Repair a Broken Garbage Disposal
An expert explains how to troubleshoot a broken garbage disposal.
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Q: My garbage disposal just stopped working. I tried the broom handle bit to get the blades to work, and I reset the little button on the bottom. I checked the fuse and the switch, but the unit still does not work.
I called a plumber and was told it would cost $90 just to have him come and take a look at it, even if he couldn't repair it. I can't afford to throw my money away like that.
What should I do? -- J.D., Indianapolis
A: If the cutter blades spin freely, then the motor is not locked up; it's a common problem in failed disposals. If there are no leaks, you do not need a plumber.
For some reason, there is no electric power reaching the disposal's motor. You have already checked the obvious: a reset button and the fuse panel.
The next failure point to check is the electric switch. What you need is a circuit tester, available at home stores in the electrical department.
This pencil-like device senses if there is an electrical current in a switch, an outlet, a burned-out bulb or an exposed electric wire and gives off a visual as well as an audible signal alerting you to the presence of live electricity.
This tool is a must for a homeowner's tool kit.
Simply hold the tester near the switch and check for a current. If a current is detected, turn the switch to "on" and hold the tester near the wire leading from the switch to the disposal. If there is no signal, then the switch is defective.
If there is a signal, you probably have a loose wiring connection inside the disposal. To make the repairs yourself, turn off the breaker or remove the fuse for the appliance and test again just to ensure that there is no electric current to the disposal.
I would strongly recommend that a qualified electrician make all in-home electrical repairs. To quote an earlier article I wrote, "You get to make only one mistake with electricity, and it could be your last."
Dwight Barnett is a certified master inspector with the American Society of Home Inspectors.
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