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How to Repair, Troubleshoot, and Care for Your Kitchen Garbage Disposal

When it comes to modern appliances that save us invaluable time and energy, the kitchen garbage disposal is an excellent example of an auxiliary mechanism we don’t quite appreciate until it starts acting up. You might experience strange noises, odors, jamming, or leaks that let you know it’s time to give your garbage disposal some much-needed TLC. 

Don’t let your kitchen garbage disposal issues continue to grind your gears. Instead, follow these simple care and maintenance instructions, troubleshooting advice, and DIY repair tips to get your disposal back up and running.

General Care for Your Kitchen Garbage Disposal 

Built to help you seamlessly deal with kitchen waste, a kitchen garbage disposal is engineered with longevity in mind. Proper use and maintenance means a well-cared-for disposal unit can last anywhere from eight to fifteen years. 

The best way to care for your kitchen garbage disposal is always by adopting a proactive approach to ensure the proper functioning of your unit in the long run. Regular, attentive inspection and maintenance can work wonders and help you avoid unnecessary expenses and prolong your disposal’s lifespan. 

  • Use Ample Cold Water: The first rule of owning and operating a garbage disposal is to always run cold water while the unit is in use and for 20 to 30 seconds after the disposal is switched off. Cold water keeps the motor from overheating and allows the food waste to flush through properly. 
  • Forgo Harsh Chemicals: While it may be tempting to scourge your unit clean chemically, always think before you pour! Attempting to unclog a disposal with chemicals not explicitly meant for disposal units, such as bleach products or drain cleaners, can damage disposal blades and corrode plumbing pipes. Opt for more environmentally smart alternatives, such as vinegar and baking soda. 
  • Avoid Certain Foods: Though kitchen garbage disposals are powerful devices, a few foods are better suited for the trash can than the sink. Putting the wrong things down your disposal can leave you with a malfunction. Never pour leftover cooking fat, oil, or grease down the drain; 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. 
  • Routine Cleaning and Maintenance: Like any other appliance in your home, your kitchen garbage disposal requires regular cleaning and light maintenance. This includes frequent operation of the mechanism because letting a disposal sit idle can cause just as many issues as overuse. Run it regularly to prevent rust and corrosion from forming. Additionally, running a mixture of ice cubes and salt through the disposal can help clean the blades and remove any unwanted buildup.
  • Don’t Overfill the Disposal: Even if you’re careful about putting the right type of food scraps down the disposal, trying to grind too much of it at once can strain your disposal’s motor and blades. Instead, chop larger scraps into smaller pieces before putting them into the disposal and feed them to the disposal gradually. 

Troubleshooting Common Issues With Your Kitchen Garbage Disposal 

Despite providing your kitchen garbage disposal with proper care and maintenance, you may still encounter problems with your disposal system. Below are a few common issues that homeowners may face with their disposals over time:

  • Clogs: Clogged drains and disposal valves are another extremely common issue for sink fixtures, especially those that experience heavy use or are located inside old homes with old pipes. If the water in your sink drains slowly or refuses to completely drain altogether, there’s likely a clog.
  • Leaks: Leaks can occur at various connective points in your disposal’s plumbing system, causing puddles of water inside your cabinets to form. To troubleshoot leaks, tighten any loose connections, and replace worn-out gaskets. The rubber seal connecting the disposal to the sink, also called the flange, may need replacing or fixing using plumber’s putty
  • Foul Odors: Foul odors—often caused by food buildup over time—are usually nothing to worry about. A great tip for eliminating foul odors from old food is to use some essential kitchen aromatics that contain citric acid; grind up lemon or lime peels, grapefruit bits, and orange rinds to help neutralize any unpleasant smells. You might also find success running a mixture of baking soda and white vinegar through the unit.
  • Unusual Noises: Strange noises are a sure sign that something has gone awry with your disposal unit. Grinding, rattling, or humming noises may indicate a foreign object stuck in the disposal, which you can sometimes identify using a flashlight. 
  • Unit Not Responsive: If your garbage disposal unit is unresponsive when you flip the switch, don’t panic! It doesn’t necessarily mean your unit is faulty or broken; it may need resetting. 

Your Guide for Basic Kitchen Garbage Disposal Repairs 

Certain repairs require professional help, while other solutions can be DIY jobs. After proper troubleshooting, if you have some confidence to spare along with the appropriate tools, here are a few basic repair jobs you can likely tackle on your own. 

  • Safety First! When performing at-home maintenance on your appliances, be sure you understand the dos and don’ts in place for your protection. When it comes to your kitchen garbage disposal, ensure that the power to your unit is completely switched off by flipping the circuit breaker that lends it power. Also, use gloves and ample caution when handling disposal blades. 
  • Resetting Your Disposal. If your disposal is unresponsive and fails to turn on, locate the reset button on the bottom of the unit and press it. Otherwise, it may have tripped a circuit breaker, so you’ll want to investigate the breaker itself. If resetting the unit and the breaker doesn’t get your unit back up and running, there may be a more complex electrical issue at hand that requires professional attention.
  • Unclogging Your Disposal. When it comes time to unclog your disposal, ensure the power to the unit is off before attempting to clear it. Use tongs or pliers to remove any visible debris causing the clog. If the issue runs deeper, many disposals have a hole at the bottom where you can insert a wrench into the flywheel turning hole and manually free up the stuck impellers.  
  • Jamming: If the disposal gets jammed, it might make a humming sound or cease working. Turn off the power and use a hex key (or allen wrench), turning it back and forth repeatedly to manually rotate the blades and dislodge or break up any stuck objects. Once clear, restore power and check if it’s working.
  • Replacing a Faulty Disposal Unit. Worse comes to worse, you may need to replace the disposal unit altogether. Refer to the manufacturer’s specific installation and de-installation procedures and protocols. 

Dispose of Your Appliance Worries With Goodbee Plumbing 

If your kitchen garbage disposal poses a particularly tough challenge, the Goodbee Plumbing team is always around when you need to call in reinforcements. From clogs and blockages to persistent leaks that just won’t quit, we’re here to offer our professional services with more than 25 years of experience at our disposal—no pun intended! Learn more about our plumbing services by getting in touch with our team of experts today.

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