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Garbage Disposal Maintenance

Garbage Disposal Problems

For the most part, sink-mounted garbage disposal units operate maintenance-free throughout their lifetime. Even when they do break down on occasion, they're usually within the regular homeowner's ability to fix.

How A Garbage Disposal Works

In a typical disposer unit, garbage is dumped into the hopper while it is turned off. Once it's turned on, the motorized dispenser will activate the flywheel, impeller and cutters to chop up the garbage into tiny pieces, which are subsequently flushed down the sewer pipe along with water from the sink.

Installing A New Disposal Unit

A garbage disposal unit may not be allowed in your area so check local housing codes before proceeding to shop for one. If your community is equipped with a modern, updated sewage system, it will likely be fine. If you use a septic tank for your home sewage, garbage disposals can leave it clogged so consider the possible consequences before deciding on one.

Common Problems

First, a word of caution: no matter what the problem is, don't stick your hand inside the hopper or anywhere near the shredders. Additionally, make sure to turn the power off the main electrical unit where the disposer is connected to.

Stuck Grinding Wheel

Frequently, the grinding wheel will get stuck when hard objects get jammed between a blade and the shredder ring on the flywheel. You'll notice this when the disposer is turned on and no cutting action is happening, save for some muffled sounds.

Some garbage disposal units have a built-in mechanism for getting the flywheel unstuck. Most modern disposers will have a reverse gear, allowing you to run the blades backwards to push the blockage down. A few disposers will also have a mechanical wrench that you can turn in a similar reverse fashion.

If you suspect that the wheel is stuck, look down into the hopper and try to see what object is keeping it from running. Most of the time, you'll notice bottle caps, bones, plastic utensils or similar hard objects that ended up being thrown with the food garbage.

When you see the stuck debris, turn off the disposal unit by pulling the main plug. It's important to cut off the power source because many of the newer disposers shut off automatically after a couple of minutes running stuck. You may end up flipping the switch to turn it on instead of the other way around - a nasty accident waiting to happen.

Once it's turned off, use wires, pliers or tongs to pull the jammed object out of the hopper. After fishing the stuck item out, try turning the flywheel using the same equipment or something thicker like a wooden rod to see if it turns as expected. If all visible debris has been removed and the motor continues to keep from running, try flipping the system on and off to try and push any remaining blockage away from the mechanical parts.

Water Leakage

Leakages in the garbage disposal unit will usually occur either right under the sink, at the connection between the disposer and the drainpipe, or the joint attaching the hopper with the shredder housing. Always check for leaks from either one of those areas first. If it's not there, check with the garbage disposal's other connections, like with the dishwasher.

Tighten the clamps and bolts of the offending joints when this happens. If this doesn't work on a sink leakage, loosen the clamp, apply plumber's potty under the flange and screw the bolts back in. If tightening doesn't work for the other joints, you may need to replace the old gasket with a new one.

Noise And Vibration

While a vibrating or noisy disposer isn't necessarily a big problem, it can prove irritating. Most often, it will be caused by excessively tight bolts. Loosening the locks a bit should put a halt to it.

Disposal Won't Start

When the unit won't turn on, check the electrical connection. If it's not the problem, it may be a malfunctioning switch. If you can attach a secondary switch (such as with continuous feed models), try turning it on using that. Beyond those, you will need a professional to check the cause of the malfunction as it likely has to do with a burnt-out motor.

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