Garbage disposals are high demand appliances. They combine a large motor, water, and electricity in a frothy mix that simply isn’t going to last for decades. Garbages disposals wear out over time and you’ll want to replace the unit before there is a problem.
But how do you know when to replace the disposal?
Even the best garbage disposals for homes can have problems over time, especially if you (or your guests) don’t baby them. Here are 10 things to watch out for.
1. Rusty Exterior
If you see any rust on the outside of the garbage disposal then you can be pretty sure there are problems. Modern garbage disposals are made of stainless steel and other corrosion-resistant materials, so any visible rust means you have a leak and you could have deeper problems inside the unit where you can’t easily inspect.
2. Weird Noises
Garbages disposals are loud, but they produce a regular tone and a set of pretty standard grinding noises. If your unit starts to regularly produce high pitched, irregularly timed, or otherwise weird noises, there is likely something bad happening on the inside. Maybe it’s a jam, maybe it’s just something in there that shouldn’t be there (like celery) but it could spell larger problems in the unit.
3. Leaking Water
A garbage disposal is designed to be a sealed unit, with an entry at the top and an exit at the bottom. A leaking from any place at the bottom is a serious problem. You’ll have to check carefully where your leak occurs because the shaking produced by a garbage disposal unit can lead to the seal between the unit and the sink opening up, which is annoying but doesn’t mean anything is wrong with the disposal.
4. Frequent Clogging
Garbage disposals all clog from time to time, but if yours is clogging all the time it could be an indication that something is not quite right inside the unit. This could be a blockage or corrosion inside, or just build up from putting the wrong type of food down the drain, like fibrous vegetables or coffee grinds.
5. Excessive Shaking
The disposal is basically a 1/2 to 3/4 horsepower motor mounted to the bottom of your sink. As it pulverizers food at a high RPM level, it’s going to shake a little. If it shakes too much you know something is wrong because it likely means the blades are worn unevenly, the mounting needs to be redone, the motor is problematic, or the grind plate (known as the impeller) is out of balance. The mounting is easily fixable by any handy person, but the other problems could be a sign that your disposal is on the way out.
6. Bad Smells
If your drain has a rotting or gross earthy smell coming from it, the garbage disposal is the culprit. Bad smells mean the unit is collecting food waste and possibly dirty water and not draining properly. The unit is designed to grind and then flush waste out of the drain. If there is excess level of bad smell then food is likely collecting around the impeller or in the hopper and then sitting there and rotting. This means it’s not working properly and it means the life of the unit will be limited.
7. You Hear a “Hum” But No Grinding
If you power up your garbage disposal and you hear the unit humming but not spinning, then you have a serious problem. This generally means that your motor is broken or in some way seized, and the disposal is done for.
Technically this could happen in the event of a really bad clog, say from a chicken bone, but it’s unlikely and your unit probably needs a repair. If it’s not under warranty than a repair could cost a much as a new unit, so you should consider a replacement.
8. Frequent Resets Required
When the garbage disposal has too much strain put on the motor it will pop an internal fuse and turn off. It can be reenabled but pressing a reset button at the bottom of the disposal. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and it can happen for all sorts of normal reasons, like too much food being put down the drain and the unit clogging.
That said, if you are needing to reset the unit more than occasionally then the motor could be under too much strain, the impeller and other spinning parts could be obstructed, rust could be building up, or some of the internal electronics could be faulty.
9. Start and Stop Operation
Similar to the reset issue, if your disposal isn’t operating or grinding in a consistent fashion there is a problem. If it seems jerky, inconsistent, or you need to turn it on and off (or if it turns itself on and off) you likely have a problem with the motor.
10. Long Grind Times
The disposal is basically a motor with some blades attached to a grinding plate. The motor, the blades, the plate, the bearings, and all sorts of other parts can wear out over time. This means an amount of food waste that once took 15 seconds to process might later take 30 seconds. This isn’t inherently a problem, but as the times creep up, you should keep an eye on the units decreased performance and try to recognize a point where the disposal seems to be too far gone.
On some models you will be able to remove the disposal and replace the impeller plate along with the blades on the plate. On other units this operations won’t be worth it because it’ll be cheaper to simply replace the entire unit.
One Last Piece Of Advice
With this you should have a pretty good idea when your disposal is done for and you should buy another. One other piece of advice is to replace the disposal any time you are replacing the sink, updating the plumbing, or redoing your kitchen. Disposal units aren’t that expensive and you’ll want to ensure a great fit and proper installation, which means a fresh install when the unit’s surrounding hardware changes.
Of course if your unit is under a year old you can certainly put it on a new sink, but if your unit is 3+ years old, out of warranty, and showing signs of its age, you’ll be better served with a new unit, a fresh installation, and years of leak-free operation to go with your new kitchen setup.