Troubleshooting and repairing a garbage disposer is actually quite an easy task. In many cases it is as simple as using an Allen Wrench or a tool supplied by the manufacturer inserted into the bottom of the disposer to turn the disposer shaft to unjam the disposal, then pressing a reset button to fix the problem. The key is recognizing where the problem is and fixing it or, recognizing when its just time for a new disposer.
Worn Out Disposers
Frequently a disposer will continue to run long after it has been worn out. Many of the lower priced disposers frequently called “Builder Grade” have a grinding chamber made of galvanized steel. These units have a relatively short life expectancy and all they really are is a cheap disposer that the seller can say is there. The manufacturers typically offer only a one or two year warranty on these product lines. The teeth of the grinding chamber on these “Builder Grade” units rust and wear away quite quickly and once that occurs the waste is pushed into the line without being ground up and the drains tend to clog from this. Look inside your disposer with a flashlight at the grinding teeth around the edge of the turntable to see if the teeth are worn. Take a look at the teeth of the disposer in the picture and compare them to your disposer. Another sign of a worn disposer is water leaking through the unit. Water leaking through the unit is a sign that the shaft seals are worn out. If the disposer is worn out there is no repair option in most cases and replacement is the only option. There are a few manufactures that offer replacement parts but I question whether they are even worth repairing. If your disposer is worn out I would suggest replacement with a new Insinkerator Evolution Series disposer if you are planning on keeping the house for more than a few years.
The Disposer Does Not Run
If the Disposer does not run there is no other symptom that matters except being worn out. A disposer that is not running will rapidly clog with food debris giving the appearance of being clogged. Merely rotating the turntable will in many cases instantly start the disposer draining again but without the unit running it will clog again rapidly. To check the disposer turn the turntable with the unjamming wrench or if the disposer does not have a hole in the base for unjamming insert something into the top of the disposer to catch the grinding hammers on the turntable and turn the turntable to free up the jam until the turntable turns freely again. Press the circuit breaker reset button and turn on the disposer. In most cases it will run again and be ready for use. In some cases something may be banging around inside the grind chamber shut the disposer back off and inspect the grinding chamber to see the object and remove it. If the unit only hums but does not run check for jamming again, if the turntable is free spinning and the motor only hums the disposal requires replacement. If the disposer does nothing recheck the circuit breaker reset button and try turning it on again. If the disposer still does nothing make sure that power is available to the disposer when turned on. If there is power supplied to the disposer and it does nothing then replacement is needed.
The Disposer Runs But Water Doesn’t Drain From the Sink
In this case unless the disposer is worn out the problem is only a clogged drain. Sometimes when too much garbage is processed at once or the wrong things are put in a disposer clogs can result. Remove as much water as possible from the sinks before starting to work. Place a container large enough to catch the remaining water in the sink, disposer and pipes under the drainpipes of the sink and take the drainpipes under the sink apart to see if you can find where the plugged section is. Frequently the clog will be in the p-trap, baffle tee where the two sinks of a double sink come together, or in the disposer elbow itself. If you find the clog in the drainpipes under the sink reassemble the pipes and test the drainage. Hopefully this clears the clog and gets you drain running again. If the pipes under the sink are not clogged then the clog is past where it can be reached without a drain snake. If the drain requires snaking I would recommend calling a plumber to snake the line clear with an electric powered snake. With a clogged disposal drain I recommend a close inspection of the disposer grinding chamber to make sure it is working properly and not sending ungrounded food waste down the drain. If the disposer is badly worn the line will re-clog.
If you have any questions or comments please leave them below and I will reply.