Garbage Disposal Not Working: 6 Problems & Solutions

A garbage disposal is a convenient appliance found in many kitchen sinks that mechanically shreds food waste into tiny pieces that can be flushed away down the drain. Garbage disposals allow you to get rid of scraps without having to empty a smelly garbage can. However, like most appliances, garbage disposals can suddenly stop working. When your garbage disposal stops functioning properly, it can be frustrating trying to figure out what’s wrong. This article will explore the six most common reasons a garbage disposal fails to work, along with solutions to get this useful appliance grinding again.

Causes of a Garbage Disposal Not Working

There are several possible causes why a garbage disposal stops working. Here are six of the most common garbage disposal problems and their solutions:

1. Power Issues

The most obvious reason a garbage disposal stops working is a power issue. Here are some things to check:

  • Reset the Garbage Disposal – There may be a red reset button on the bottom or side of the unit. Push this button and try the disposal again.
  • Check the Power Cord – Make sure the cord is plugged in securely under the sink and into the wall outlet. Ensure there are no breaks along the length of the cord.
  • Test the Outlet – Plug another appliance like a lamp into the outlet to see if the outlet works. If it doesn’t, you likely have an electrical issue to address.
  • Flip the Circuit Breaker – There may be a tripped circuit breaker for the garbage disposal. Locate the right breaker in the electrical panel and flip it fully off and then on again to reset it.
  • Replace the Outlet – If power gets to the outlet but the disposal still won’t run, the outlet may need to be replaced by an electrician.

2. Jammed Garbage Disposal

Another common reason a garbage disposal stops working is something is stuck in the unit blocking the blades. To fix this:

  • Unplug the Disposal – Unplug the unit before putting your hand inside to feel for obstructions.
  • Insert an Allen Wrench – There is usually a small port on the bottom you can insert an Allen wrench into to manually turn the flywheel and blades. This may dislodge the jam.
  • Remove Debris – Put on thick gloves and carefully remove any debris you can feel by hand. Insert needlenose pliers to grab small objects stuck in the disposal.
  • Use a Knife – Use a wooden spoon, chopstick or the end of a broom handle to poke food debris from the top down. A knife can help loosen pieces stuck to the grind ring.
  • Press Reset Button – If your unit has this button, press it firmly after removing any clogs.

3. Overloaded Garbage Disposal

It’s easy to overload a garbage disposal by putting in too much waste at once or the wrong materials. To prevent clogs:

  • Run Lots of Water – Always run plenty of cold water before, during and after using the disposal to help flush waste down.
  • Avoid Fibrous Foods – Don’t put fibrous foods like celery stalks, corn husks, onion skins or banana peels down the disposal or they can wrap around the blade and cause jams.
  • No Grease or Bones – Fats, oils and greasy foods can build up. Bones can also damage blades. Put these items in the trash instead.
  • Dispose in Small Batches – Only put a little waste in at a time while flushing with water instead of putting everything in at once.

4. Faulty or Stuck Switch

Garbage disposals turn on and off with a wall switch. Here’s how to test this part:

  • Check Switch Connections – Make sure all the wires are secure and connected properly, especially the ground wire. Tighten any loose connections.
  • Test the Switch with a Multimeter – To check if the switch is receiving power and working correctly, use a multimeter to test the electrical current. If not, the switch may need replacing.
  • Wiggle the Switch – Sometimes the internal components of the wall switch get stuck. Carefully remove the switch plate and toggle the switch on and off a few times.
  • Push the Reset – Some garbage disposals have a tiny reset button on the bottom of the unit near the wiring that needs to be pushed in to reset the switch.
  • Replace Defective Switch – If power is getting to the switch but the disposal won’t run, then the switch likely needs to be replaced. Hire an electrician for this job if you are uncertain.

5. Bad or Unbalanced Blades

The blades in a garbage disposal can gradually become dull, bent, misaligned or imbalanced over time, preventing proper operation. Here is how to check the blades:

  • Manually Rotate Blades – Unplug disposal, then use an Allen wrench in the bottom port to manually turn the blade assembly and feel for rough spots as it spins.
  • Remove and Inspect Blades – Take apart the disposal unit carefully to remove and inspect the blade assembly. Look for blades that are very dull, bent, loose or misaligned.
  • Remove Debris and Foreign Objects – Check if any debris or small objects have become lodged in the blades preventing them from spinning smoothly. Remove any obstructions.
  • Replace Defective Blades – If the existing blades are too dull and damaged, they likely need replacing. Purchase a compatible replacement blade kit and install it properly.

6. Burned-Out or Faulty Motor

With heavy use over time, the electric motor that powers the garbage disposal can eventually fail. Here’s how to check the motor:

  • Listen for Humming – If you hear a humming sound but the blades won’t turn, this indicates a seized up motor that needs replacing.
  • Smell for Burning – A distinct burning smell points to an overheated motor that is malfunctioning. Unplug and allow to cool before servicing.
  • Test with a Multimeter – Check the electrical current in the motor windings for continuity. If there’s no power, the motor needs to be replaced.
  • Look for Leaking Oil – Rust-colored oily drips or a very noisy motor can mean worn out bearings that require motor replacement.
  • Replace Defective Motor – Motors that are seized, overheated or not receiving electrical current will need to be replaced. This usually requires the services of a professional.

Solutions and Preventative Maintenance

Taking steps to properly maintain your garbage disposal can help prevent problems and keep it operating smoothly for years to come. Here are solutions and tips for ongoing garbage disposal maintenance:

Use Properly Sized Disposal

  • Choose the right sized garbage disposal for your household size and usage. A unit that’s too small can jam more easily. Make sure your disposal has a large enough horsepower rating and grinding capacity.

Clean Regularly

  • Periodically pour a half cup of baking soda down the drain while running water. The abrasive baking soda scours the insides and helps neutralize odors.
  • Grind a few ice cubes to sharpen and clean blades. Adding ice to your disposal regularly helps clean the inside.
  • Flush down hot water and citrus peels like lemon, orange or grapefruit rinds. The peels clean and freshen the disposal naturally.
  • Once a month use a disposer cleaner like Affresh to break up grease and grime. Vinegar ice cubes also help clean the disposal.

Avoid Misuse

  • Never put coffee grounds, rice, pasta, bones, potato peels, egg shells or any other dense or fibrous foods into a garbage disposal. These can jam the machine.
  • Don’t use chemical drain cleaners in a disposal. The chemicals corrode metal parts. Use baking soda and vinegar instead.
  • Never pour fats, oils or grease down the drain. Allow cooked fats to solidify and dispose of in the trash.
  • Don’t use your garbage disposal to grind up plastic, glass, aluminum foil or any other material that can damage blades.

Install Properly

  • Ensure the disposal is properly secured and making a tight seal with the sink drain opening. Leaks can cause rust and corrosion.
  • Use the included splash guard to prevent debris flying out of the sink drain opening. The guard also reduces noise.
  • Always install a dedicated ground wire when wiring the garbage disposal. This prevents electric shock.

Know When to Replace

  • Plan to replace your garbage disposal every 10-12 years. The motors have a finite lifespan. Newer models are quieter, faster and more energy efficient.
  • Watch for leaking, excessive vibrating, a burning smell or other signs the disposal motor may be wearing out. Replacement is safer than repairing an aging motor.
  • Consider replacing older 1/3 HP disposals with a more powerful 1/2 HP or 3/4 HP model if the smaller unit is not keeping up with your family’s needs.

Frequently Asked Questions About Garbage Disposals Not Working

Many homeowners have questions when their garbage disposal suddenly stops working. Here are answers to some of the most common queries:

Why did my garbage disposal stop working?

There are several possible reasons a garbage disposal fails to work. The most common include something jammed in the unit, an electrical issue like a power or switch problem, faulty or unbalanced blades, or a burned-out motor.

What should I do if my garbage disposal hums but won’t operate?

A humming noise usually indicates the motor is seized up and needs to be replaced. Unplug the disposal and double check for any jams first. Then push the reset button on the bottom if it has one. If it still won’t run, the motor is likely defective.

Why does my garbage disposal make a loud grinding noise when turned on?

Loud, strained grinding noises usually mean something is jammed in the disposal or the blades have become misaligned. Unplug and carefully check for any debris lodged between blades. If clear, the blade alignment is off and needs adjusting or replacing.

Should I be concerned about leaks near my garbage disposal?

Yes, leaks can be a sign of bigger problems. The mounting flange seal may be damaged, causing water to leak from the bottom. Or rust and corrosion inside the metal housing from chronic leaks can cause the whole unit to fail. Address leaks immediately.

Can I fix a humming garbage disposal myself?

It’s not recommended. The interior workings of a garbage disposal are intricate and repairs are complicated. Inexperienced people risk electrical shock or cuts from the blades. It’s advisable to hire a professional repair person for any garbage disposal fix more complex than a basic jam.

My garbage disposal has a foul smell. How do I get rid of it?

Foul odors are usually caused by a buildup of food debris inside the unit. Get rid of smells by pouring a 1/2 cup of baking soda down the drain while running water. Then grind a few cupfuls of ice cubes. If odors persist, scrub inside surfaces with a disposer cleaning brush.


While a malfunctioning garbage disposal can be inconvenient for any household, identifying the specific problem is the first step towards getting it grinding food waste again.

The most common reasons disposals stop working like jams, electrical issues, worn blades, and failing motors can often be fixed with basic do-it-yourself troubleshooting techniques. Other repairs may require the skills of a professional.

Preventative maintenance is key to avoiding breakdowns and keeping your food disposer operating efficiently. With proper use and care, your garbage disposal can handle your kitchen waste reliably for years. Keep this guide handy so that the next time your disposal fails, you can quickly get to the root cause and restore this indispensable appliance.