Why Did My Garbage Disposal Suddenly Stop Working?

Uh oh! Your garbage disposal stopped working! It might not drain or turn on at all – whatever it is, it’s problematic. So, why did your garbage disposal randomly go on strike? The reason behind the sudden stop varies based on the actual problem, so it’ll be something different based on the scenario.

Key Points:

  • Garbage disposal stoppage can be caused by overheating, clogging, or electrical/motor failure.
  • Common reasons for stoppages could include foreign objects or too many food scraps in the canister.
  • Various troubleshooting techniques and repairs need to be completed depending on the cause of the problem.

This article outlines common culprits leading to garbage disposal issues, why they happen, and how to fix them. So, if your garbage disposal is on vacation, you’re in the right place!

What Would Cause My Garbage Disposal To Stop Working?

An array of culprits could be behind your garbage disposal’s sudden strike, but the most common are overheating and clogging. If the unit works too hard, it might overheat and shut down abruptly, refusing to start again.

Conversely, if there are too many food scraps or foreign objects in the canister, the impellers might become frozen in place due to a blockage. Of course, some scenarios fall outside these common issues, like electrical faults, motor failure, and more.

Why Do These Issues Happen?

Garbage disposal problems may seem to arise at random, but there’s usually a reason for their occurrence. For example, a burnt-out motor is typically the result of foreign objects or frozen blades, which lead to the system trying to work too hard to spin the impellers and burning out.

Or, a non-draining garbage disposal might result from improper food disposal or a foreign object. Garbage disposals can only handle some food scraps – they’re not designed to consume it all. So, if you put food scraps that are unsafe for the system in the canister, there’s a good chance you’ll end up with a blockage.

How Do I Get My Garbage Disposal To Work Again?

The repair to set your garbage disposal back on track hinges on the problem. Each problem requires a different repair, as each culprit may demand a unique solution. So, you’ll need to determine the problem to complete the repair.

Sometimes, isolating the problem is easier said than done, but with a bit of troubleshooting, you might be able to figure it out. However, some scenarios are more challenging to address than others, so you might need the assistance of a licensed plumber.

4 Common Garbage Disposal Problems And How To Fix Them

InSinkErator Garbage Disposal, Badger 5, Standard Series, 1/2 HP Continuous Feed, Black

So, your garbage disposal isn’t working. In most cases, there’s a specific problem with the system. It might not drain or turn on, or perhaps it’s smoking or humming – whatever it is, you’ll need to identify the problem. Once you identify the issue, use the following sections to troubleshoot it.

Won’t Turn On

A garbage disposal that refuses to turn on is an unfortunately widespread problem. Every once in a while, the unit may abruptly stop working, remaining off and unworking despite your best efforts. Generally, this is the result of a power issue or an overload.

To troubleshoot the issue, follow these steps:

  1. Check the power source. If your garbage disposal is plugged into an outlet underneath your sink, ensure there is power to the outlet by testing it with a small appliance you know works. If your garbage disposal is wired to a circuit, ensure there’s still power to the circuit by verifying no breakers are tripped.
  2. Find the reset button on the bottom of the garbage disposal’s canister underneath the sink. If the button protrudes from its usual spot, there’s a good chance the system was overloaded and tripped its built-in circuit breaker. Simply press the button to reset it, but if it pops back out again, give it ten minutes before trying again. Once the button remains pushed in, turn on the unit to check for proper function.
  3. Check the wall switch to ensure its functioning properly. Look for loose connections, tightening them as necessary. If you’re uncomfortable handling this step, enlist the help of a professional.
  4. Examine the wires underneath the garbage disposal unit, focusing on the area they connect to the unit. Check for loose wires, as they can shake loose due to the unit’s vibrations. Tighten and adjust the wires as necessary.

In some cases, the problem may lie with the motor. Overloading the system too frequently can eventually burn out the motor, causing the system to stop working entirely. In most cases, it’s cheaper to replace the entire unit rather than the motor. However, if the unit is new and under warranty, check with the manufacturer first.

Humming Noises

Sometimes, the unit might come on, but instead of functioning, it simply hums. The impellers don’t spin to crush the food scraps inside the canister. Instead, the impellers remain motionless while the motor hums.

If this is the case, turn off the disposal immediately, as there’s probably something caught in the canister. Continuing to push the system can cause the motor to burn out, so ensure you power the system down right away.

Before you work on this problem, turn off the power to the unit by turning off the circuit or unplugging the unit. Verify the system is off by turning on the wall switch, then follow these steps:

  1. Hold the baffle (rubber piece around the sink drain) aside and peek inside the canister with a flashlight. Look for objects that could be freezing the impellers, like a piece of silverware, bones, or other hard things.
  2. If you see something, lift it out of the canister using a pair of pliers or kitchen tongs.
  3. If you can’t see anything in the canister, manually turn the impellers. Use the correct size Allen wrench to spin the impellers via the small hex-shaped hole at the bottom of the canister (under the sink).
  4. Spin the blades back and forth, working them gently until they spin freely in both directions.
  5. Once the object is removed or the blades spin freely, restore power to the unit and test it for proper function. You may need to reset the system using the button on the bottom of the canister first.

If these solutions don’t remedy the issue, it’s best to seek the assistance of a licensed plumber. Sometimes, the frozen impellers have nothing to do with a foreign object or a blockage. Instead, rust or corrosion might hold the blades in place, preventing them from spinning freely. In this case, it’s usually better to enlist the help of a professional.

Smoke From Unit

If your garbage disposal is smoking, it’s usually the aftermath of a burnt-out motor or a fried circuit. As mentioned, a burnt-out motor requires a replacement, but it’s usually best to replace the entire unit, as the motor can be pricey. However, if a fried circuit causes the smoke, it can be fixable.

Before you start working on the circuitry, power the unit off by flipping the breaker into the “OFF” position or unplugging it. Once you’re ready, follow these steps:

  1. Remove the cover from the lower portion of the garbage disposal. This cover protects the unit’s wiring, so be careful when removing it.
  2. Examine the innards of the garbage disposal, looking specifically for burnt or damaged wires.
  3. If you find a burnt or damaged wire, you’ll need to get rid of it. So, remove the burnt part of the wire and its insulation.
  4. Connect the intact wires to their correlating connections and replace the cover.
  5. Turn the power to the unit back on and test the unit for proper function.

Note: Working with the wiring can be dangerous and complicated, especially if you don’t know what you’re doing. So, if you’re unfamiliar with electrical projects, enlist the help of a professional. They can evaluate the damage and advise whether you should repair or replace the unit based on their findings.

In some cases, repairs aren’t feasible, so replacements are more logical. Determining this can be tricky if you’re DIYing the project, so you may find it easier to leave the project in a professional’s capable hands.

Drainage Issues

A backed-up, non-draining garbage disposal is problematic, especially because it’ll cause your kitchen sink to back up, too. The kitchen sink drains through the garbage disposal, even if you have a double sink (usually), so a non-functioning garbage disposal translates to a non-functioning sink. Sometimes, a non-draining garbage disposal can even affect the dishwasher’s drainage performance.

Generally, drainage issues stem from a blockage in the canister, drain tube, or plumbing pipes below. If the problem is isolated to the canister and is visible, like a piece of silverware or a large bone, you can pluck it out with tongs or pliers. However, if there isn’t a visible problem, the issue probably lies further beyond the canister.

Sometimes, you can remedy the issue with a sink plunger. Fit the plunger cup over the drain hole to create suction, then plunge vigorously 4-5 times. If that doesn’t work, you’ll probably need to disassemble the P-trap to look for blockages and dislodge them with a drain snake or auger. After reassembling the plumbing, ensure the seals are snug in their places to prevent water leaks underneath the unit.

We detail these steps in another guide, which you can find here. Each method is outlined with specific steps, so move through each method until the problem is resolved. If the blockage persists, call a licensed plumber to tackle the issue.

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