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How to Repair a Malfunctioning Garbage Disposal

While garbage disposals are dangerous appliances if misused or malfunctioning, there are times you can try to resolve problems yourself. However, it’s important to follow the proper procedures and understand whether something can be fixed yourself or if you need the help of a serviceman. In this article, we’ll identify some the warning signs of a malfunctioning unit and give you a few tips on how to repair a malfunctioning garbage disposal yourself.

Won’t Turn On

First, make sure the garbage disposal is plugged in. This is a potential cause if you’ve had the unit worked on recently since it is safer if you unplug it instead of hoping that it stays powered off. Also, check the surrounding powered appliances and see if they turn on. If your dishwasher, for example, won’t come on, the root cause may be due to power turned off at the breaker or a burned out fuse.

If you know the garbage disposal has power, the next step is hitting the reset button on the bottom of the garbage disposal. This is akin to hitting the reboot button on your computer. This may be required because the motor overloaded or a power fluctuation in the house caused it to shut down.

If the garbage disposal turns on but merely hums, it may be fixed by hitting the reset button or you might need to call for service to fix the stuck flywheel. If it repeatedly dies or breaks, replace it.

A Permanent Stench

A permanent stench in and around the garbage disposal has several potential causes. A clogged dishwasher drain, a piece of rotting food in the tube that connects the dishwasher to the garbage disposal leaking a little liquid out each time it tries to move to the sink drain, or leaks in the dishwasher itself can all be the cause of a stench around the garbage disposal. And, leaking from the garbage disposal itself can leave a horrible odor.

First, run hot water through the garbage disposal as it runs. This may clean off the blades and clear loose material. If this doesn’t work, use a garbage disposal cleaning tablet to clean the disposal. If this fails, you can ask a plumber to clean the garbage disposal and related pipes. If you still have a problem, you may need to replace the garbage disposal and/or connecting hoses. You can find good replacement garbage disposals at


Clogging is always a risk when you’re sending food down a drain, even if you’ve got blades spinning to chop it all up. You can reduce the risk of this happening by throwing the biggest pieces of food in the trash, not putting too much food down the disposal at once, and help flush it all down with running water.

If the clog remains, never reach down with your hand to try to unclog it. Instead, turn off the power to the disposal and then use plumbing tools to try to clear the clog. If you don’t know how to do this properly, call for service.


These conditions are all very common with older and even newer, unreliable garbage disposals. If you feel like you can address these issues on your own, you can always give it a shot, but if things seem beyond repair, consider calling a professional or replacing the unit altogether.


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