Humming is usually a good sound. It tells you a person is happy or it tells you the refrigerator is working just fine. All is well with the world.
Unless it’s a humming garbage disposal. Then it’s an unhappy sound that makes people cranky. It tells you something went wrong.
But what went wrong?
In most cases, a humming disposal is simply jammed. Something is stuck in the blades, preventing them from spinning. The motor runs, but the blade can’t turn.
The humming you are hearing is the sound of the motor running. It’s the same reason a refrigerator hums. You can hear the motor on the refrigerator running.
The reason a disposal normally does not hum is because you usually can’t hear the quiet hum of the motor over the much louder sound of the blades turning and doing their job. They rather noisily grind up whatever gets put through them. This drowns out the quiet humming sound of the motor.
How To Fix a Humming Garbage Disposal
Here is the very first thing you should do: Press the red reset button on the unit beneath the sink. Sometimes, it’s that simple.
Maybe you already knew that. But it’s shocking how often we get busy or are tired and forget the obvious answers. Sometimes, we need to be reminded of the simple fixes.
If that doesn’t work, you want to gather up a few tools, such as an Allen wrench (AKA a hex tool), tongs, a flashlight and a broom or other long-handled item. You may also want to wear latex gloves for cleanliness reasons or work gloves for safety purposes.
Make sure to cut the power to the unit before you do anything else. You don’t want to get shocked. You also don’t want the disposal to suddenly start back up the second you dislodge something while you still have tools stuck in it.
It is forbidden to put your hand in the disposal. This is dangerous and can get you maimed. Don’t do this even if the power is cut. Should someone turn the power back on while your hand is in it, this will do very bad things to your hand.
There are two ways to cut the power. You can either turn it off at the circuit breaker or unplug the unit. It should be plugged into an outlet beneath the sink.
If you are paranoid, you can do both. It’s fine to be a little on the paranoid side when dealing with potentially dangerous situations.
The first step is to try using the Allen wrench in the breaker socket. It is a small six-sided hole found on the bottom of the garbage disposal.
This is provided as a means to manually turn the flywheel back and forth without sticking your hand in the unit. It’s the safe, appropriate means to do this.
You put the tool in and turn it back and forth a few times. Hopefully, this will free it up.
You check if it worked by restoring power and turning the unit on. Does it do what it’s supposed to do? If yes, your job is done. If no, you need to try to clear the jam another way.
Also, some units don’t have this hexagonal-shaped hole. If there is no hex hole, or if the jam is not cleared by using an Allen wrench, then you need to use a broom handle or other long item to move the blades directly.
Remember to not put your hand in the disposal. Instead, stick a broom handle or other long item into the garbage disposal and move it back and forth to move the blades back and forth.
This is essentially the same thing you were trying to do with the Allen wrench. It’s just more direct and less clean and convenient.
Disposals tend to be gross. Food accumulates in the bottom and then germs grow in that stuff. If your disposal is jammed, it probably has more than usual of that in there. It’s probably pretty nasty.
So you will need to clean and possibly sterilize the broom handle afterwards. Hydrogen peroxide is a non-toxic bleach substitute. You might try cleaning the broom handle with that.
Some jams are caused by large, hard items rather than accumulated food. Maybe a fork got dropped down in the disposal. Maybe a pebble somehow worked its way into there.
In such cases, a flashlight and a pair of tongs are the best means to remove the foreign object and free the blades up. Again, don’t ever put your hand down into the disposal. Use a tool to reach into it.
If you don’t have tongs, you can try using pliers. If you have neither tongs nor pliers, you might want to go to the store and get one or the other.
After removing the object, you will again want to restore power and see if the unit functions normally. If it doesn’t, you may have a different problem.
In most cases, the disposal will be humming because it is clogged or jammed. But not always. Here are a few other scenarios.
If you thought cleaning out the refrigerator and putting everything down the disposal that’s been in the fridge more than six months was a good idea, well, think again. You may have overworked it and caused it to overheat.
The solution is to give it a rest and try again in a few minutes. In the meantime, start dumping the rest of the old food in the trash, not down the disposal. It wasn’t really intended to be used this way.
If a few minutes rest doesn’t work, try pressing the red reset button on the unit beneath the sink. See if that does the trick.
The Breaker Tripped
Especially if you live in an older home, the disposal may have tripped the breaker. This usually happens if you are also running other appliances at the same time. Sometimes, it overloads the electrical system.
You need to find your circuit breaker panel. It is probably in a hallway, closet or the garage. Occasionally, it will be in the pantry or inside a cabinet somewhere.
Find the correct breaker. Hopefully, all the breakers are labeled. You are looking for the “Kitchen” breaker.
It should have three settings: on, off and neutral. It is probably currently in neutral.
You want to turn it to the “off” position first to reset it. Then you want to turn it to the “on” position.
It’s Time For A New One
This is the worst-case scenario and it’s uncommon. But sometimes it has died, whether due to age or hard use.
So, if all else fails, you may want to call a plumber and get their professional opinion. It may be time to shop for a new one.
Okay, so you got it running again, or maybe you are waiting for a plumber to show up to replace it. Cool beans.
But let’s try to make sure this doesn’t happen again. Or at least that it happens less often in the future, especially if you are getting a new one.
For starters, understand that you can’t put just anything down the disposal. Here are some things you should never put down a garbage disposal because these items promote clogs:
- Coffee grounds
- Dead pets, no matter how small
- Fruit with pits
- Bacon grease or other kinds of grease
Pasta and rice both can expand when wet. This promotes clogging. Grease and oil can solidify when cold. This can promote clogging. Bones or fruit pits can damage the unit.
It should go without saying that the garbage disposal is also not the appropriate means to dispose of glass, plastic, paper or metal. It should go without saying, but it is being said here because some people have put such things down their garbage disposal, so it’s being said anyway.
Making sure you aren’t putting the wrong things down your disposal is one of the most important steps you can take to prevent problems. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to print the above list and post it on the refrigerator, at least until you have it memorized.
If your kitchen sees frequent guests, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to post some safety guidelines permanently. Better safe than sorry and it might prevent some unfortunate incidents and hard feelings between you and friends or family.
Clean Your Disposal
If you don’t clean the disposal regularly and properly, you are going to see more jams. When you clean it improperly, you can damage it. Also, if you clean it with harsh cleaners, you can damage the environment, which is not a good thing.
Here are two non-toxic, inexpensive cleaning methods:
- Take a lemon or two and cut them up into quarters or smaller pieces, depending on their size.
- Leave the rind on. It will help provide abrasion to remove debris.
- Run the sections of lemon through the disposal with cold water.
- The lemon juice is a non-toxic cleaner that will help kill germs.
- It’s also naturally pleasant smelling, though just having the disposal clean will help prevent odors.
- Start running cold water in the side of the sink with the disposal.
- Turn on the garbage disposal.
- Slowly add ice to the running water, a little at a time.
- Make sure you don’t overload the disposal.
This works better with ice from an automatic ice maker than with large cubes from trays. They break up more readily and you probably have a lot more ice on hand if you have an automatic ice maker.
Though some people don’t hesitate to have a variety of ice cube trays, each making different shapes, and adequate supply for party purposes, even without an ice maker. There’s nothing wrong with that. You do you.
Other Prevention Tips
You should also be mindful of making sure small, hard objects don’t land in the disposal. One thing that helps is that you can get a mat for the bottom of the sink to prevent small items like forks from accidentally landing in the disposal
Another approach is that you can just institute personal habits and household policy that no one ever puts forks or similar small objects in that side of the sink. Make sure all dishes and the like go into the other side of the sink.
Also, think before you do anything new and unusual. If you decide to re-pot a few overgrown houseplants in the kitchen, make sure to not do it in the disposal side of the sink or to otherwise take appropriate precautions.
It’s not uncommon for houseplants to have pebbles in the soil. Even if there are no pebbles, soil is not something that belongs in the garbage disposal.
Also, you should always start running the water before you turn the disposal on. Don’t run the disposal dry. This is very hard on the unit and can promote problems.
If you think prevention is too much of a hassle, remember the saying “If you don’t have time to do it right, when are you going to find time to do it over?” Learning to use it properly is something you should expect as par for the course.
If you can’t be bothered to learn to use the disposal properly, it might make more sense to not have one. Misusing it is actually a potentially serious safety issue.
Kitchens existed for a long time before we invented fancy gadgets to put in them. Plenty of people live just fine without some of these gadgets.