Tips to Avoid Garbage Disposal Problems

How to Avoid Garbage Disposal Problems

Like any other household appliance, garbage disposals occasionally experience problems that require fixing. Depending on the issue, some troubleshooting and a little patience might be all that is needed to get the unit working again.

When your food waste disposal unit stops running, the problem is usually related to a foreign object or food materials stuck inside. Jammed blades cause water to back up in your sink, leading to a mess that can be frustrating to resolve. Review this guide to learn about preventive measures you can take and how to troubleshoot your disposal problems when they do occur.

Garbage Disposal Maintenance

It’s best to know ways to avoid garbage disposal problems in the first place. Keeping your garbage disposal unit in good operating condition can certainly help make your life easier. However, the more you use time-savers instead of conducting routine maintenance, the more problems you may incur.

To keep your disposal in shape, use the unit regularly even if you prefer other waste discarding methods. For in-depth advice, consult a plumber on how to keep your drains clean and your blades turning. Here are some tips for maintaining your unit.

How to Clean Your Garbage Disposal Regularly

To keep the disposal functioning efficiently, you can clean the blades using the following easy methods. Always use caution when you’re cleaning your garbage disposal.

  • Grind some ice cubes in the appliance to help scrub off the teeth. Cautiously keep the drain stopper in place to secure the grinding chamber and trap any flying chunks of ice.
  • Grind some peels from citrus fruits such as oranges to sanitize the disposal. The acid in citrus peels acts as a natural cleaner that helps suppress the growth of odor-causing bacteria.
  • Use a de-greaser or a cleaner formulated specifically for the disposal unit to remove any excess grease from the blades.
  • Routinely have the drain line snaked every two years.

What to Avoid Putting Down the Garbage Disposal

The easiest way to prevent clogs is to be mindful of what you dispose of. A garbage disposal helps you clean the dishes while keeping the sink clear of food particles, but it should not be used as a replacement for trash removal. Scraping the dishes off before washing them is a practical way to ensure the garbage disposal keeps running smoothly. These are some items you should avoid grinding.

  • Dense, fibrous vegetable wastes such as cornhusks, pumpkin innards and celery can jam the blades. Other wastes that cause issues are fruit and vegetable peels such as potato peels, banana peels and onion skins.
  • Granular food wastes such as eggshells or coffee grounds create a gritty mixture. They cling to softer food items and form large, sticky clogs.
  • Cooked rice and leftover pasta are prone to getting stuck to the blades and thickening as they cool.
  • Bones and meat can damage the blades and get stuck in the drainpipe. Dispose of picked bones and leftover meat, such as a T-bone steak, in the trash.
  • Grease, fat and cooking oil can plug up the drain line. The disposal’s teeth do not need to be greased to work well. Simply collect grease in a bowl or sealed baggie and dispose of it elsewhere.
  • Harsh drain cleaners that are not made to be used on a garbage disposal can damage your sink’s plumbing system. Always let your plumber know if you have used drain line cleaners beforehand.

Be careful with how many vegetable peels you put into the drain. It’s often better to recycle these food leftovers in a compost pile or dispose of them in the trash. If you do use the garbage disposal, keep vegetable cuttings contained and feed them slowly inside the unit while running cold water into the sink.

Using hot water during grinding may convert fats into a liquid form and cause a stoppage in the drain line. Turn on the cold water before you start grinding any refuse and run the water for approximately 15 seconds after you have finished. Cold water will flush food particles down the drain line while keeping fat drippings in a solid form.

Garbage Disposal Troubleshooting Tips

Sometimes, a garbage disposal just needs a quick fix to start working again. You can try resolving the problem on your own, but if the disposal continues to have issues, it’s best to get a professional to examine your unit. Keep reading to learn about common problems you might have with your garbage disposal unit and how to troubleshoot for solutions.

Garbage Disposal With a Foul Smell

For dispelling pungent odors, avoid using harsh chemicals or heavy-duty cleaning supplies. They aren’t needed and rarely work. If the smell persists, or if a clog forms, food might be lodged deep within the drainpipe and will need to be removed by taking apart the pipe system. Here are some quick fixes you can try.

  1. Grind up some citrus peels in the disposal chamber by slowly feeding in a few peels at a time.
  2. Prepare a mixture of white vinegar and baking soda and pour it down the drain. Wait up to 30 minutes before rinsing.
  3. Pour a small amount of bleach down the drain and rinse after 15 minutes.

Garbage Disposal Not Running

A few underlying causes can cause a garbage disposal not to run. If you don’t hear the motor humming, follow this process to reset your unit.

  1. Make sure power is connected to the disposal. Check under the sink to see if it has come unplugged.
  2. Check your main service panel, or breaker box, to ensure the current is still connected.
  3. Locate the unit’s reset button underneath the sink. The button is usually red and somewhere on the underside of the disposal.
  4. Determine if the unit’s built-in circuit breaker has tripped by pressing the button inward, which will reset the unit.
  5. If you can’t press the button, the motor might have overheated due to a jam.
  6. Clean out the disposal chamber following the same steps you would to clear a jam and try to press the reset button again.

Garbage Disposal With a Faulty Switch

If pressing the reset button proves ineffective, a wiring problem could be the culprit. If you feel comfortable with basic wiring repairs, you could try following this process for replacing the switch.

  1. To prepare for electrical troubleshooting, flip off the breaker that connects to the disposal.
  2. Unscrew the panel protecting the disposal switch to check the wiring connections.
  3. Replace the switch with a new one.
  4. If the unit doesn’t start after following all steps, contact a plumber.

Garbage Disposal Motor Running Without Grinding

If the disposal’s blades won’t grind but you can hear the machine humming, the problem might be a jammed flywheel. Avoid running a disposal unit in this locked condition. Follow this process to unjam it.

  1. Make sure the wall switch is turned off before you begin.
  2. Locate the flywheel turning hole under the sink. This will be at the bottom of the unit with the reset button.
  3. Insert the unit’s offset wrench into the flywheel turning hole. You can also use a hex wrench or buy a replacement offset wrench at a retail location that stocks the same brand of disposal.
  4. Turn the wrench in a clockwise direction to open the flywheel.
  5. Run water into the disposal and turn it on to test the blades.
  6. If the above process is unsuccessful, try running a disposal wrench or the handle of a kitchen utensil down into the drain hole to unjam the flywheel manually.

Garbage Disposal Not Draining

Trapped water is a sign of a clog. As the clog worsens from additional food waste, less water can escape down into the drainpipe, resulting in a full sink with a slowly leaking drain and nowhere for solid refuse to travel. Follow these steps to unclog the disposal.

  1. Turn off the garbage disposal, and flip off the breaker that powers it.
  2. If you have a dishwasher unit, clamp off the hose that runs from the disposal to the dishwasher.
  3. Reach inside the unit using a pipe cleaning wire brush or another appropriate tool.
  4. Clear the debris by using slow scraping and poking motions with your cleaning appliance.
  5. Scoop out any trapped particles using a pair of tongs or a similar tool.
  6. Pump the drain with a plunger for really stubborn clogs.

If this process fails, the clog may be deeper in the pipes. You will need to get a plumber to remove your drainpipe and clear out any impacted waste.

Garbage Disposal Leaking

Areas where leaks commonly occur include the sink flange, the drain hose and the hose running from the disposal to the dishwasher. To fix a leak, try the following steps.

The mounting apparatus that secures the disposal to the drain can sometimes become loose. For a leaky sink flange, follow these steps.

  1. Turn off the disposal as well as the breaker connected to it.
  2. Find the mounting ring under the sink.
  3. Turn the disposal unit to the left in a counter-clockwise rotation to remove it from the mounting flange.
  4. Tighten the bolts that connect the flange to the sink.
  5. If the bolts are secure, check for an issue with the plumber’s putty, which is a barrier for liquids.
  6. Loosen the bolts to push up the flange.
  7. Use additional plumber’s putty to seal the flange against the sink.
  8. Tighten the mounting bolts and reinstall the disposal.
  9. Run cold water and look for leaking.

A leak at the dishwasher connection could also happen, especially as your unit ages. For a leaky dishwasher connection, try these steps instead.

  1. Start by shutting the disposal off and flipping the breaker off.
  2. Find the hose clamp connected to the dishwasher inlet under the sink.
  3. Tighten the hose clamp.
  4. If the leak persists, the hose will need to be replaced.

A leak at the discharge drainpipe will result in water dripping below the sink. The discharge drainpipe carries wastes into the drain trap below the disposal unit. For a leaky discharge drainpipe, try the following steps.

  1. Turn off the disposal and the breaker.
  2. Locate the bolts that connect the drainpipe to the disposal under the sink.
  3. Tighten the bolts with a wrench.
  4. If the bolts are already tight, the problem might be the gasket seal, and you will need a replacement.

How to Fix a Clogged Garbage Disposal

Clogs are one of the most common garbage disposal problems, especially during the holidays. During large gatherings, it’s important to avoid overusing your garbage disposal as you do the dishes. Here’s how to fix a garbage disposal jam.

Preventing Clogs

Avoid filling your sink up with food waste. Instead, slowly feed your garbage disposal as you do the dishes. Your unit can become overwhelmed, and heavy usage will dull the blades faster.

Run cold water while the disposal is in use to wash food wastes down into the drain chamber. To clean 1 pound or more of food waste, plug the drain before running the water. Fill the sink at least one-quarter full with cold water. When it’s time to clear out the waste, pull the drain plug out and turn the disposal on. This process will thoroughly rinse the drain line as garbage is disposed of.

Clogs With Food

Only grind disposal-friendly foods, and pour as few scraps as possible down the drain. It may seem like the disposal can handle every food you want to get rid of, but some wastes tend to inhibit the grinding motion of the blades. Foods that cause drain clogs might be soft and seem safe to dispose of.

Clogs With Foreign Objects

Our plumbers often find foreign objects lodged in the disposal during a call. The garbage disposal unit is designed for food waste only, so throw wrappers, bottle caps, paper or other non-food items into the trash. Even smaller, softer items can cause clogs.

Fixing a Small Clog

One method to try for minor clogs is pouring a mixture of baking soda and white vinegar down the drain. You can also place several heaping spoonfuls of baking soda down the disposal drain. If you have a second drain in the adjacent sink, also pour some baking soda into it. Then pour the white vinegar generously down both sides of the drain. Let the mixture bubble for about 30 minutes. Then boil some water and pour it down both sides of the sink.

Ready & Able Can Help With Disposal Problems

Even with proper care and maintenance, a DIY solution might not be enough to keep your garbage disposal from requiring professional intervention. So when all else fails, request repair services with a professional plumber.

Keep in mind that the longest you should use your garbage disposal unit is typically seven years. If your garbage disposal is older than this, consider replacing it rather than repairing. Contact Ready & Able at 717-963-2034 to discuss your options.


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