
  • Garbage items like twist ties and produce stickers

Refrain from using any chemical drain cleaners or bleach as these can damage the disposal.

To keep your garbage disposal running smoothly, run cold water for at least 15 seconds before grinding food waste and always avoid sending hot water down the drain while the disposal is running.

Keeping Your Garbage Disposal Running Clean

By performing regular garbage disposal cleaning and maintenance, you can extend the lifespan of your unit and avoid premature breakage and costly replacements. When sending food waste down the drain, it’s normal for sludge to build up on the sides of the disposal and along the blades. Cleaning the unit is simple and should be done frequently if used often with items commonly found throughout most homes.

To create a natural cleaning reaction, place baking soda in the drain and pour vinegar on top of it. Another method to keep the garbage disposal clean and sharpen the blades is by sending rock salt and ice cubes down the drain and then turning the machine on to let the blades grind up everything. To also reduce odors, frozen cubes of vinegar or a quartered lemon and cold water work wonders.

For Garbage Disposal Assistance, Call Zimmerman Plumbing, Heating & Air Conditioning

At Zimmerman Plumbing, Heating & Air Conditioning, we understand how crucial it is to have a properly working and efficient garbage disposal. If you find that your unit isn’t working optimally or has stopped running entirely, contact our skilled and experienced team to identify the cause or perform replacement services.

We care about always performing reliable and helpful services with high-quality products for all residents throughout the Harrisburg, PA, area. We even back our repair and maintenance services with a one-year parts and labor warranty.

Schedule plumbing repair or maintenance services today by calling 717-697-3528 or complete our online contact form to schedule an appointment.

Read More About Home Plumbing Tips