The Ins and Outs of Garbage Disposals

Most people don’t appreciate how handy their garbage disposals are until something goes wrong. Suddenly owners are left with swamp sinks and broken appliances that threaten to liquidate the hands that feeds them. If that sounds like your situation, don’t worry; this article can be your crash course on garbage disposal repair.

First off, here’s a quick explanation of how garbage disposals work: As you can see from the diagram provided by, a garbage disposal consists of a motor, a motor shaft, a drain, a flywheel, an impeller, a grind ring, a dishwasher intake, a hopper, mounting bolts, a support ring, and a flange (listed from bottom to top). There are of course other smaller and more intricate parts, but these are the primary ones that you need to understand to grasp how the device functions.

When the garbage disposal is plugged in and you flip the switch that initiates the motor, it turns the flywheel. The impellers, which are responsible for grinding up the food, are attached to the flywheel and rotate along with it. When food enters the chamber where all this is happening, it is ground up by these spinning parts. Once the food is cut into smaller particles, it can be flushed through the drain pipe on the side of the chamber and flow into your house’s septic system.

garbage disposal pp…At least that’s what’s supposed to happen. It’s common for garbage disposals to break down, in which case a variety of things could have gone wrong. Luckily, a lot of common garbage disposal issues are simple to understand and easily repaired, meaning even home owners can take care of the problem on their own.

For example, you might have issues with the flywheel. If it’s stuck, it can’t spin the impellers that grind up your food. This could in turn cause issues with your motor. To check the status of the flywheel, look at the bottom side of the disposal and see if it has a hex (six-sided) hole. If it has one, there should also be a hex wrench in a pouch near the disposal that will allow you to rotate the motor shaft and flywheel from the outside. If it doesn’t, you’ll have to purchase one. Insert the wrench in the hex hole and rotate it in a circle in both directions to break the flywheel out of its jammed position.

garbage disposal pppSay your issue is that the disposal is leaking. Before you set out on a disposal issue, do make sure that the water isn’t warm (in which case it’s likely coming from your dishwasher) or completely clear (in which case it’s likely coming from your sink). If the water is room temperature and nasty like what you’d expect to come out of a garbage disposal, then you probably have an issue with the disposal’s hoses and seals.

To check, pinpoint the source of the leak. If it’s coming from underneath the disposal, it’s probably leaking through the flywheel seal and directly into the motor, in which case you’ll need to disassemble everything, clean and cry it, and replace the seals.

Finally, you may find that the disposal seems to be running but the food for some reason takes forever to get ground up. This is a big indicator that the impellers on your flywheel have become worn down and need replacement. To check, unplug the disposal and/or trip the circuit breaker if necessary to ensure that it cannot turn on. Then remove all the hose fittings and twist the disposal free from the support ring. It may need to be unscrewed depending on the design. Loosen the flywheel lock nut and either remove and replace the impellers or sharpen them in place. You may need to replace the entire flywheel assembly depending on if the design lends itself to impeller sharpening.

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