8 DIY fixes for common garbage disposal problems – tips from the pros

Before you call in the pros to fix your garbage disposal, try these simple DIY fixes to rectify any issues

Kitchen, backsplash design, blue cupboards
(Image credit: Clarissa Hulse)

When your garbage disposal isn't working properly, it can put your kitchen sink out of action, making anything from washing dishes to pouring leftover liquids away challenging. 

While cleaning a garbage disposal regularly is essential for keeping it running smoothly, occasionally, issues will arise that require more than just routine maintenance. 

Problems with garbage disposals can often be hard to diagnose since issues are usually hidden from view. Understanding the common problems and how to fix them can save you time, money, and frustration. In this guide, our experts explain common issues and solutions to keep your garbage disposal in top working condition. 

Common garbage disposal problems and solutions

Start with quick checks around the unit itself, as these often reveal the problem.  

Most repairs don't usually require laborious or costly solutions. Sometimes, all it takes is replacing worn-out items, such as an impeller or two, or using tools to unclog it, like a drain snake, to restore its functionality at a fraction of the replacement cost. With some elbow grease, you can likely resolve the issue without splashing out on professional help.

1. Jammed disposal

Hand Using Wrench on Kitchen Sink Garbage Disposal

(Image credit: Getty Images / BanksPhotos)

We've all accidentally tossed something we shouldn't have down the sink at one time or another. Those little bits of bone or glass that go unnoticed can quickly jam the grinding components inside. 

To repair a jammed disposal unit, first, turn off the disposal's power at the breaker to ensure safety. Use a flashlight and check for any visible obstructions, such as bones, fruit pits, fibrous vegetables, and other things you should never put down a garbage disposal that may be causing a clog. Never use your hands to clear a clog. Use tongs or pliers, like these Hotec kitchen tweezers from Amazon.

Next, locate the reset button. Some units have a reset button underneath the disposal. If it looks like it's sticking out, push it back into the unit. This may fix the jam immediately. 

If pressing the reset button doesn't work, Avraham Badush at EZ CleanUp recommends using an Allen wrench to manually turn the disposal's flywheel. 'Insert an Allen wrench into the hexagonal hole on the underside of the disposal. Turn it counterclockwise to free any trapped debris. Continue cracking it back and forth until you can rotate it completely in a circle.' If you don't already have an Allen wrench, we recommend buying these HART 8-Piece folding keys from Walmart for all your DIY projects. Remove the wrench, then turn on the water faucet.

Run cold water into the sink to rinse away any debris and test the disposal unit. Plug in the unit and turn on the disposal. If you were able to rotate the wrench, the unit should work normally again.

2. Leaking

'If your garbage disposal is leaking, the source is generally loose or worn-out seals and connections,' says Destry Thompson, general manager at John Stevenson Plumbing. 'Seeing water dripping from your disposal is a clear sign that you need to act fast to prevent any water damage.'

Check the unit over for the source of the leak, which could be the sink flange, the dishwasher connection, or the drain pipe. Tighten any loose connections and replace any worn-out gaskets or O-rings. 

3. Clogged drain

'If the disposal is running but not draining, you may have a clog. This often happens in the drain trap or the pipe beyond it,' explains Avraham Badush.

'To unclog a garbage disposal, disconnect the trap and use a drain snake, such as this FlexiSnake, from Amazon, to clear any blockages. Ensure you have a bucket underneath to catch any water or debris.'

'You can also pour hot water down the drain, or try using ice cubes and salt to break up the blockage,' advises Destry Thompson. 'If none of these tricks do the job, it’s probably time to call a plumber for help.'

4. Electrical problems

Garbage disposal

(Image credit: Getty Images / -Oxford-)

Electrical problems can cause a garbage disposal to stop working. If the unit does not turn on, ensure it's plugged in and check that the circuit breaker hasn't tripped. 

If the disposal has a reset button, press it. Usually, this is located at the bottom of the unit. If this doesn't resolve the issue, the internal wiring or motor inside the unit may be shot and require professional replacement.

If the garbage disposal works inconsistently, turning on and off sporadically, a faulty switch or loose wiring could be the cause. Check that the switch functions correctly and inspect the wiring for any loose connections. Replace the switch or have a professional handle the electrical repairs if necessary.

5. Unpleasant odors

If bad smells are emanating from the disposal, just like having a nice-smelling shower drain, this takes a bit of regular maintenance to fix.

'To stop your garbage disposal smelling, I recommend grinding ice cubes to clean your garbage disposal and using citrus peels,' says Pranav Taneja. 

'Then, you could also opt for a disposal cleaner or a combination of baking soda and vinegar, followed by a thorough rinse with hot water.' This Glisten garbage disposal cleaner and freshener is a best seller at Amazon.

6. Strange noises

'Unusual noises when your garbage disposal is in use often indicate that a foreign object, such as a utensil or a small piece of metal, is stuck in the disposal,' explains Pranav Taneja. 'This should not be ignored as it can signify potential damage to the unit or even create a safety hazard.'

'Before attempting any troubleshooting, switch off and unplug the unit,' Pranav continues. 'Then identify and cautiously remove the object using pliers or tongs.' 

Once the objects are removed, inspect the disposal for any visible damage. Ensure that the blades and other components are intact and functioning properly. Plug in and turn on the disposal to check if the noise has stopped. If it persists, there might be an internal issue that will require professional help.

7. Overheating

Kitchen sink with wooden cabinetry and traditional tiles

(Image credit: Tess Interiors)

If the disposal is overloaded, it can overheat. Allow the unit to cool for a few minutes before pressing the reset button. Avoid overloading the disposal and gradually feeding the waste to prevent this issue.

8. Blunt blades

If food waste isn't being ground effectively, chances are the disposal's blades are blunt. Blunt blades can reduce your disposal's efficiency. You can sharpen the blades by grinding a handful of ice cubes, or you can have a professional service them to restore their effectiveness.


How long do garbage disposals last?

'Typically, garbage disposals last about 10-15 years, depending on how much wear and tear they get and how well you maintain them,' says Destry Thompson. 'Signs like frequent clogs, leaks, unsettling sounds, or funky odors mean it might be time to bid farewell to the old unit.

'When you're shopping for a new disposal, look for one that's powerful with strong blades that can handle tough food scraps. And don't forget, regular cleaning and maintenance will help keep your new disposal in good shape and prevent future headaches.'

'To prevent future issues, avoid grinding fibrous materials like celery, potato peels, or corn husks, which can tangle in the blades,' advises Avraham Badush from EZ CleanUp. 'Always run cold water before, during, and after using the disposal to help solidify and flush waste. 

'Regular maintenance, such as grinding ice cubes to clean the blades and using a mixture of baking soda and vinegar to deodorize, can also significantly extend the life of your garbage disposal.'

Lola Houlton
News writer

Lola Houlton is a news writer for Homes & Gardens. She has been writing content for Future PLC for the past six years, in particular Homes & Gardens, Real Homes and GardeningEtc. She writes on a broad range of subjects, including practical household advice, recipe articles, and product reviews, working closely with experts in their fields to cover everything from heating to home organization through to house plants. Lola is a graduate, who completed her degree in Psychology at the University of Sussex. She has also spent some time working at the BBC.