Garbage Disposal Hums But Doesn’t Work

A garbage disposal unit is a handy tool used in almost every home in the U.S.  Garbage disposals are usually made to last for several years without any problems, but there are also times when they can break down and need to be repaired.

Not every issue is major though. If you’re having trouble with a humming disposal that won’t turn on, we’ve got all the information you need on what could be causing the problem and how you can fix it.

Why Your Disposal is Humming

The first step to fixing your garbage disposal is to understand what’s causing it to act up in the first place. This way, you can get to the root of the problem and better understand how to troubleshoot it.

If your garbage disposal hums but doesn’t work when you turn it on, this means that its getting power, but the motor may be jammed or clogged, which can make it difficult to grind food waste.

The two main reasons for a humming garbage disposal are:

·        The GFI or Garbage Disposer Has Tripped

One possible reason why your garbage disposal’s motor is malfunctioning is your GFCI (electrical outlet) or the unit itself has tripped. The electricity flowing into it might not be enough for the unit to work properly, but could be causing its motor to produce a humming sound.  If this is the cause, hitting the reset button at the bottom of the disposal should fix the issue.

·        The Blades are Jammed

While garbage disposals are meant to dispose of food, not everything can be thrown down them and you certainly cannot get rid of every type of waste by throwing them down the disposal either. For example, onion peels can cause blades to jam as they’re thin and tough. If such items find their way into your garbage disposal unit and gets stuck, it could jam the impellers and produce a humming sound. Inspect your unit for any such object and use a pair of tongs to remove it.

How to Fix Your Garbage Disposal

Fixing a humming garbage disposal can be easy. Most times, you can go ahead and try to fix it yourself. However, remember to NEVER put your hand down a garbage disposal. You don’t want to lose your fingers in a freak accident.   

If the issue is caused by a foreign object or food stuck inside, here’s how you can safely remove it:

  1. Turn off your garbage disposal and make sure it’s switched off. To do this, shut down the breaker that controls its circuit and flip the switch off. This will not only prevent your unit’s motor from burning out but will also protect you from electric shocks.
  2. Take an offset wrench and look for the flywheel turning hole at the bottom of the disposal. Once you find it, insert the wrench there. If you don’t have a wrench with you, you can try using a large Allen wrench or buy a wrench from any hardware store. Even if you won’t need to use it again, it would still cost a lot less than kitchen plumbing services.
  3. Turn the wrench clockwise to loosen the flywheel or jammed impeller. If you feel the flywheel turning easily, it has been successfully loosened.
  4. You can also try to insert a wooden object like a spoon with a long handle into the opening of the drain and use it to free the flywheel. Rotate it back and forth until you feel the flywheel dislodge.
  5. Take a flashlight and try look down inside your disposal. Once you see the foreign object that’s blocking the impeller, use a pair of pliers or tongs to remove it and then turn the main service panel back on, but keep the disposal unit turned off.
  6. Press the reset button at the bottom of the disposal and then turn the faucet on, allowing water to run into the disposal. As you do this, flip the ON/OFF switch quickly a number of times. The flywheel will begin to spin and any debris in the disposal will be loosened and wash down.
  7. If you’ve tried all these steps and the garbage disposal unit still doesn’t work and continues to hum, there could be another reason why it’s malfunctioning. In this case, you may have to call a professional plumber to get the job done.

Maintaining Your Garbage Disposal

Fixing a broken garbage disposal is harder than it looks and it can also be quite dangerous. Most times, disposals can get jammed because they’re not being used the right away. In order to avoid this, knowing how to use it properly would come in useful and save you a lot of money down the line. Let’s take a look at some easy tips that will help you maintain your disposal and use it the right way:

  • Turn It on Every Couple of Days

If you don’t use your disposal regularly, the blades can rust over time and it will stop chopping up items as effectively as it used to. This can result in clogging so to prevent this from happening, turn the unit on at least every other day and run it with water. Doing this regularly will help wash any debris down the drain and eliminate the risk of clogging.

  • Remove Any Fibers on the Blades

Fibers in your garbage disposal can eventually turn into a ball and jam the unit’s blades or clog your pipes by forming a net over the openings. You can easily remove these fibers by using a wrench to turn the nut at the base of the disposal, pressing the red reset button and then turning the switch on to restart it.·       

  • Clean Your Unit Regularly

Cleaning your garbage disposal at least twice a month can help prevent food from causing the unit to jam. Hot water and washing soap is safe to use for cleaning, but you can also try filling it up with a cup of rock salt and some ice cubes and running it for a minute. Salt and ice acts as natural abrasives that will scrape off all the debris accumulating in your disposal.

A cup of vinegar mixed with half a cup of baking soda can also work wonders for your unit. Pour the solution into your garbage disposal and use an old toothbrush to brush its flaps clean. Make sure that your unit is switched off and unplugged before doing this.  

If you noticed a bad odor coming from the disposal, pour some lukewarm water and small slices of lemon while running it. Lemon is high in citric acid and rich in anti-bacterial properties, making it highly effective for cleaning.

  • Don’t Use Hot Water to Grind Food

While hot water is perfectly fine to use when cleaning the garbage disposal, never use it when grinding food waste. The grease and oil inside the unit will liquefy and can clog your drain. If you want to use hot water to clean it, use it only when not grinding food waste to keep your disposal functioning perfectly.

  • Know What to Grind and What Not To

While garbage disposals are made to handle food waste, this doesn’t mean that you can throw in any type of food waste you choose. For example, fibrous food waste, oils and other fats should never be sent down a disposal since they can clog the unit and shorten its lifespan.

One of the main reasons why garbage disposal units malfunction is because they’re not being used correctly. They can grind almost everything but their pipes will not be able to handle all kinds of waste. If you’re not sure about what not to put down your disposal, this list will come in handy:

·         Starchy Food – Your disposal can grind starchy foods like pasta, potatoes and rice, but dumping these in large amounts will put your unit in trouble. They can slowly turn into mush and jam your drain as well as the disposal.

·         Fats and Oils – As we mentioned earlier, oils, grease and fats should never go down into your disposal since they can slowly harden and clog the system. Foods like butter, ice cream and peanut butter also fit into this category.

·         Fibrous Foods – Avoid sending fibrous foods like artichokes, corn husks, and celery down your disposal. Although some premium units can handle small amounts of fibrous foods, they can still go through the disposal and later accumulate into a ball that will clog the drain.

·         Coffee Grounds, Eggshells, and Shellfish – Eggshells, shellfish, and coffee grounds do not decompose as quickly as other kinds of food waste and will slowly accumulate inside the garbage disposal. This is especially true if your pipes are already very old.

The Bottom Line

The next time your disposal hums without turning on, it could very well be an indication that something has jammed inside. Now that you know what to do when this happens, take your time and follow safety precautions to fix the problem. Always make the effort to use your disposal carefully and keep it in good condition so that it will last for years to come.

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