Garbage Disposal Smoking – Here’s Why and How to Fix!

The kitchen is the heart of the home and it’s only natural that we want all appliances to run smoothly. A common concern for many homeowners is when they notice their garbage disposal smoking. This can be a startling sight, as well as a cause for concern. So, what leads to a garbage disposal smoking and how can one fix it?

There can be several reasons for this ranging from a stuck object to water leaking into the motor. In each case, the key is to identify the cause accurately, take immediate action to minimize damage and decide on the most suitable method of repair.

What Causes a Smoking Garbage Disposal?

Understanding the cause behind a problem is the first step toward finding a solution. With garbage disposals, several issues could lead to a smoking unit.

The Garbage Disposal is Stuck

Garbage disposals are designed to make your life easier by grinding soft food waste into small pieces, allowing them to pass seamlessly through your plumbing system.

However, not everything goes according to plan. Occasionally, the disposal system might get jammed by hard items or an excess of food. The motor could overheat due to this overload, leading to your garbage disposal smoking. The garbage disposal motor can also overheat and emit smoke due to a buildup of debris that hasn’t been cleared.

Often, the reason behind a jam is disposing of items that aren’t suitable for a garbage disposal. Hard food items like bones or non-food materials can get stuck in the disposal.

When this happens, the motor works harder to grind the object, leading to overheating and the potential emission of smoke.

Water May be Leaking Into the Motor

A leak in the sink or a faulty seal in the garbage disposal unit could allow water to seep into the motor. The result is often a smoking garbage disposal.

This is not only a serious concern due to potential motor damage but also poses a fire hazard. Hence, it’s critical to identify and address leaks as soon as possible.

A smoking garbage disposal could be the sign of an electrical issue. Since water and electricity make a dangerous combination, a water leak into the disposal unit can lead to serious problems.

This could range from a minor motor issue to a major electrical fire. Thus, it’s important to take any signs of smoking very seriously.

Defective Garbage Disposal

Sometimes, a garbage disposal unit can be faulty right from the start. Defects in the power module, circuit, or grinding plates can cause the unit to overheat, leading to smoke.

Manufacturing defects are quite rare, but when they occur, they can cause serious issues. A faulty circuit, poor power module, or damaged grinding plates can lead to overheating.

In worst-case scenarios, a defective unit could even catch fire, posing a serious safety hazard.

Not Enough Water While Grinding

One of the crucial things to remember while using a garbage disposal is to ensure there’s enough water flowing when grinding food waste. Without sufficient water, the unit can overheat, leading to a burning smell or smoke coming from the garbage disposal. 

Often, homeowners are unaware of how much water is needed during the grinding process. Water helps move the ground food waste through the disposal system and into the plumbing. Insufficient water can cause the waste to stick to the grinding chamber, causing it to overheat and potentially smoke.

Overloaded Garbage Disposal

Just like any machine, a garbage disposal is designed to handle a certain amount of load. Exceeding this load can lead to an overloaded garbage disposal. Such a unit can not only smoke but could also fail altogether, leaving you with a significant replacement job.

When too much food waste is forced down the disposal at once, it can’t grind and flush it out efficiently. The excess load can cause the motor to overheat, leading to smoke and potentially a non-functional unit.

Regularly overloading the disposal can significantly reduce its lifespan and lead to recurrent issues.

What to Do With a Smoking Garbage Disposal?

Experiencing a garbage disposal smoking can be alarming. Here are some steps you can take to mitigate the damage.

As soon as you notice your garbage disposal smoking, it’s important to act quickly. The first step is to turn off the disposal immediately to prevent further motor damage. You should also consider clearing any blockages. Use a long object to manually rotate the grinding plates and dislodge whatever is causing the jam.

Should you notice smoke coming from your disposal, disconnect the unit from the power source immediately. It’s also advisable to switch off the circuit breaker to prevent an electrical fire.

Don’t forget to wait until the unit has cooled before trying to inspect it or rectify the issue.

Can You Repair a Smoking Garbage Disposal?

Repairing a smoking garbage disposal depends on the cause of the smoke. If the issue is a simple jam or overload, it’s possible to repair the unit.

A jam or clog in your garbage disposal can often be solved at home. Once you’ve cleared the blockage, your disposal might resume normal operation. In case of an overload, the unit may reset itself once it cools down. Pressing the reset button could then restore the unit to working condition.

However, if the motor has burnt out or there’s a defect in the unit, the garbage disposal may be beyond repair. In such cases, replacement is the only option. When replacing your disposal, ensure you choose a unit that fits your needs and usage patterns to avoid similar problems in the future.

If you have to replace your garbage disposal, we highly suggest this corded garbage disposal from Waste King, or this non-corded garbage disposal from InSinkErator.

Read my comparison of corded vs non-corded garbage disposals if you’re unsure of the differences between the two.

Can Garbage Disposals Catch Fire?

Although it’s rare, garbage disposals can potentially catch fire due to severe overheating. This could be caused by a variety of reasons like an electrical defect, water leakage into the motor, or significant overload.

While instances of garbage disposals catching fire are rare, they can occur. A severe electrical defect or significant motor damage can lead to a fire. As such, a smoking garbage disposal should never be taken lightly and needs immediate attention.


Experiencing a garbage disposal smoking can be quite alarming. However, by understanding what might cause the problem and what steps you can take to address it, you can deal effectively with this issue.

Whether it’s a simple fix like unjamming the unit or resetting the overload switch, or a more complicated solution like a replacement, it’s important to address the issue immediately to prevent further damage.

Safety should always be a priority when dealing with electrical appliances, so follow the steps in your manual thoroughly and consult an electrician if necessary.

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