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My Garbage Disposal Is Making Noise: How Can I Fix It?

A stainless steel sink with a garbage disposal

As you’re wrapping up your dish cleaning duties for the night, you flip on the garbage disposal, only to hear a strange noise. It’s not the normal grinding noise that sends food, water and any other gunk right down the drain—it’s a sound that gives you a clear indication that something has gone wrong.

If this has happened to you, you likely heard either rattling, humming or squealing coming from your garbage disposal. Depending on the noise coming from your disposal, there are different solutions to the problem. Before getting started, it’s important to note that you don’t want to keep running your disposal to see if it will fix the problem, as this can lead to further damage.

Remove Any Foreign Objects

The most common cause of a garbage disposal that is making a rattling noise is that something is stuck in the unit. Items that may have gotten accidentally washed into your drain include toys, plastic objects, broken glass, silverware and even food bones. These objects are too hard for the disposal to manage.

If this is the case, you’re in luck, because this problem is pretty easy to fix yourself. First, unplug the disposal. Then, carefully inspect the unit for a foreign object. Once you spot the object, gently pull it out with a pair of tongs. It’s important to be gentle when pulling an object out of your disposal, as items can occasionally get wrapped around the unit, and by pulling out the object with force you could end up damaging some of the internal parts.

If you find nothing lodged in your disposal, your appliance could be failing or your disposal’s blades may be at the end of their lifespan. Most garbage disposal blades last about five years. If you are at or past that point with your own garbage disposal, you’ll probably want to bring in a technician to take a look as it may be time to look into a replacement.

Loosen the Flywheel or Impeller

If there is a humming noise coming from your disposal, it is most likely jammed up. The blades are caught on something and cannot turn any further. The noise you hear is the sound of the motor running without being able to turn the blades.

In order for your garbage disposal to work properly, you need to be careful about what foods go through it. For example, sticky food or large, solid chunks can jam up a garbage disposal. It is also important that you run water through the disposal while it is running to help wash pieces of food out of the disposal and down the drain. Sometimes, when you send objects that shouldn’t go down the disposal into the disposal, you’ll hear a rattling noise first as the garbage disposal tries to break up the large object before it gets stuck, leading to the humming noise. Additionally, if water comes back up the drain with the garbage disposal, it is likely due to large pieces of food that shouldn’t be there.

If you are trying to address a humming noise, you’ll want to do pretty much the same thing you would do for a garbage disposal that is rattling. Start by turning off power to your unit. Then, try to locate and remove the large piece of food, with tongs and not your hands.

If this doesn’t fix your problem, you’ll have to open up your garbage disposal to loosen up the flywheel and any other debris that is stuck. To do this, you’ll need to locate the offset wrench that came with your disposal or purchase an offset wrench at a local hardware store that will work for your brand of disposal. Then, insert the wrench into the flywheel hole at the bottom of the unit and turn it clockwise to dislodge the stuck flywheel or impeller. You’ll feel the flywheel turn freely once the item has become dislodged.

Replace Your Appliance

The only time a garbage disposal will make a squealing noise is when the disposal itself has broken. Usually, the squealing noise comes from motor bearings that have gone bad and the only way to fix this problem is to contact a specialist who repair garbage disposals to evaluate your appliance and advise you on whether you need to have your unit replaced.

Not all garbage disposal problems involve strange noises. Keep reading to learn more about other common issues homeowners have with their disposals.

An overflowing sink because the garbage disposal won't turn on

What to Do When Your Garbage Disposal Won’t Turn On

There are a few reasons why a garbage disposal might not turn on. A few of them have easy fixes, but some may be better left to a professional.

The most likely reason your garbage disposal won’t work is that it tripped the reset on the outlet. This typically happens because the disposal overheated, which can happen if there is a jam by foreign objects, if too much food was sent through the disposal at once or if not enough cold water was run through the appliance while it was turned on.

To check to see if your reset button has been flipped, you’ll need to investigate the disposal unit itself. On the bottom of most garbage disposals, there is a reset button. This button will pop up when the reset is triggered, which will stop the flow of electricity to the machine. If you see this button has popped, you’ll need to determine why it was tripped. Inspect your unit for any large chunks of food or foreign objects and carefully pull out any blockages. Once you have done this, you can pop this reset button back in and go back to doing your dishes.

Another common reason why your garbage disposal might not turn on is that it was accidentally unplugged. Many of us store our cleaning products under our sinks. Sometimes, when you put something away, a bottle or box can jostle the plug loose. Thankfully, the fix is easy: simply plugging the garbage disposal back in.

In some cases, your garbage disposal might be attached to an electrical switch that has malfunctioned or is now faulty. This issue is most commonly identified by a licensed electrician, who has the skills and tools to replace or fix the switch.

Another common problem with garbage disposals is that they can become rusted.

A stainless steel sink with a garbage disposal unit installed in a granite countertop

Is Your Garbage Disposal Rusted? 

Like just about every metal appliance, your garbage disposal can eventually rust, particularly if you may not have been diligent about care and maintenance. A garbage disposal has a series of flanges, gaskets and seals that keep water confined to certain areas. These seals and gaskets break down over time, which allows water to escape from the different parts of the machine to the motor and casing, which leads to rust.

Once rust has started on part of your garbage disposal, it can spread. Even stainless steel is not completely immune to corrosion. Once your unit has begun to rust, it is a good idea to replace the rusty part at the very least—if not the entire unit. A plumbing specialist can help you determine which option is best for your appliance.

You may notice that it’s increasingly difficult for your garbage disposal to grind up food as rust starts developing. You may also notice problems like leaks from underneath the sink, your drain clogging more frequently or a bad smell coming from the drain.

If you are not sure whether you have a rusty garbage disposal or not, you can shine a flashlight down the drain with the garbage disposal. If you have a rust problem, it will look like the inside of a rusty tin can. You can also check the bottom of the machine under the sink for leaks or drips that have not yet caught your attention.

Older garbage disposals are most susceptible to rust. And even the best, cleanest disposal only lasts so long. However, cleaning your garbage disposal regularly can help extend its life and prevent rust.

How to Keep Your Garbage Disposal in Good Condition

If you want to keep your garbage disposal in good working order (and extend its life), there are a few simple tips and tricks that you can keep in mind.

First, never put these items down your garbage disposal:

  • Oils, fats or grease
  • Coffee grounds
  • Eggshells
  • Bones
  • Fibrous foods, such as celery, asparagus and corn husks
  • Fruit pits
  • Vegetable peels and skins, such as potato skins
  • Starchy foods, such as pasta and rice

When it comes to cleaning and maintaining your disposal, there are a couple of things you can do. First, run the disposal regularly, even if there is nothing to dispose of. Having this appliance sitting too long without movement allows tiny points of corrosion to spread. Regularly running your disposal also helps clear up any old pieces of food that might otherwise harden and clog the unit later.

Whenever you run your garbage disposal, use cold water. This rinses the food down the drain and keeps the motor from overheating. Make sure to let the disposal and the cold water run for a minute or so after the disposal has ground up whatever you were processing to ensure that everything has been flushed through.

When it comes to cleaning your disposal, avoid using drain cleaner or corrosive chemicals, as these will damage your pipes and garbage disposal in the long run. A simple disposal cleaning method is to run some ice cubes through the disposal with cold water. Grinding up the ice cubes helps get rid of stubborn food particles and grime.

A more thorough cleaning involves pouring half of a cup of baking soda and one cup of white vinegar down the drain. This will cause a foamy reaction and start dissolving grease and grime. After five minutes, turn on your sink to rinse away the vinegar and baking soda, along with any additional debris that has been loosened up. Finally, run the disposal for a minute or two to finish the process. You should do this at least once a month, as well as whenever a strange smell comes out of the disposal.

Although cleaning the disposal is a relatively easy task, sometimes it just slips our minds. Also, we can’t always control what our kids, spouses or guests put down the garbage disposal drain. And, even if you have taken all of the precautions and stayed on a strict cleaning schedule, your disposal will need to be replaced at some point. No matter what your situation, you can always contact a professional to help with any garbage disposal services you may need.

ABC Can Repair or Replace Your Garbage Disposal

Many of us expect our garbage disposals to be indestructible, but this is simply not the case. Whether your garbage disposal is rattling, humming, squealing, not turning on or rusted, you can depend on ABC Home & Commercial Services to quickly diagnose your problem and advise you on the best next steps. Our specialists are licensed and highly-trained, so you can have peace of mind that your garbage disposal repair will be done correctly and quickly.

Tom Riggs

Tom Riggs is the Division Manager for Mechanical Services, overseeing sales and operations for HVAC, Plumbing, Electrical, Appliance Repair and Water Quality for all ABC Austin branches. He joined ABC in 2014. Before ABC, he was an HVAC Service Technician, HVAC Comfort Advisor/Sales and Operations Manager. Tom attended Universal Technical Institute. He's an avid outdoorsman and enjoys country living with his wife and two sons.

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