How to troubleshoot a broken garbage disposal

Rental Property Maintenance - Garbage disposals are our #1 maintenance request. Here is your guide to troubleshooting and fixing a garbage disposal.



We like fixing garbage disposals because, most of the time, they’re super easy fixes. Chances are your broken garbage disposal isn’t broken at all - it’s either jammed, the disposal motor tripped, the circuit breaker tripped, or it’s simply not plugged in. We’ll get into all this in a moment, but first, let’s go over how to properly use your garbage disposal to avoid most of these problems in the first place.


Misuse of the garbage disposal can lead to jams and trips. Only food waste should go into a garbage disposal, but even then there are foods that should be avoided. When the wrong foods are thrown down the disposer, it can clog and overwork the device. You might experience unpleasantries like foul odors and leaks, too. In order to avoid these issues and more, here’s a quick list of 10 things that should never go down your garbage disposal in the first place:


  1. Any non-food item

  2. Bones or shells

  3. Coffee grounds

  4. Vegetable peels

  5. Banana peels

  6. Shredded lettuce

  7. Nuts, seeds, and pits

  8. Fibrous food scraps, like corn husks or celery

  9. Sticky food like oatmeal, rice, or quinoa

  10. Fats, oils, and grease


Now we’re ready to start troubleshooting. First, a safety warning! If you like having fingers, never, ever, we repeat, ever, work on a garbage disposal that is plugged in. Maybe, some of you noticed that when you went to unplug the device from the outlet under the sink, that it was already unplugged. So you plugged it back and it’s working beautifully. Congrats. You can stop reading now.


For everyone else still working with a non-functioning garbage disposal, check that the outlet is getting power. Plug something else into the outlet and check if it works. If not, the circuit breaker likely tripped. Locate the control panel and the garbage disposal switch. If it’s in the off position, we’ve found your problem. Switch it on and go check if the disposal is now working.


If your disposal still isn’t working and it’s not a power supply issue, press the reset button on the bottom of the disposal. This is usually a red button that trips when the disposer works too hard.


Still not working? Unplug the garbage disposal and inspect the inside through the sink drain hole. If the spinning blades are not easy to wiggle around, then there is likely a jam stopping the unit from turning. Using an allen wrench, turn the center bolt underneath the unit a few times and this typically dislodges any stuck material. Still no luck? As a last resort you can take it all apart and unclog whatever is stuck inside.


The garbage disposal is connected in three spots: the hose, the drain to the sewer system, and the main connection at the top to the bottom of the sink. Disconnect everything and unscrew the disposal from the bottom of the sink. Remove the rubber lid and check inside. Hopefully, you find the source of the jam, because if not, you most likely do have a broken motor, in which case, you likely need to buy a replacement.


Hopefully, you were lucky and were able to fix your garbage disposal from these steps! If you have any questions or concerns about troubleshooting your garbage disposal, or if you are interested in learning more about RentalRiff’s property maintenance service, give us a call at 541-600-3200.