How To Troubleshoot Your In-Sink Garbage Disposal

May 24, 2021

If there is one kitchen amenity that Colorado Springs homeowners insist on having, it’s an in-sink garbage disposal. By grinding up food waste and washing it down the drain, your garbage disposal can be your greatest ally in the fight against kitchen odors. But that is when it is working correctly. When broken, your garbage disposal can be a source of frustration, especially if you don’t know about the issue until you have filled it with last week’s leftovers.

So, how can you troubleshoot common in-sink garbage disposal problems, and how will you know if it is time to call in reinforcements to perform the repair?

Before Troubleshooting Your In-Sink Garbage Disposal

Before beginning the troubleshooting process, it is incredibly important to remember how dangerous in-sink garbage disposals can be. It’s meant to grind up food scraps. Imagine what those blades can do to your hand! Therefore, before beginning and repairs make sure the unit is unplugged or the circuit breaker is turned off.

Garbage Disposal Won’t Turn On

You flip the garbage disposal switch and nothing happens. The easiest way to diagnose this problem is to start at the garbage disposal itself by making sure the reset button hasn’t popped out. If it has, press it back in and check to see if the disposal is working. If not, then go to the circuit breaker and see if the breaker has tripped.

If the breaker has tripped, turn it back on and test the garbage disposal. If it trips the breaker again, then it means there’s probably a short somewhere in the electrical motor of the in-sink garbage disposal. Because this problem can have so many causes, the disposal will need to be taken out and examined more carefully by a professional.

But if the reset button hasn’t popped out and the circuit breaker hasn’t tripped, then it’s likely that your garbage disposal will need to be replaced.

Humming Noise and/or Won’t Spin

Strange noises coming from any kitchen appliance are always a concern. If your garbage disposal is making a humming noise when you turn it on, but not actually spinning, then it’s still getting power. But there’s something preventing the blades from spinning. In other words, the disposal is probably jammed.

Again, keep it simple and check the most obvious place first – in the disposal drain itself. Before sticking your hand down there to feel around, turn the circuit breaker off. Then carefully feel around the inside of the disposal drain. If something is in there, remove it and test the garbage disposal. If the drain is clear, then the jam can be in a different spot.

Another solution is to try and loosen the flywheel. There is a small hole on the outside bottom of the garbage disposal unit. Take a hex (Allen) wrench, stick it in the hole and move it back and forth. This should get the flywheel moving freely and your garbage disposal should start spinning normally again.

Related Reading: 7 Things You Should Never Put Down the Garbage Disposal

Something Stinks!

With all the food being shoved down the disposal drain it shouldn’t be a surprise that eventually something is going to start to smell. Foods with strong odors like onions and garlic can make your garbage disposal smell especially bad. While a stinky garbage disposal is probably one of the more unpleasant problems, it’s also one of the easiest to fix.

The first step is to take a small amount of your favorite dish soap, apply it to a scrub brush and then scrub the visible part of your in-sink garbage disposal. Concentrate on the area where the flange and sink basin meet. Bacteria and mold can build up in this area which can cause many foul odors. Doing this regularly (about once a month) will keep the garbage disposal drain clean and help prevent smells from building up in the first place.

Another easy way of getting rid of garbage disposal odor is to drop a few small slices of lemons into the disposal and grind them up. You can also use a lime if you have one laying around. Not only will this freshen up the drain, but it will also give your kitchen a nice citrus scent. Ice cubes can also be used to neutralize odors.

Your Garbage Disposal Won’t Drain

The garbage disposal grinds up your food scraps and sends them on their way down the drain when the disposal is functioning properly. But sometimes it either drains very slowly or worse, it doesn’t drain at all.

Chances are there is a clog somewhere in the drain line. To fix this problem, look under the sink and find the drain line. Before unscrewing anything, place a bucket or other container on the ground to catch the water that will come out of the pipe. Remove the drain line from the disposal and then check to see if there’s a clog. If so, remove the clog and screw the drain line back into place. Turn on the water to ensure the garbage disposal drain is working properly.


If it’s wet under your kitchen sink, then you probably have a leak somewhere. Luckily, there aren’t that many places water can be leaking from. The four most common places for water leaks are:

  • The flange (where the drain and sink connect)
  • The dishwasher hose (where the hose and garbage disposal connect)
  • The drain (where the drainage pipe connects to the garbage disposal)
  • The bottom of the garbage disposal itself

The easiest way to detect where the link is coming from is to use a little food dye. After turning the power off to the disposal at the circuit breaker, place a bucket underneath the disposal to catch the draining water. Then put the stopper in the drain and fill the sink up a little under halfway. Squeeze a few drops of food dye (the color doesn’t matter) into the water. Check the four places listed above for leaks. You’ll know you’ve found it because of the colored water dripping out.

Troubleshooting Your In-Sink Garbage Disposal Is Easy

Troubleshooting your in-sink garbage disposal doesn’t have to be hard. The problems listed above are very common and are the ones you’re most likely to encounter as a homeowner. Further, the repairs for these problems are very simple, often needing minimal tools (if any). But if you run into a problem that you don’t feel comfortable trying to repair yourself, call on the professional appliance repair technicians at Reliable Appliance. We have been servicing and repairing home appliances in Southern Colorado for over 20 years, and we take pride in our outstanding customer service.  Contact us today, we are your Reliable choice for appliance repair!