If you don’t have rancid odors wafting in through the kitchen window from the trash cans during the summer, thank the garbage disposal. A lack of foul odors emanating from garbage is one of the things that separates the contemporary kitchen from the kitchen of just 50 years ago. That said, the disposal is one of those things no one pays much attention to until there’s a problem. And one of the most common problems with disposals is when you flip the switch, and all you get is a low-level hum. No grinding. No whirling sound from the blades. Just humming. Below we’ll look at why this happens and provide a few easy ways to fix it.
Reasons Your Garbage Disposal is Humming
That humming sound coming from the disposal is an indication that it’s getting power, but something is interfering with its normal operation. Common types of interference include:
- A foreign object in the disposal – It’s not at all uncommon for a piece of silverware to slip unnoticed into the disposal and jam the blades. Other objects that could cause a jam include bottle caps, gristle and large bones. Metal objects will typically make a lot of noise to alert you to their presence. But tough food objects may not make any noise.
- The disposal has overheated – In some cases if you’ve been running the disposal particularly hard – say after Thanksgiving dinner – it may overheat and shut down. This isn’t very common, but it has been known to happen.
- The GFCI has tripped – The GFCI or Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter is a device on the electrical outlet designed to protect people from electric shocks. If it detects an imbalance between the input and output current on an outlet, it “trips” and shuts the outlet down.
- The disposal has died – This is only going to happen once in the life cycle of your disposal. So if the unit is only a couple of years old, this is very unlikely. However, if you try all of the fixes we’re about to propose, and nothing works, this may be the only logical conclusion.
Now that we have a better idea of what might be causing the malfunction in the garbage disposal, let’s look at some easy to apply fixes.
Applying the Fix
The following are a half dozen steps to fixing a garbage disposal that humming instead of working. We’ll start with the 3 easiest solutions first. If none of them work, it may indicate that you have a physical blockage in the disposal. In which case you’ll need to go through steps 4 – 6.
Note: Make sure the disposal is switched off before you apply any of these fixes.
- Step 1: Hit the reset button – Every modern garbage disposal comes with a reset button. This is a red button typically located on the bottom of the disposal. Once you locate it simply press it. That will reset the circuit in the disposal. After pressing the reset button, flip the switch and see if the disposal works. If it does, you’re finished. If it doesn’t flip the switch off and move on to the next step.
- Step 2: Unplug/replug the disposal – If the reset button didn’t do the trick then try simply unplugging the disposal, waiting a few seconds and then plugging it back in. After that flip the switch to turn it on. If it works, you’re all set. If it doesn’t switch it off and try the next step.
- Step 3: Check the GFCI outlet – Check the outlet the disposal is plugged into. If it has a red GFCI button in the middle (not all outlets do) and that button is popped out instead of being flush, it’s time to reset it. To do so unplug the disposal. Then press the red GFCI button in until it clicks into place. Then plug the disposal back in and flip the switch. If it works, you’re finished. If not, move on to the next step.
- Step 4: Unplug the disposal – Don’t just switch it off. Switch it off and unplug it physically from the outlet so there’s no chance it will accidentally come on.
- Step 5: Inspect the inside of the disposal – Once it’s unplugged, take a flashlight and look down into the canister. Do you see something that doesn’t belong there? Maybe a spoon or a piece of gristle or some other tough food that’s jammed into the blades?
- Step 6: Remove the blockage – If you see something in the disposal, take a pair of tongs and remove it. If it’s particularly stubborn, avoid the temptation to reach in with your hand. Instead, go under the disposal and turn the blades manually. Most every disposal has a way to turn the blades using a hex wrench. That slot is located on the bottom of the disposal. Turn the blades in both directions until you loosen the obstruction. Then go back up top and remove it using the tongs. Once the obstruction is removed, plug the disposal back in and switch it on.
In the unlikely event that none of the above fixes bring the disposal back on line, you may have no choice but to call the plumber. It is possible that the disposal has died on you. Even if it is relatively new. If it’s still under warranty, then you can probably get a new one. But there may be something else interfering with the operation of the disposal. So before you send it back to the manufacturer have a plumber in to inspect things.
In most cases, a humming garbage disposal does not indicate anything is seriously wrong. It’s usually just a jam, or perhaps the GFCI outlet detected something it didn’t like and cut off power. If your disposal greets you with a hum next time you try to use it, go through the steps outlined above, and you should be back in business in no time. And if nothing works, call the plumber before giving up on the disposal.