Help! My Garbage Disposal is Leaking – What Should I Do?

By: Diana Rodriguez-Zaba
Updated on: May 21, 2024

Are you noticing wet spots in the cabinets under the sink?

You might be dealing with a leaking garbage disposal. 

Here at ServiceMaster Restoration by Zaba, we have more than 85 years of combined experience helping Chicago-area customers address water damage caused by garbage disposals.

In this blog, we’ll share our top tips to address this kitchen disaster. 

Before You Get Started

While DIY repair is usually possible, you need to be careful about how you begin the process.

Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Disconnect the Power: Before starting any work on your garbage disposal, unplug the unit or make sure the circuit breaker is off. This will keep you safe while you work on the unit. 
  • Turn off the Water: Make sure the water supply to the disposal unit is turned off to avoid any water leakage during the repair. Keep a bucket and towels nearby to mop up any water that spills while you’re working on the disposal. 
  • Wear Protective Gear: Wear protective gloves and eyewear to safeguard against any sharp objects or debris.
  • Gather Your Tools: To fix your garbage disposal, you’ll need a few tools. We recommend grabbing a wrench, a flashlight, and a pair of pliers. You may also need a screwdriver to disassemble parts.
  • Check for Damage: Inspect the unit for any visible damage or cracks. If any are found, do not attempt to repair it yourself. Contact a plumber to replace the unit for you.

How to Fix a Leaking Garbage Disposal

garbage disposal water damage on kitchen floor

1. Remove debris and food

Clean the garbage disposal to remove any food or waste materials that might interfere with your work. If the disposal is operational, flushing some cool water through it is a great way to do this. 

2. Identify and fix the issue

Generally, leaks are caused by one of these problems:

Problem: A Leaking Sink Flange

How to Locate it

  • Look for signs of water accumulation or dampness under the sink. 
  • Musty smells are also a common indication of a leak, as are visible water stains on the cabinet floor underneath the sink or rust and corrosion on the flange itself. 
  • Remember to always shut off the water supply before investigating to prevent any potential water damage.

Solution

  • To repair a leaking sink flange, gather tools like a wrench, plumber’s putty, and a new sink flange if required. 
  • Start by turning off the water supply and then loosen the flange using your wrench. 
  • Remove the old plumber’s putty, clean the area thoroughly, and then apply a new layer of plumber’s putty around the part where the flange seats into the sink hole.
  • If the flange is damaged, replace it with a new one. 
  • Finally, tighten the flange back into place, ensuring it’s secure and wipe away any excess putty. 
  • Turn the water supply back on and check for leaks.

Problem: Bad Hose Connections

How to Locate it:

  • Start by checking for visible leaks under the sink where the hose is connected to the water supply. Water pooling or damp areas are telltale signs of a leaky hose. 
  • Look for corrosion or wear on the hose itself and the connecting pieces.
  • Listen for any unusual sounds, like hissing or dripping, which could hint at a hidden leakage.

Solution:

  • Turn off the water supply to prevent leaks. 
  • Unscrew the hose by turning it counterclockwise and remove it from its connection point. 
  • Examine the hose and its end for any visible damage. If the hose is faulty, replace it with a new one. If the hose is fine, the problem may lie with the seal. 
  • Wrap plumbers’ tape around the thread of the connection point before reattaching the hose, this should secure the connection and prevent any future leaks.

Problem: A Cracked Garbage Disposal

How to Locate it:

  • Look for water leakage under the sink, especially around the area where the garbage disposal unit is installed. 
  • Visually inspect the unit for obvious cracks. 
  • Listen for an unusual noise when the unit runs, and pay attention to decreases in the unit’s efficiency.

Solution:

  • First, ensure your safety by unplugging the disposal and using a flashlight to inspect the damage. 
  • Clean the area around the crack thoroughly, and identify the location of the crack.
  • If the unit is leaking from the top, reseal or replace the sink flange.
  • Always remember, if you’re unsure or uncomfortable making these repairs yourself, hiring a professional plumber is a sensible choice.
  • If the unit is leaking from the side, check the dishwasher and waste line hose gaskets, replace them as needed, and tighten line clamps and screws.
  • If the unit is leaking from the bottom, it usually can’t be repaired. It’s best to replace the disposal.
  • If the crack is small, a plumbing epoxy might be sufficient for repair. 

3. Reconnect the power and test the disposal

Once you’ve made the necessary adjustments or replacements, reconnect the power, run water through the disposal, and observe to see if the leak persists. If it does, it may be best to consult a professional plumber.

Remember, when working with appliances and plumbing, safety should always be your first priority.

How to Address Water Damage

Water damage, if left untreated, can lead to severe structural issues within a property, compromising its safety and value. A damp, soggy, water-damaged area provides a perfect breeding ground for molds, which can harm your home and your health. 

Mold growth not only degrades the aesthetic appeal of a property but poses serious health hazards. Prolonged exposure to molds can lead to respiratory problems, allergic reactions, and even neurological issues. 

Therefore, it is imperative to address water damage promptly and thoroughly to prevent mold growth and other issues and protect your home from further damage. 

With that in mind, follow these DIY steps for restoring a water-damaged kitchen.

  1. Turn off the water coming into the kitchen until after disposal repairs.
  2. Mop up standing water, and assess the extent of damage.
  3. Set up fans to circulate air throughout the kitchen.
  4. Clean and sanitize floors, baseboards, and other affected surfaces.
  5. Take a close look at drywall that might have wicked up water.
  6. Be sure to clean, sanitize, and dry water-damaged cabinets.
  7. Take care of disposal repairs, and double-check the unit for proper operation.
  8. Run fans for at least three days after cleaning to completely dry the kitchen.
  9. Consider hiring a professional restoration team to provide water damage repair and restoration services, including tearing out damaged flooring, trim and drywall, mold removal, and expert help with your homeowner’s insurance claim. 

How to Prevent Garbage Disposal Leaks

1. Grind only soft foods

Garbage disposals are a useful kitchen appliance, but they aren’t designed to handle all types of waste. Specifically, only soft foods (and only foods – never non-food items) should be ground in a garbage disposal. 

Hard or fibrous materials like egg shells and fruit and vegetable peels can damage the blades or motor, reducing the system’s efficiency or causing it to break down completely. 

These materials can also get stuck in the pipes, creating clogs and backing up your plumbing system. 

So, to maintain the longevity of your garbage disposal and to prevent costly plumbing repairs, it’s best to limit its use to foods that are easy to grind. If you’re grinding large pieces of food, cut them into smaller chunks before you put them into the garbage disposal. 

2. Never put grease in your garbage disposal

Depositing grease down your garbage disposal can lead to significant plumbing problems. When the grease cools, it solidifies, creating a blockage in the pipe, which impedes the usual flow of water. 

Over time, this build-up can lead to completely blocked pipes, potentially requiring expensive repair work.

Even if you add hot water or detergent, grease can re-solidify further down the pipeline, causing issues that are both out of sight and out of reach.

Because of this, we recommend disposing of grease in a sealed container in the trash.

3. Run cold water through the sink before and after using the disposal

Running cold water through your garbage disposal before and after grinding food is crucial for its maintenance and optimal performance. 

The cold water helps to solidify any grease or oils that may have been present in the food, preventing them from sticking to the blades or the inner machinery. 

It also flushes out the ground waste, ensuring that it passes smoothly through the disposal and into the plumbing, therefore reducing the likelihood of clogs. 

As you grind foods, keep the motor running until the grinding is complete. When all the food has been ground, turn off the disposal but let the water continue to run for 15 seconds to flush out remaining food particles. You can also add a little dish soap during this step to keep the disposal clean. 

4. Prioritize routine maintenance

Regular inspection and maintenance of your garbage disposal unit are crucial for its optimal functioning and longevity. 

Over time, wear and tear or improper use can lead to small leaks, which may seem insignificant at first but can lead to larger issues down the road. 

By regularly inspecting your garbage disposal and addressing small leaks immediately, you can prevent a minor problem from becoming a costly repair, maintain a healthy and safe kitchen environment, and extend the lifespan of your appliance.

Dealing with Garbage Disposal Water Damage in Chicago? We Can Help!

garbage disposal water damage cleanup with air mover equipment
Professional restoration companies have advanced equipment to tackle garbage disposal water damage

Whether it’s a leaky disposal in the kitchen or burst pipes in the basement, you can count on ServiceMaster Restoration by Zaba for expert water damage restoration. For more than 10 years, we’ve taken care of Chicago homes and businesses across the city and suburbs.

When water damage soaks your property in Chicago, IL, call us first. We’re just around the corner: 773-647-1985

Is it OK to run the dishwasher if the garbage disposal is leaking?

In general, no. If the leak is coming from the dishwasher hose that drains through the disposal, water pressure can weaken hose clamps and result in flooding.

Why should you replace a garbage disposal leaking from the bottom?

Bottom leaks are usually caused by cracked interior seals around the unit’s motor. These areas are difficult to access and repair. It’s easier to replace the leaking garbage disposal.

How long should a typical garbage disposal last?

Most new garbage disposals last from 10 to 15 years. A busy kitchen might shorten that lifespan to eight years. Common garbage disposal failures include worn-down blades and burned-out motors.