How to Fix a Garbage Disposal Yourself

“First, fill the sink partially with water to cover the plunger’s lip,” says Kent Boll, founder of Service Today. “Then pump the plunger up and down several times to create suction and pressure. After a few plunges, pull it off to see if the water drains. Don’t use a toilet plunger because, first of all, you can transfer bacteria to your kitchen sink from a toilet, and secondly, toilet plungers have a different design, making them ineffective for unclogging garbage disposals.”

If the plunging does not work, the clog is likely further down below the disposal. “In some cases, a clog is not in the garbage disposal itself but in a P-pipe,” says Boll. Also called the “P-trap,” this is the curved piping below your kitchen sink, so shaped to prevent odors from wafting into your home. You can unscrew this section of piping and look for a clog. Often, it can be unscrewed by hand, but a pipe wrench will make short work of the process.

“Don’t forget to place a bucket under the P-trap to catch water,” Boll says, adding: “If the clog is even deeper down the drains, use a plumber snake.” And if that fails, use a plumber.

Power problems with garbage disposals

If your disposal motor will not even try to kick on, then you have a power issue that could be caused by something as simple as a flipped switch or as terminal as a completely dead unit (ideally one that’s still under warranty).

First, make sure the disposal is plugged in and, if it has a power switch, that the switch is flipped on. Next, confirm the outlet to which the unit is connected is working by plugging in a device you know is functioning to the same power source. You may need to reset the outlet with the button in its center.

If all that fails, make the trip to the circuit breaker box and check for a tripped circuit breaker. If none of these steps gets power flowing through your unit, it may be time for a new garbage disposal.

Garbage disposal repair FAQs

What kinds of foods should never go into a garbage disposal?

It’s a pretty long list, actually. “Never pour leftover cooking fat, oil, or grease down the drain,” Harrison says. “While it remains liquid on the stovetop, it will congeal and clog your pipes once it cools. Coffee grounds can similarly cause clogs as they accumulate. Other foods to avoid include fibrous vegetables, such as celery, onion skins, artichokes, and asparagus. Animal matter such as fish or chicken bones, eggshells, and seafood shells should also go straight into the trash.”

How do I clean a garbage disposal?

“Basic cleaning of your disposal is easy,” says Boylen. “Just run hot water from the faucet, put dish soap into the drain, and then turn the unit on for a few seconds.” You can perform a more intense cleaning that can clear out stubborn bits of food waste by tossing a handful of ice cubes, adding a large scoop of course salt, then running the water and switching the disposal on. Adding baking soda and vinegar to a disposal and running it can clean the unit and reduce odors.

How long do garbage disposals last?

Garbage disposals are hearty machines. Many last as long as 15 years. The average “lifespan” of a garbage disposal is usually close to 8 to 10 years—still quite a good run for a device you use all the time that often costs well under $100.

When should I replace my garbage disposal?

When your garbage disposal isn’t working properly and can’t be fixed using any of the methods laid out here, it might be time to replace it. The fact is, getting a brand new garbage disposal will likely cost less than the labor charge you’d get from a professional plumber, so replacing a failing unit is the better move financially, if you cannot repair it yourself.

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