Even though a leaking garbage disposal is a fairly simple fix, there can be a few factors that can complicate the process somewhat. For example, there are a few different places within the connection system that may spring a leak, so often the hardest part of fixing a leaking garbage disposal is trying to determine where the leak is coming from. Aside from the obvious connections, possible areas for leaks include water inlets and outlets as well as rings and seals.

Most Common Causes of a Leaking Garbage Disposal

1. Check the Connections

  • Flange: The flange is the uppermost portion of the garbage disposal, where the disposal and the sink drain meet. The flange can develop a leak for a variety of reasons. Check that all the mounting bolts, typically there are three, are tight enough. Snug the bolts up with a wrench if you see water dripping from any of the bolts, being careful not to over-tighten the bolts. A second reason the flange may leak is if the seal, made of “plumber’s putty,” has failed. You will need to loosen the retaining bolts until you can see a gap around the flange. Force enough new putty in the gap, between the flange and the drain pipe, to fill in all the space. Tighten the retaining bolts.
  • Dishwasher Connection: Some disposals are connected to the dishwasher drain pipe, which drains leftover food removed from dishes going through the wash cycle. Leaks can sometimes occur in the hose connections where the disposal hose attaches to the dishwasher. Leaks can also happen if the seal on the hose is compromised or the clamp on the hose isn’t tight enough. If the connecting hose seems to be the source of the leak, try tightening the connection or replacing the seal. If neither solutions work, or the hose is obviously cracked or you have a crack in garbage disposal, you will need to replace the hose.
  • Discharge Pipe: The discharge pipe that goes into the drain of the sink is attached to the bottom of the garbage disposal. Either of these parts can sometimes loosen from regular use or may fail altogether with enough wear and tear. Check to be sure the connection is tight and tighten with a plumber’s wrench if necessary. If the discharge pipe still leaks, the seal that is located between the retaining nut and the discharge pipe may need to be replaced.
  • Jarred Connections: Considering the garbage-disposal systems is located under the kitchen sink, and since the area under the kitchen sink is a commonplace for storing all sorts of things, it is fairly common for the unit to get bumped. If it gets hit hard enough, the unit can actually shift so that it is no longer sitting straight. Pipes can also get knocked around, causing the seals to lose effectiveness.

2. Inspect for Possible Cracks

  • The interior shell of the garbage-disposal system becomes susceptible to cracking as it ages, allowing water to leak out from the seams. If this happens, the disposal unit will need to be replaced.
  • Connection hoses and pipes sometimes get pinched or banged, causing a crack, and a leak. Examine the hoses and pipes with a flashlight while running the garbage disposal.

Precautions to Take When Operating Your Garbage Disposal

Because water runs through the garbage disposals, attachments can and do come loose just from the continuous vibrations produced by the motor through normal use. This can be especially true if you are overworking the disposal. Consider the following dos and don’ts to properly maintain your disposal unit:

The List of Don’ts

  • Never pour bleach or other harsh cleaning chemicals into your sink, as these can potentially damage the seals in the disposal, as well as your plumbing. Instead, use an alternative all-natural method to cleaning your disposal and remove any smells that can often linger.
  • While the disposal is designed to grind up leftover food continually, just like any other machinery, it can be overworked. Asking your disposal to do too much at once is asking for trouble in the form of a leak or a big repair bill. Slow down a little, going plate by plate, and your disposal will thank you for it.

The List of Do’s

  • Only put soft foods down your disposal, as hard or very fibrous foods are tough on the grinding teeth and the motor. Things like bones, potato peels and coffee grounds don’t belong in the disposal, as these foods will clog the grinding disk, putting excessive pressure on the motor and can damage seals.
  • Run cold water when disposing of fatty foods to keep the fat in solid form, as hot water will cause the fat to liquefy. However, the fat will later expand when it solidifies in the pipes after it cools.
  • Always run the water for 10 to 15 seconds after the grinding is finished to ensure all of the food particles have been rinsed away.
  • Run a few trays of ice cubes, orange peels, and salt through the disposal to remove odors and keep your disposals clean. For really tough odors, add 1/2 cup of baking soda and 1/2 cup of vinegar and let it stand for 15 minutes before rinsing. Also, running ice through the disposal will actually sharpen the pipe, keeping dirt from getting stuck in the unit.
  • Check for leaks frequently. While you might think leaks are easy to notice, not every leak starts with a flood. The small bolts holding your disposal unit in place can start to drip long before you notice water running across the floor.
As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure; in other words, take care of your garbage disposal to prevent leaks from happening. Proper use, regular maintenance and frequent inspections for leaks will keep your disposal in top working order. If you experience any water leaks or burst pipes, please call us and we will be happy to help. If you need further information on maintaining your garbage disposal, call Cardinal Plumbing, Heating & Air Inc. in Sterling, VA at 703-721-8888. Don’t forget to visit our Service Area pages and follow us on Facebook for more exciting updates.