Great Garbage Disposer Tips

Home Inspector with Fort Worth Home Inspectors - Green Tag Inspections


Holidays are a very busy time of the year for everyone....including plumbers. In preparing holiday dinners, the garbage disposer gets a workout and if not careful, you may just find yourself calling a plumber and having to pay up to double the normal rates for emergency and holidays. Here are some tips on garbage disposers that may prevent you from calling Mr. plumber.

Garbage disposer

Tips on operating your disposer

  • When placing food in the disposer, take time to put small amounts in at a time. Don't pack the disposer full then try to grind. This will increase the chances of stopping up the unit and puts extra stress on the motor. If your home is on a septic system, it is more critical of the amount of food that is put in the system.
  • Don't run hot water through the disposer when grinding food. Cold water will keep the food more solid and will allow the disposer to grind the food more efficiently.
  • After it sounds like the food has finished grinding, leave the water running for about 15 more seconds to wash the food down the drain.
  • When leaving on vacation or for a long period of time, operate the disposer with the water running for about 30 seconds to ensure there is no residual food in the unit. This can prevent you from returning home to a stuck disposer.
  • Never put your hand down a disposer with the unit plugged in or the breaker still on.


What to do if the disposer won't turn on

First determine if there is power to the disposer. If you can hear a humming sound from the unit, then there is power and just may be jammed. If you do not hear any sound coming from it, then check these items.

  • Is the reset button on the bottom tripped? Most people don't realize there is an overload breaker on the bottom of the disposer. This may trip if the disposer is under too much stress and prevents the motor from burning out in case it gets jammed. The reset button is located on bottom of the unit and is usually red, but not always. After pressing the reset button, see if the unit comes on or hums. If not, check the breaker at the breaker panel and some circuits may be wired through a GFCI receptacle above the kitchen counter, so see if that may be the problem. If you have checked all these and still don't have power, the disposer may be broke or jammed.



How to unjam a disposer

If the disposer makes a humming sound or trips the reset button, then it may be jammed. To manually turn the unit and unjam it, follow these steps.

  • First disconnect the electrical power from the disposer for safety. There should be an electrical outlet under the sink that the disposer is plugged into that you can unplug or if it is hardwired, go to the breaker box and turn off the breaker.
  • Next get the disposer wrench to manually turn the disposer to loosen it. If you don't have the wrench, look under the sink at the drain pipes. Sometimes I have seen plumbers that installed the disposer tape the wrench to a drain pipe near the disposer. If not you may have a 1/4 hex wrench (allen wrench) in your toolbox or these are available at any hardware store or large department store. The wench is inserted at the port in the middle of the bottom of the disposer. Turn it around a few times then reverse it a few more that that should do the trick. If you simply can't get a wrench, try putting a broom handle or something similar down the disposer opening and try to push the grinder around this way



What if the disposer operates but won't drain?

If water backs up in the disposer and won't drain, try checking the drain pipes for blockage. The easiest way to do this is to remove the 'P' trap. Put a large pan or bucket under the 'P' trap and remove the two pipe nuts. These should only be hand tight, but the may require a large set of pliers to remove. Remove and check for blockage in the trap pipe and the pipe going to to the disposer outlet. A wire coat hanger can be used for this if you don't have a pipe auger. If this is not the problem, the blockage may be further down the pipe and a plumber may have to be called.

P trap


What not to put down a garbage disposer

  • Grease. Grease will eventually solidify and clog a portion, or all of your drain.
  • Egg shells. Some people think egg shells will sharpen the disposer blades but will only help in clogging the drain pipes.
  • Large bones. Needless to say large bones will dull the blades, could get caught and jamb the disposer and clog the drain pipes.
  • Rice, pasta and potatoes. Residual Starchy foods can swell and jamb the disposer.
  • Fibrous and stringy foods like celery, asparagus and corn husks can wrap around the motor and jamb it.
  • Coffee and tea bags have acid that can deteriorate the inside of the disposer.
  • Don't clean your fish aquarium at the kitchen sink. Hard pebbles can get stuck between the grinder and outer lining of the disposer and may permanently jamb the unit.


How to keep your disposer fresh and clean

Here are some ideas to keep your disposer clean and fresh.

  • Run plenty of hot water and soap down the disposer daily.
  • Grind small ice cubes to clean the grinding teeth.
  • Grind orange or lemon peels.
  • Flush a cup of baking soda through the disposer.
  • Place a couple of drops of mint oil through with hot water.


Kent Keith

Fort Worth Home Inspector





Comments (4)

Lori Bowers
La Quinta, CA
The Lori Bowers Group

Great Info!  I just heard on the radio that the day after Thanksgiving is the busiest day of the year for plumbers. 

Nov 25, 2009 03:09 AM
Jill Schmidt
Aurora, CO

Great tips!  I didn't know about that cold water was better than hot when grinding, nor did I know that ice cleans the grinding teeth.  I'll have to try those!

Nov 25, 2009 05:55 AM

Thanks so much for showing the photos of where the wrench goes to manual loosen the obstruction. I kept cleaning it from the top and pushing the reset button, but never knew that there was a place to put a hex wrench in the bottom. It's all fixed now! You saved me $100!

Dec 06, 2009 10:17 AM
Kent Keith
Fort Worth Home Inspectors - Green Tag Inspections - Fort Worth, TX
Home Inspector Fort Worth TX-

Great!....Glad it helped.

Dec 06, 2009 10:59 AM