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Garbage disposal may be entirely innocent; check it all out

QuestionMy garbage disposal leaks off and on. I've put a pan under it and some days the pan is full of water and then for several weeks there are no leaks. Any suggestions?

AnswerBefore you do anything, I suggest that you isolate the problem by monitoring the leak and what you were doing at the time the leak occurred. Pinpointing the problem could help save on the overall cost of the repair, whether you do the project yourself or bring in a professional.

As you monitor the situation, be open to the possibility that the garbage disposal may not be the culprit at all. There's a lot happening under the kitchen sink, and leaks could be from the sprayer, faucet, hot and cold shut-off valves, hot water dispenser, water filter, second sink drain, or any of the connecting drainpipes underneath the sink.

However, if the disposal is the source of your leak, as you suspect, it could be leaking within the unit or from the bottom, in which case it's time to replace it. I suggest that you try to purchase the same brand and model. With any luck, all the hookups will match.

The most common place for a leak is at the sink flange. It may have rusted through or there may be a poor seal. Water could leak from under the sink flange because the plumber's putty there has hardened or the fiber gasket on the underside of the sink drain has deteriorated. If that's the case, replace the plumber's putty and fiber gasket or replace the sink flange assembly.

Water could be leaking around the mounting gasket/splash baffle, i.e., the gasket that sits between the unit's lower and upper mounting rings. Water could also be coming out from around the gasket at the discharge pipe (drainpipe) located on the side of the unit, or water could be leaking from the dishwasher's inlet, also found on the side of the unit just above the discharge pipe.

The solution here is to replace the mounting gasket, replace the gasket around the drainpipe, and tighten the clamp on the dishwasher's inlet house.

It's also possible that the gasket between the hopper and the shredder housing needs replacing (depending on the design of the unit). You might need a service tech to replace the seal.

Many individuals can handle disposal repairs successfully. First, turn off the breaker to the unit, disconnect the dishwasher drain hose (if you have a dishwasher), and finally, disconnect the discharge pipe. Recruit someone to hold the disposal so it doesn't fall while you insert a jam wrench or screwdriver into the disposal's locking collar. Turn it counterclockwise to unlock the unit from the upper mounting ring. Now you can pull it out from under the sink.

One thing to remember about the sink flange is that you have to remove the snap ring on the underside (it's hard to see at first) before the sink flange can be removed from the upper mounting ring. Now remove the flange from the sink and replace the seals.

Garbage disposals typically have a life expectancy of about ten years, although they may last longer. You can help extend your disposal's life by running it every time food is placed in it. The acids and oils from food can eventually eat through the seals, causing leaks. Another simple tip, one that can save on plumbing headaches, is to always use cold water when running the disposal, not hot. Hot water dissolves fats and grease and deposits them in the drainpipe. Eventually the pipe will clog, especially if it is galvanized pipe.

Copyright © 2005, 2006, & 2008 LAF/C.R.S., Inc. All rights reserved.
Question answered by Leon A. Frechette.



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