How to Tell If Your Garbage Disposal Is Bad or Broken

Your kitchen’s garbage disposal is one of those gadgets that’s frequently taken for granted. Just like most people expect running water to come out of their faucet and the AC to cool their home, it’s the type of thing that goes ignored — until something goes wrong. Then, there’s panic in the kitchen — because honestly, who wants to deal with the additional mess? However, sometimes, snafus with the garbage disposal are relatively minor. How can you tell whether your issue requires a simple fix or whether the disposal is broken?

How do garbage disposals work?

Garbage disposals have three parts: impeller arms — often mistakenly called blades — a grinding chamber, and a motor. When you turn it on, the motor powers the impeller, which sends food to the grinding chamber — where it’s broken down into tiny food particles that are then flushed down the drain. In order for it to work efficiently, it’s crucial to keep the water running while disposing of food.

9 Signs Your Garbage Disposal Is Bad or Broken

If you’re not sure whether or not to replace or repair your garbage disposal, check out these nine signs your appliance is completely broken.

1. Your Garbage Disposal Won’t Turn On

If your garbage disposal won’t turn on, you have a problem. But before you decide it’s time to replace your garbage disposal, check that the circuit breaker connected to the appliance doesn’t simply need to be reset.

2. You Have to Frequently Reset Your Garbage Disposal

Speaking of resetting your garbage disposal, sometimes that’s all you need to get the appliance up and running. However, if you constantly have to press the reset button for your garbage disposal to work, then there is an underlying problem. It may be insufficient wiring or regular wear and tear, but either way, it might be best to contact your local plumbing professional for help at this point.

3. Your Garbage Disposal Takes a Long Time to Break Down Food

Your garbage disposal has a job to do, so if it’s not up to par, it may be time to replace it. As garbage disposals age, it becomes harder for them to break down food. In some cases, the blades may just be dull and in need of replacement, but other times it may be better to replace the entire device.

4. Your Garbage Disposal Always Smells Bad

Garbage disposals help us get rid of food waste, so it’s not surprising that the appliance may be susceptible to gross smells. A capful of bleach or grinding up citrus peels can help eliminate any foul odors coming from your garbage disposal. However, if nothing seems to help your appliance in the smell department, it may be catching food particles within its crevices. We recommend disassembling your garbage disposal to clean it, or replacing it if it’s old.

Related blog: How to Remove Bad Odors From Your Garbage Disposal

5. Your Garbage Disposal Makes a Screeching Noise

Garbage disposals aren’t exactly quiet, but the device shouldn’t make a terrible screeching noise either. If your appliance is guilty of shrill sounds, there are a few potential causes. The grates could have shifted causing the device to move incorrectly, or the motor could be worn out. In either case, this usually occurs when a garbage disposal is at the end of its life, so replacement is a good option.

6. Your Garbage Disposal is Overheating

This is more likely to occur whenever you’re washing or rinsing a larger than usual number of dishes — such as during the holidays, or after hosting a dinner. After being on for a while, the disposal will suddenly shut off on its own. If this is the case, turn off the power switch and wait about 15 minutes to give it enough time to cool off. If the issue was indeed overheating, it should start back up without a problem.

Related blog: What to Do When Your Garbage Disposal Overheats

7. Your Garbage Disposal is Jammed

When the garbage disposal is jammed, you’ll hear a humming sound when you turn it on. Shut off the switch and get a flashlight and tongs. See if you can locate the item that’s jamming it and pull it out. If you can’t see anything, open the cabinets under the sink, unplug the disposal, and use a hex wrench to loosen the grinding chamber. Once lose, pull it out and remove the item that’s causing the jam.

8. Your Garbage Disposal is Backing Up Into the Sink

This happens whenever there’s something clogging the pipes. To fix it, get a sink plunger, a wrench, pliers, and a bucket. Then follow these steps.

9. Your Garbage Disposal Shuts Off While Running Too Many Appliances

If you were doing laundry, running the dishwasher, and using the blender and mixer, to boot, it’s possible that an electric overload caused the circuit breaker that powers the kitchen to trip. Switch it back to the neutral middle position before setting it back to on.

How long do garbage disposals last?

Most garbage disposals have an average lifespan of about 15 years — provided you use it properly. Ways to make it last as long as possible include:

Running cold water while using it. Using hot water may cause food particles to melt and stick to the pipes, clogging the drains. Meanwhile, a steady stream of cold water will help push discarded food particles down the plumbing.

Be selective in what you dispose of in it. Fibrous foods — such as celery, corn husks, and banana peels — won’t fully break down. By the same token, starchy foods that can turn into a paste when mixed with water — such as rice, pasta, and potatoes — can also slow down the impeller.

Clean it regularly. At least once a week, grind citrus peels — like oranges, limes, or lemons — or sprinkle baking soda into the drain, then pour a cup of white vinegar. Wait 10 minutes, then run the faucet.

For more information, check out our blog: Garbage Disposal Dos and Don’ts

Keep in mind that if the disposal stopped working because it was overheated, jammed, or there was a power surge, it’s likely that the appliance will have to be reset. Look for a red button on the bottom of the grinding chamber under the sink. To reset it, simply push it back in.

How to Tell If It’s Time to Replace the Garbage Disposal

While there are many issues that have easy fixes, there are others that are a clear indication that it’s time to replace an old garbage disposal. These include:

  • It won’t turn on despite checking the breaker and resetting it
  • You have to reset it frequently
  • It takes too long to break down food
  • It always smells bad, despite cleaning it regularly
  • It makes a screeching sound

Check out other helpful related resources here:
How to Unclog Your Garbage Disposal
How to Reset Your Garbage Disposal In 3 Easy Steps

Contact Sansone for Garbage Disposal Repair in South Florida

A broken garbage disposal makes tackling your to-dos an unnecessary challenge, which is why the experts at Sansone want to help. Whether your garbage disposal is leaking, clogged, humming, or completely stuck, we can repair the issue or replace your garbage disposal entirely. Contact us today with any plumbing questions or schedule an appointment that’s convenient for you by phone or on our website.
Broward: (954) 800-2858
Palm Beach: (561) 701-8274
St. Lucie: (772) 879-5656

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