Detecting Trouble: Six Warning Signs of a Failing Garbage Disposal

Garbage disposals are a wonderful convenience to have. With this appliance, we can easily dispose of food waste without worrying about clogging our plumbing system. So, it can be more than a little disconcerting when our garbage disposal starts acting up.

When garbage disposal starts malfunctioning, how are we supposed to know what to do? How long does a garbage disposal last, and how do I know if it’s time to replace it?

The biggest signs of failing garbage disposal are poor performance, and the unit failing to turn on. Other indications include leaks( around the bottom), loud sounds coming from the disposal, and a persistent foul smell.

Here, we will cover the expected longevity of garbage disposals, signs of failure, and ways to prolong the life of your machine.

How Long Should a Garbage Disposal Last?

There are several variables that can have an impact on the lifespan of garbage disposal, so the answer to this question can be a bit complicated. To put a range on it, a garbage disposal can last anywhere from 8 to 15 years, depending on those variables.

A highly rated garbage disposal with quality parts that is the correct size can last as long as 15 years, so long as the homeowners use it properly and maintain the appliance as necessary. On the other end of the range, a low-rated machine that isn’t used properly and whose maintenance is neglected can expect to have a lifespan of 8 years, or even shorter.

National averages state that homeowners replace their garbage disposal every 12 years, as long as the owner takes care of the appliance. As we mentioned before, the quality of the machine is a major determinant of lifespan, and the manner of use can have a significant impact on the longevity of garbage disposal.

It seems that some of us overestimate the abilities of garbage disposal, and push it beyond the capacities it’s designed for. Hard food waste like uncooked pasta or bones can dull blades and reduce the effectiveness of the garbage disposal over time. This can lead to clogs or early replacement of the unit.

Other food debris like fat, oil, and coffee grounds can create a thick film that either clog the machine or prevents its moving parts from functioning correctly. Hindering it in this way can cause the garbage disposal to burn out quickly or clog the pipes draining the unit.

The lifespan of a Garbage Disposal by Brand

Now you know the general range of longevity and behaviors that can impact the lifespan of garbage disposal. You might be wondering if lifespan varies by brand, granted that you take care of the unit and use it properly. Here are common brands of garbage disposals, their respective lifespans, and the extent of their warranties.

Wastmaid6-10 years2 or 3 year
InSinkErator10-15 yearsDepends on model (1-10 year)
Waste King10-15 yearsDepends on model (2 to 10 year)
Moen10 years5 or 10 year
KitchenAid8-10 years5 or 7 year
Frigidaire10-12 years6 year

It’s important to bear in mind that these are general ranges. Different models made by the same brand may have different capacities, and they may be designed to handle more or less than others. Warranties can also vary by model, and the manufacturer can change the time limits on warranties as new models are designed and sold to the public.

Six Signs of a Failing Garbage Disposal

We now know how long we can expect garbage disposals to last. So how do we know if ours is failing, and requires maintenance or replacing? Here are some signs to look for that may indicate trouble with your unit.

Clanking sound

At some point, most of us who own a garbage disposal will hear this noise. While we are washing dishes, a piece of silverware manages to slip out of our hands and sneak into the garbage disposal. We may get distracted and forget about it, or never see the silverware fall into the unit to begin with. 

Then we turn on the garbage disposal and a horrible metallic clanking sound comes from the unit. Turn off the power to the disposal, and feel for the errant piece of silverware. If there is none to be found, your problem may be a broken blade or a failing motor. Either way, you will have to remove the appliance to inspect it, and possibly have it replaced. 

Persistent odor

Since a garbage disposal is designed to grind food down in order to flush it out with wastewater, it isn’t too surprising that odors can occasionally linger. Food particles trapped in the unit eventually rot, and the smell can linger as long as the food bits are trapped. 

If this happens frequently, and doesn’t seem to resolve with a thorough rinsing, it may be a sign that the garbage disposal’s components aren’t working properly to clear the food waste from the unit. In most cases, this can be attributed to wear and tear, and the only way to resolve this issue is by replacing the unit.

Poor performance

A garbage disposal is designed to grind food waste quickly and flush it away with the wastewater. If this isn’t the case, and it’s taking longer and longer for food waste to drain, it could be a sign of trouble with the appliance.

Over time, it’s natural for the blades in your garbage disposal to become dull. Regular use causes this, and grinding hard food waste can accelerate it. In some cases, the blades can simply be sharpened or replaced. However, if there is significant wear or other damage to the blades, a full replacement unit may be required.

Water leak

As we know, a garbage disposal is connected to both our sink and the plumbing system. Over time and with years of use, gaps can occur in the areas where the disposal connects to the plumbing system. The appliance contains moving, vibrating parts, and the pressure of wastewater combined with ground food waste can stress the connection points.

This stress can cause leaks to occur under the sink. Since there can be several drainage sources under the sink, it may be best to have a plumber confirm the cause of the leak. If the garbage disposal is proven to be the cause of the leak, the best case scenario is that a seal needs to be replaced. If this doesn’t solve the problem, the entire unit likely needs replacing. 

Frequent reset.

It isn’t uncommon to have to use the reset button on a garbage disposal. This feature is designed to reset the unit after a significant event, like a clog or large drainage load. If you maintain and use the garbage disposal properly, this should only happen on occasion.

Garbage Disposal Diagram

If you frequently need to use the reset button, this could be a sign that your unit is failing. It’s possible that the garbage disposal has simply reached the end of its lifespan, or there could be a problem with the motor or wiring. In the event that you find yourself having to reset the appliance frequently, it may be best to call a professional to inspect the garbage disposal.

No power

If your garbage disposal won’t turn on, or turns off spontaneously, this is definitely a sign of problems with the unit. First check to make sure the circuit breaker isn’t flipped. If the breaker doesn’t need to be reset, definitely call a professional plumber to investigate. 

In this case, the cause of the problem isn’t clear, and it could be several different things. Whether the issue is the electrical system or the disposal itself, it’s best to get confirmation before starting expensive repairs.

Ways to Prolong the Life of Your Garbage Disposal

If you want to get ahead of the game and maximize the longevity of your garbage disposal, there are some things you can do. Here are some easy, inexpensive ways to maintain your appliance and keep it running smoothly.

First, Know How to Use Your Garbage Disposal Properly

Clean the disposal regularlyTry to grind anything that isn’t food
Turn on the disposal regularlyPut fruit pits into the disposal
Promptly investigate irregular noisesPour oil into the unit
Cut large pieces of food waste before loadingPut bones into the disposal
Let the disposal run to complete grinding foodOverload the disposal
Use cold water while using disposalPut fibrous vegetables into the unit

DIY Methods to Clean Your Garbage Disposal

Use the Power of Citrus

As we mentioned before, it isn’t out of the ordinary for foul smells to come from your garbage disposal. This is because food particles can become trapped, and eventually rot if they aren’t flushed out of the unit. Also, cooking oils and grease can congeal on the parts of the garbage disposal, acting like an adhesive for food particles to stick to.

With just a couple of household items, you can easily clear out this smelly food waste in a couple of minutes. First, fill the disposal with around two cups of ice plus one cup of salt. Let the disposal run and turn on cold water for a few seconds. This will help dislodge food particles.

Next, plug the sink and fill it with a couple inches of water. Unplug the sink, turn on the disposal, and let the water drain. The pressure will push more food waste out of the disposal. 

Lastly, run four to six lemon peels through the garbage disposal with cold water. Your appliance should be clean and smelling fresh now.

Every So Often, Clean the Disposal With Boiling Water

While we mentioned that it is best to use cold water when using your garbage disposal, it is okay to use boiling water to clean your appliance every once in a while. Boiling water can put stress on your plumbing system, so it’s best to use this cleaning method no more than once a month.

If you find that your sink drains slowly and your garbage disposal has a foul smell, chances are you have a buildup of food waste. This problem can usually be solved with boiling water and a couple of household items.

First, pour a pot of boiling water down the garbage disposal. This will help loosen food particles and melt any hardened grease that has accumulated in the drain.

Next, pour in one cup of baking soda, then one cup of water with one cup of white vinegar. Cover the drain and wait up to 10 minutes. The baking soda and vinegar together will create a physical reaction that will further dislodge any stuck food particles.

After 10 minutes have passed, uncover the drain and pour another pot of boiling water into the garbage disposal. This will flush the food particles that were dislodged by the baking soda and vinegar. 


With proper treatment, you can expect your garbage disposal to last an average of 12 years before replacement is required. The expected lifespan does vary, with a range of between 8 and 15 years. The reason for this wide range is that there are many models on the market, all with different capacities and ratings.

Besides manufacturer and model, there are other factors that contribute to the lifespan of a garbage disposal. If we know what these contributors are, we can have a realistic expectation of how long our appliance will last, and know what to do to prolong the life of our appliance.

Manner of use and proper maintenance contribute not only to the lifespan of these machines, but their effectiveness as well. Disposing of hard food waste, excessive loads, and cooking oil or grease can cause additional wear and tear, ultimately shortening the longevity of the garbage disposal. With mindful treatment of your appliance, you can expect it to last as long as it was designed to.