What to Do When Your Garbage Disposal Won’t Turn On

Most homes have a garbage disposal in the kitchen sink. This garbage disposal is an alternative way to dispose of food waste in the kitchen as opposed to throwing it out in the trash. It cuts the food up to tiny pieces and sends the waste with the water through the pipes and into the sewer. As with any other appliance in your home, the garbage disposal may not work as normal some days. This can be extremely frustrating. If your garbage disposal won’t turn on, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s broken for good. Here is everything you need to know about what to do when your garbage disposal won’t turn on.

What Does a Garbage Disposal Do?

Before we get into fixing a garbage disposal, it’s important to know what a garbage disposal actually does. A garbage disposal is a disposal in your sink designed to help remove food waste. It’s almost exclusively found in a home’s kitchen sink. You simply throw the waste down the sink and turn the unit on. The food waste goes through the pipes into the disposal. Blades in the disposal then go on to reduce the waste to very small pieces and dispose of it through the pipes.

Benefits of a Garbage Disposal

Why would people use a garbage disposal? There are several reasons to use your garbage disposal Some of the main benefits include:

No Smell

Let’s face it: food waste stinks! When you throw extra the remains of the food you eat, that food is just sitting in the garbage rotting away. The longer it sits there, the more it is going to smell. Unless you plan to take the garbage outside every single time you’re done cooking and eating a meal, you should use your garbage disposal to eliminate any unwanted smells.

Environmentally friendly

Using your garbage disposal reduces your carbon footprint. When you get rid of your food waste through your garbage disposal, you produce less waste in your dumpster. That means fewer resources being used to come pick up the waste. It also means less food waste taking up space in our already overfilled dumps. These dumps burn the garbage, emitting toxins in the air. When we produce less waste in our dumps, we are helping our air stay clean. This helps keep us all healthy.


Garbage disposals are relatively inexpensive. That’s why most modern homes have them installed. If you don’t currently have one, they are a simple add-on. That also means that repairs and replacements are also inexpensive.

There’s a number of reasons to use our garbage disposals. When your garbage disposal won’t turn on, take the time to get it working again. Otherwise, the food in the disposal will only build up and start to smell.

Why Won’t It Turn On?

There are generally two types of situations when your garbage disposal won’t turn on: it either doesn’t start at all due to an electrical problem, or the motor will try to move but won’t get started because something has clogged the disposal.

Electric Problems

If you turn the garbage disposal on and it doesn’t even try to start up, it is not getting power. If this is the case for you, the first thing to do is check that everything is plugged in properly. You don’t want to make the problem bigger than it is if a cord simply came unplugged. 

If it’s plugged in, verify that the outlet works by seeing if other items plugged into the unit will turn on. If you know that everything is plugged in properly and the outlet works properly, you may have to reset the unit. We will go over how to do this a bit later.


When the unit tries to turn but seems to get stuck, something is in the way. It could be one large obstruction or a combination of small obstructions. In order to reduce clogs, it’s important to be careful what you put down the garbage disposal. Here is a list of things that can’t go into the unit:

  • Fibrous fruits and vegetables (ex. celery, asparagus, and husks)
  • Stringy fruits and vegetables
  • Bones
  • Shells
  • Grease (this will stick to your pipes and clog them up)
  • Fruit pits
  • Pasta (swells in contact with water and can’t get through pipes)

While the most common reason for a clog is putting material down the garbage disposal that doesn’t belong there, sometimes clogs can happen because the blades have gotten extremely dull. In this case, getting new blades can resolve the issue in the future. Of course, you’ll have to examine the damage of the clog, as well. If you’ve continued to let things clog up, it could cause additional damage than simply dull blades.


As with anything, garbage disposals have a lifespan. Even if it hasn’t met its expected age, things can break early. In certain situations, the garbage disposal is simply dead. It may be time for a new one. Of course, this is the last resort. Look for other solutions before getting a brand new unit. It’s also a good idea to have a professional tell you when it’s time to replace the entire garbage disposal. 

What to Do When Your Garbage Disposal Won’t Turn On

It can be frustrating when you go to start your garbage disposal and it won’t start. You rely on the machine, so you expect it to turn on. Don’t get mad. Here are some of the things to try when the disposal won’t turn on:

Reset the Garbage Disposal

When your garbage disposal won’t turn on, the first thing you need to do is press the reset button that every garbage disposal has. Some of the reasons you might need to reset your garbage disposal include:

  • running for a long time
  • clog
  • overheating/ power overload
  • other miscellaneous problems

No matter what the specific reason the unit needs to be reset, when you need to do it, it’s time to get under the sink. When you need to press the reset button, the first thing you need to do is find it. It will be on the case of the motor underneath the sink. The button will be red.

There aren’t too many components to a garbage disposal, so it shouldn’t be too hard to find. When you find the button, press it in to reset the unit. The button should stay pressed in. If it doesn’t stay pressed it, try waiting about ten minutes to press it in again.

Unclog the Garbage Disposal

When your garbage disposal is clogged, you can probably resolve the problem quite quickly. First, make sure that the garbage disposal is off. You will have to reach into the unit, so you want to be careful. Double check that the unit is completely off to be safe.

After you’re sure the unit is off, reach in to find whatever is causing the clog. This part may be easier said than done if you are the squeamish type. Expect to feel things that don’t feel so great. You’re digging your hand in your wet food waste after all. Remove as much as you can from the garbage disposal. Once you’re done, try turning the unit on again.

Use a Hex Wrench

Every garbage disposal has a hexagon shaped hole on the bottom. This area grants you access to the flywheel to get it moving again. Find a hex wrench and insert it into the hole. Move it back and forth a couple of times to see if that gets it working. If it does, run some water to rinse out the disposal. If you don’t know what a hex wrench is, it’s best to go on to the following step.

Call the Repairman

Sometimes, it’s time to call the professionals. If you’ve tried all of the above and the problem doesn’t seem to go away, call your local plumber to take a look at the issue. They can diagnose the problem and hopefully resolve it for you. Tell them all the steps you took to resolve the issue on your own. Don’t be offended if they repeat any of the steps, though! It’s part of their job.


A garbage disposal is a very useful appliance in your home. However, it’s not quite as useful when your garbage disposal won’t turn on. Don’t stress out if you’re garbage disposal won’t turn on: there are ways to fix it! 

Follow the above steps to try to fix the garbage disposal on your own. If that doesn’t work, you can have your local plumber come help you solve the problem. After you fix it, learn what caused the problem in the first place so you can avoid similar issues in the future. The good news is that garbage disposals are usually a relatively simple fix.

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