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How To Plumbing Series for Decatur and Hartselle, AL Homeowners: How To Plumbing Series: The Garbage Disposer, Part 1

How To Plumbing Series for Decatur and Hartselle, AL Homeowners: How To Plumbing Series: The Garbage Disposer, Part 1

In November we introduced a How To Plumbing Series, tackling such topics as plumbing emergencies, toilets, water leaks, clogs, and understanding DMV and septic systems.

We continue our How To posts by looking at the devices that use our home’s or condo’s plumbing infrastructure — the garbage disposer, the ice maker, the washing machine, the water heater, and faucets.

The Garbage Disposer (You Can Do It!)

The garbage disposer is an indispensable kitchen appliance that’s easy to use — flip a switch! — repair, and install.

There’s really no reason to call a Decatur and Hartselle, AL plumber or plumbing contractor for repair, although if you don’t want to mess with a new installation it’s not necessarily a horrendously expensive job.

You can do this.

How a Garbage Disposer Works

Ever stuck your hand down the kitchen drain — the garbage disposer turned off, of course — and felt those spinning blade-like things? Those impeller blades force debris into the blades along the side of the disposer that you probably didn’t know existed.

Quick aside: Before working on the garbage disposer, unplug it (look under the sink for the power cord) or shut off the power at the fuse box or circuit breaker panel to avoid unexpected operation or an electrical shock hazard.

Did You Know?

The garbage disposer is not good at grinding fibrous foods like banana peels, celery, artichokes and corn husks.

Fibrous foods do not grind into particles so much as strings, which tend to jam the disposer and clog the drain. If you stick your hand into the drain, chances are you’ll feel the “strings” wound around the spinning blades.

You Probably Know but Just In Case

The garbage disposer is mounted directly under the sink. Can’t miss it. Water from the sink runs through the disposer and into the “P” trap, also under the sink.

The “P” trap’s purpose is to hold a plug of water between the sink and sewer line under your home. Without the plug of water, sewer gas could flow through the sewer line and stink up your beautiful Decatur and Hartselle, AL home or condo.

If you have a double sink, the second sink’s drain usually bypasses the garbage disposal and connects directly to the drain line just before the “P” trap.

To complicate things just a bit, if you have a dishwasher, typically the drain line from the appliance connects to an upside-down “Y” connector. The “Y” connector connects to an air gap above the sink. The air gap is vital to prevent a suction from occurring which could draw sewage into the dishwasher — yuck! If siphoning occurs, air is pulled in through the air gap rather than water from the waste line.

Ordinarily water runs from the dishwasher to the “Y” connector and into the disposer above the blade so that debris from the dishwasher can be ground if necessary. That would be some seriously dirty dishes.

If you are having trouble with your garbage disposer, most of the time you will not have to mess with the dishwasher or additional under-the-sink plumbing, but if the problem is severe you can always call a Decatur and Hartselle, AL plumbing contractor for repair assistance.

How To Fix a Garbage Disposer

If your disposer makes no sound at all when you turn it on, first check to see if the internal resettable fuse or your home’s circuit breaker may have tripped.

If the disposer makes a humming sound but does not engage or grind — don’t worry, it’s easily recognizable — it is jammed.

Reminder:  Before making repairs, unplug the garbage disposer or shut off the power at the fuse box or breaker panel to avoid injury. While it’s never advisable to reach into a garbage disposer with your hands, people often do — just be careful! It’s best to use tongs or another suitable tool. The problem with tongs is that you can’t “feel” for a stuck object like you can with your fingers.

Before you get started, take a second to get onto your hands and knees and look at the underside of the garbage disposer. Bring a flashlight or use the handy dandy flashlight on your cell phone. You’re looking for a small, slightly recessed button, usually red.

With the disposer off, press the button all the way in and you may feel it click. Now turn on the water and then turn on switch to test the garbage disposal.

If it runs, job well done!

How to Fix a Jammed Garbage Disposer

If the disposer continues to hum, utter any ^%&%#$ words you feel are appropriate, but don’t panic. Assuming there is no issue with a tripped circuit breaker or blown fuse.

Again, make sure the disposer is off at the switch. Most disposers come with a tool — it’s like a 1/4 inch allen wrench — that you insert into a socket on the bottom of the device to manually crank the blade.

Problem is: What did you do with that tool?

Don’t despair. If you don’t have it or can’t find, just use a 1/4-inch allen from your toolbox, assuming you have one. In any case, when you are finished, just tape the tool or substitute allen underneath the sink or to the side of the disposer.

With the tool or allen inserted into the socket (usually the very center of the disposer), turn the tool back and forth until you can move it freely in a complete revolution.

Turn it counterclockwise to loosen a tight jam. Remove the wrench. Reach into the drain with tongs (or if you insist, your fingers — being careful, of course!) to remove whatever caused the jam.

With fingers out of the drain, restore the power, turn on the water tap and turn on the switch. If it is still jammed, you may need to repeat the steps above.

It’s always possible that there may be an issue with an electrical connection or the motor may be burned out and you will want to replace it, either yourself or call a Decatur and Hartselle, AL plumber for repair or installation of a new disposer.

One last thing: If your disposer does not have a feature for manually clearing a jam, use a wooden broom handle. Turn off the switch, unplug the disposer and stick the broom handle into the disposer drain in the sink. Push the handle or use leverage to attempt to move the blade. Turn it counterclockwise. Remove the broom handle, plug in the unit and turn it on.

Garbage Disposer Dos and Don’ts


  • run cold water while grinding waste
  • grind beef bones, chicken bones, peach pits
  • grind lemon or orange peels to eliminate odors — this adds a nice fresh scent to the sink area
  • let water and disposer run for several seconds after grinding is complete
  • grind ice to clean the blades and impeller


  • We’ve already gone over this: Don’t reach into the disposer with your hand, use tongs and only when the unit is unplugged
  • Don’t grind fibrous foods like corn husks, artichokes, banana peels or celery
  • Don’t operate the disposer without running water
  • Don’t use hot water for grinding. Here’s why: Hot water melts fats, which later may clog the drain
  • Don’t grind coffee grounds. They aren’t a problem for the disposer but they build up in the pipes. Empty grounds into the trash first. If there is still a bit of coffee that you need to watch out of your K-cup, let the water run to push it down the drain and out of harm’s way.

Next Up

Installing a garbage disposer.