Other than burning out the motor, there are generally only a handful of things that go wrong with a garbage disposal.  Most of those are issues you can easily fix yourself without calling in a professional.  A word of caution before we get started – be sure to cut power to the disposal whenever working on it, and NEVER stick your hand down the sink and into the unit to retrieve, for example, a wedding ring or to dislodge the flywheel.  I don’t want to read in the newspaper about one of my Chevy Chase, DC, Chevy Chase, MD or Foggy Bottom friends losing a hand in an accident.  On to the troubleshooting:

  1. The garbage disposal does not turn on, or has no power.  Reach up to the underside of the unit and feel around for the reset button.  Periodically this button will trip and it will seem that the disposal has no power.  Press the button in and test to see if that fixes the problem.  If not start to work your way back to the circuit breaker box.  Start by checking to make sure the unit is actually plugged in under the sink.  Check that outlet to see if the GFI button needs to be reset.  If that’s good move on to the circuit box.  Find the breaker assigned to the kitchen/refrigerator/disposal area.  Breakers can be labeled many different ways, and there are often more than one breaker assigned to an area of the house.  Reset the kitchen breakers and return to the disposal to test.  If you still get no power either the disposal is burned out or there’s a wiring problem in the wall. If you’re not an electrician that’s when it’s time to call in a professional.
  2. The flywheel is jammed.  Often when you flip the switch to turn the disposal it doesn’t sound quite right, and it might only be emitting a low hum.  Turn the disposal off.  It is getting power just fine, the problem is that the flywheel is jammed.  What you want to do is locate the offset wrench that came with the disposal.  It is probably taped to the side of the unit under the sink.  Again, make sure you disconnect power to the disposal prior to working on it.  Insert the end of the offset wrench into the flywheel hole on the bottom of the unit.  Turn the wrench clockwise until the flywheel inside moves freely.

Tune in next time for part 2 of troubleshooting your garbage disposal.