Why Isn’t My Garbage Disposal Working?

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Is your garbage disposal not working, leaving food to rot and odors to linger in your kitchen drain? If so, some simple troubleshooting steps may correct the problem without the need to call in a plumber! Find the problem you face below and follow the troubleshooting steps for clearing a garbage disposal.

Apollo Home helps Cincinnati homeowners solve household issues to gain the best performance from their plumbing systems and fixtures. If your garbage disposal isn’t working and can’t be fixed through troubleshooting, or you just don’t feel comfortable performing these steps, please contact us to schedule service – we are always happy to help!

What Not to Do When Your Garbage Disposal Stops Working

If your garbage disposal stops working and you need to troubleshoot the issue, always be safe! The blades within your unit have the potential to cause serious injury. Avoid this danger when you work on your garbage disposal by taking the proper precautions.

  • Always turn off the power to your garbage disposal before attempting a repair. Go to your home’s electrical panel and flip the breaker to the garbage disposal’s circuit to cut power, or unplug the unit’s power cord from the wall outlet. Do not rely on simply turning off the wall switch, as accidents and malfunctions do happen.
  • Never stick your hand down the disposal opening. Even when power is properly cut, the sharp edges of the disposal blades could still cause an injury. Use tongs, pliers, a piece of wire or some other tool to safely grab material in the unit.
  • Wear safety glasses when working on the garbage disposal. When dislodging jams, loosened material could fly out of the drain opening and hurt you.

What Causes Garbage Disposal Issues? 

A broken  garbage disposal is often caused by a few common problems:


Leaks are one potential source for it to stop working. Water seeping between the disposal flange and sink opening requires removal of the unit to restore the seal. This is a job for a professional. Leakage from the side of the disposal indicates drain line issues, and the discharge tube or dishwasher nipple usually require new fittings. Leaks at the bottom of the garbage disposal point to broken seals inside the unit.


Garbage disposals wear out over time just like any other appliance or piece of equipment you regularly use at home. Motor components wear down and stop the unit from rotating at proper speed, and blades become too dull to effectively chop waste. If a garbage disposal isn’t working properly because of these issues, it is unable to handle waste – which leads to clogs.

Slow drainage from your sink is a sign of a clog within your garbage disposal or further down in the drain line. Clog material builds up and has the potential to damage the unit. In some cases, these clogs are resolved by plunging the sink with a cup plunger.

Even if a garbage disposal is otherwise in good condition, clogs have the potential to cause damage. When clogged material jams up the blades and stops them from rotating, this can burn up the motor and cause extensive damage to the unit.

Garbage Disposal Won’t Turn On

If a garbage disposal stops working, the first step is to make sure the unit has power. 

  • Make sure the garbage disposal is plugged into an outlet.
  • Press the reset button located on the bottom of the disposal. This red button functions as a circuit breaker, so if it has tripped, it pops out – push it back in to reset the unit.
  • At your home’s electrical panel, check that the circuit breaker to your garbage disposal’s circuit has not tripped – reset it if needed.

If these steps don’t restore power to your garbage disposal, there may be a wiring issue with the unit’s switch. Troubleshoot following these steps:

  • Find the disposal’s switch – it’s typically installed on the wall nearby or below the kitchen sink.
  • Cut off power to the garbage disposal at the home’s electrical panel by flipping the circuit breaker.
  • Take apart the garbage disposal switch.
  • Take a look at each wiring connection and make sure all are tight. If any are loose, tighten them up.
  • Put the switch back together and restore power at the electrical panel, then turn the garbage disposal on to see if it works.

If there are no loose connections, the switch may have gone bad. Call your plumber to have the switch replaced. If you replace the switch on your garbage disposal and the motor isn’t making any noise at all, you need a new garbage disposal.

Fixing a Humming Garbage Disposal 

If you turn on the disposal and hear only a loud hum but the unit doesn’t start, there is likely a clog inside the inner workings of the unit. The clog could be caused by something jammed in the blades, which prevents rotation. To solve this problem, you need to remove the object so the blades are able to freely rotate.

Unclog the Garbage Disposal with a Hex Wrench

All garbage disposals come with a hex wrench, which can be used to manually rotate the inner mechanism of the unit  and possibly clear the obstruction.

  • Turn off the garbage disposal at the switch and cut off power at the circuit breaker panel.
  • Locate the hex-shaped manual flywheel rotation hole in the bottom of the disposal.
  • Lay down beneath the disposal and insert the hex wrench into the socket on the bottom of the unit. 
  • Rotate the wrench clockwise to break up the obstructing material. If you feel it suddenly release and turn freely, you’ve cleared the jam.
  • Using tongs or pliers – never your hands – remove any object from inside the disposal.
  • Restore power at the circuit breaker, then press the red button on the bottom of the disposal to reset it.
  • Remove the hex wrench and turn on the disposal. 
  • If you hear it running, turn on the hot water and allow it to run for a minute or so to flush the blockage down the drainpipe.

If the disposal makes only a humming sound or no sound at all, you need a qualified plumber to dismantle the unit and clear the clog.

Proper Maintenance to Avoid Repairs

Keep your unit in good shape to avoid garbage disposal breakdowns. Learn how to properly care for and use your unit to prevent malfunctions.

  • Always continue to run water during and after using your disposal. Ideally, flush it with cold water for 30 seconds after the waste has vanished down the drain.
  • Use cold water instead of hot. Cold water prevents clogs by keeping fats in solid form and helps the motor stay cool.
  • Lessen the amount of food waste you send down the disposal to reduce wear and keep drains clear. Consider composting appropriate food scraps.
  • Don’t jam everything into the disposal at once – slowly push waste into the disposal.
  • Never put metal or plastic down your disposal.
  • Don’t put hard food items such as bones down your disposal. The appliance is meant to eliminate soft foods only. Hard foods cause damage and render the disposal useless. Don’t use it to get rid of fibrous foods, eggshells, rice, pasta or potato peels. Fibrous foods such as corn husks get tangled in the blades, while eggshells and potato peels create unwanted buildup. Pasta and rice expand, which results in clogs.
  • Don’t shove big pieces of waste down the disposal – chop material up into smaller pieces that are easier for the unit to handle.
  • Check garbage disposals frequently for leaks, as they feature numerous parts that make easy leak sources. This includes pipe connections, flanges and gaskets. Always check for leaks to avoid mold and pest infestations under your sink.
  • Don’t pour bleach down your sink, as it damages disposal seals. If odor is an issue, grind citrus peels or ice into the disposal, or use white vinegar and baking soda to clean it.

If All Else Fails, Call a Plumbing Expert

If the troubleshooting steps outlined above don’t fix your garbage disposal, make your next step a call to Apollo Home! Trust our licensed plumbing professionals to perform the repairs your equipment needs for restored operation and performance. Contact us today to schedule garbage disposal repair in your Cincinnati area home!

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