Doing the dishes is already a tedious chore for many homeowners. When you’re standing at the sink with the water running and scrub brush in hand, you expect everything to work. That’s why it can be such a disappointment when you rinse food off your dishes into the sink and hit the switch to activate your garbage disposal, only to hear an odd noise, detect a terrible smell or worse—to hear nothing at all. In any of those scenarios, the question will instantly pop into your mind: Who fixes garbage disposals? Should you call an appliance repair person, a plumber or someone else entirely?
The short answer to that question is that both appliance repair technicians and plumbers can address issues with garbage disposals. Do keep in mind, though, that choosing the right person to call when your garbage disposal breaks can depend on the type and extent of the particular issue your disposal is having. If it’s a simple problem, an appliance repair specialist should suffice, but if a more complicated diagnosis and repair are needed, an experienced and fully licensed plumber may be more equipped to address the issue.
It bears noting that part of the problem with garbage disposals stems from their name, which suggests these appliances should be able to dispose of anything and everything and many homeowners try to use them accordingly, which can greatly shorten the disposal’s lifespan. The truth is that these small kitchen appliances are actually meant to dispose only of food, and only certain types and textures of food. Non-food items should never be ground up in the disposal, nor should greasy, fatty, gummy or fibrous foods that could cause clogs, such as cooking fats, cheeses, corn husks, celery, bread or potato peels.
Of course, even if you use your disposal with care and keep it clean (using natural household items such as baking soda, citrus or white vinegar), its components will still wear out over time. The blades inside the disposal will eventually grow dull, especially if you try to grind up bones, eggshells or other hard items that should never be introduced to the unit. As a general rule of thumb, with normal use and occasional maintenance, most garbage disposals last between three and five years before needing to be replaced.
If your garbage disposal stops working or isn’t functioning properly, depending on the symptoms, it can be an inconvenient problem, not to mention a messy and potentially smelly one. In some cases, simply installing a new disposal is a smarter choice than wasting effort and expense on trying to repair an old one, especially since the cost of repairing the existing appliance may exceed the cost of getting a new one.
Each disposal problem is different, with varying possible remedies. Fortunately, there are several common issues that people tend to run into with garbage disposals, and each points to the type of specialist or repair person that might best be able to address it.
Common Issue #1: Garbage Disposal Leaking From Bottom
This can be a messy problem to deal with as water collects in a puddle under your kitchen sink on the garbage disposal side. When you have a garbage disposal that’s leaking from the bottom, the water is typically leaking through a crack on the inside of the appliance, worn-out seals or some other internal component that has degraded over time, whether due to normal wear and tear or actual misuse of the disposal.
Unfortunately, the most effective way to address a garbage disposal that’s leaking from the bottom is often by installing a new disposal rather than trying to swap out parts on the old one. If your disposal is fairly new, and especially if it’s under warranty, you may want to have an appliance repair specialist or a plumber take a look and see if the existing unit can be fixed. If the disposal is older, replacement is often the best course of action.
For handy homeowners, uninstalling the old disposal and installing a new one shouldn’t be too difficult a job, though it is made more complicated if it needs to be connected to a dishwasher as well as to the plumbing in the kitchen sink. Some homeowners even call a handyman to help with these types of tasks. For most homeowners, however, it’s best to call a plumber, who can diagnose the issue, determine if a new disposal is merited and install a new one if necessary. Most plumbers can either supply the new disposal or install one that the customer has already purchased on their own.
Common Issue #2: Smelly Garbage Disposal
When you have a smelly garbage disposal, it’s likely due to a buildup of food and debris inside the unit’s housing or around the areas where the disposal connects to pipes or to the bottom of the sink. This may be more apparent if your garbage disposal water comes back up. Fortunately, dealing with a smelly garbage disposal is often relatively simple, and it’s even easier to avoid this problem altogether by running your disposal frequently and thoroughly every day, each time you use it. Running it for at least thirty seconds to a minute at a time while running cold water, rather than only for a quick, few-seconds-long burst, should help keep the unit odor-free.
You can also use citrus or baking soda and white vinegar to help keep your disposal clean and smelling fresh. To use these items, simply run the disposal while feeding small lemon or lime peels or slices into it, or put a half-cup of baking soda into the disposal while it’s turned off, pour in a cup of white vinegar, and let these two ingredients foam together for a few minutes before turning on the disposal to flush them through (along with lots of water, of course).
You can also grind up a handful of white vinegar ice cubes to clean the disposal, or simply use regular dish soap: Stop up the sink, fill it half-full of hot water and a healthy squirt of dish soap, remove the sink stopper and then turn on both the faucet and the disposal to let everything flush through. Keep the disposal running for at least thirty seconds to a minute during any of these treatments for full cleaning power.
If the bad odor coming from your disposal continues despite using these cleaning methods, you may need a plumber or appliance repair professional to take a look. Food waste may have gotten trapped in a hard-to-reach spot, such as where the disposal meets the bottom of the sink, and the appliance may need to be removed and cleaned thoroughly.
Common Issue #3: Garbage Disposal Not Turning On
When your garbage disposal is not turning on, meaning that you don’t even hear a quiet humming sound coming from the motor when you flip the switch, it means there is some reason the power isn’t reaching the unit. The first thing to try is also the most obvious: Make sure the disposal is plugged into its power outlet and that any switch that supplies power to the unit didn’t inadvertently get flipped to the off position. If you follow these steps and your unit still isn’t working, the next thing to try is hitting the reset button that is located on the bottom of most garbage disposal units. If that doesn’t work, there could be an issue with the power supply to the disposal. Try flipping switches at your home’s circuit breaker box to make sure the issue isn’t simply a blown fuse.
If you’ve tried these measures and your garbage disposal still isn’t turning on, there could be a clog somewhere within the disposal itself that’s preventing the blades from turning. This is especially likely to be the case if you can hear your garbage disposal humming when you turn it on, but the blades inside the housing aren’t moving. This can happen after something falls into the disposal by accident, such as a metal fork or spoon, or when someone tries to grind up non-food items or fibrous foods that get snagged in the disposal’s internal components. If you suspect this might be the case, don’t investigate until you’ve either unplugged the disposal from its power outlet or turned off the power at the breaker box. Note that it’s a good rule of thumb never to put a finger, hand or any other body part into the disposal unless the power supply is off.
If the garbage disposal still won’t turn on for some unknown reason, it would be wise to call in a professional to diagnose the problem and recommend repair or replacement of the unit.
Common Issue #4: Knowing When To Replace Garbage Disposal
It can be tough to know when to replace a garbage disposal. For the typical homeowner, replacing their own disposal is too big a job, with too much potential for leaks and other problems if the unit isn’t installed correctly. If you’re certain you need a new disposal, it’s usually best to call a professional to handle the job.
Some common signs that it’s time to replace your disposal include:
- frequent clogs, indicating dull blades inside the disposal housing;
- water leaks under the sink;
- strange noises coming from the disposal or its motor when it’s running; or
- persistent bad smells coming from the disposal that don’t resolve even with cleaning.
Also, if your garbage disposal has been around for five years or more, it might be time to replace it.
To keep your garbage disposal in good working condition for as long as possible, follow these simple steps:
- Always keep the water on while running the garbage disposal, starting before you turn the disposal on and not turning the water off until after the disposal has completely stopped running.
- Use cold water, not hot, while running the disposal. While many people believe hot water is the better choice, it can actually lead to clogs farther down the path of the pipes if anyone has put fat or grease down the drain, since the hot water melts the fat and spreads it through the pipes.
- Avoid putting any type of grease or fat into the disposal, including cheese, as well as anything that’s fibrous (such as celery or asparagus) or that bulks up or gets gummy in water (such as bread or potato peels).
- Avoid putting too much food waste into the disposal at once, since this can quickly lead to clogs.
- Run the disposal daily to keep it clear and avoid food buildup.
- Use citrus, baking soda or vinegar for cleaning and to keep odors at bay. Never use harsh chemicals that could corrode the disposal or connected pipes.
Whenever dealing with an issue with your garbage disposal, the best option is almost always to call in either an appliance repair specialist or a licensed plumber who understands the inner workings of these systems and can get them working again quickly.
ABC Can Help With Your Garbage Disposal
At ABC Home & Commercial Services, we have both an appliance repair team and a plumbing team. When you reach out to us, we will be able to determine which professional would be your best fit and quickly get a licensed pro to your home. Whether you need garbage disposal maintenance, repairs or installations, you can rely on ABC.