Trash Compactor Repair

This Fix-It Guide on trash compactor repair tells how a trash compactor works, what often goes wrong, how to identify a trash compactor problem, and what parts and tools you will need to fix it. It then gives simple step-by-step instructions for how to disassemble a trash compactor and how to replace or adjust a chain. It also refers to Fix-It Guides for electrical receptacle repair, electrical cord repair, motor repair, appliance controls repair, and more for further information to help fix a trash compactor.

How Does a Trash Compactor Work?

Trash Compactor Repair

Components of a typical trash compactor.

A trash compactor is a device that compresses trash and recyclables into small, tight bundles for easy disposal. Items are placed in the compactor, the drawer is closed, and the switch turned on. Inside, an electric or hydraulic ram inside the unit moves downward until it forces the air out of the trash, compacting it. The ram then reverses direction so you can remove the bundle for disposal. Internal switches turn the ram on and off as needed.

What Can Go Wrong with a Trash Compactor?

Most common trash compactor problems include failed switches and worn sprockets, chain, roller bearings, and power nuts. The motor can burn out. Debris can become stuck inside and limit movement.


Never put aerosol cans or flammable items in the trash compactor!

How Can I Identify a Trash Compactor Problem?

  • If a trash compactor doesn’t come on, check power at the electrical receptacle and test the electrical cord. Make sure the drawer is completely closed. Look for and reconnect loose terminal wires. Test the drawer safety and on-off switches. If all else fails, test the motor.
  • If the compactor starts, then stops, test the top-limit switch and the motor.
  • If the motor runs, but the ram doesn’t move, check for a damaged chain (see below) or a faulty drive gear (see the Motor Fix-It Guide).
  • If the trash compactor makes unusual noises, check the owner’s manual and follow instructions for lubrication.
  • If the compactor starts but doesn’t compact completely, check for debris in the power screw threads or nuts.

What Do I Need for Trash Compactor Repair?

Replacement parts are available from the manufacturer and aftermarket suppliers as well as from local plumbing supply stores and appliance parts stores. The tools you might need to fix a trash compactor include these:

  • Screwdrivers
  • Wrenches
  • Nut driver
  • Multimeter

What Are the Steps to Trash Compactor Repair?

Disassemble a trash compactor:

  1. Unplug the electrical cord, or turn off the breaker or remove the fuse from the electrical service panel.
  2. Unfasten the brackets or screws around the compactor to remove it from the cabinet for easier repair.
  3. Remove the top and side cover panels with wrenches or nut drivers.
  4. Lay out a protective pad where you will work, then remove the bottom panel, being careful of debris that may fall out.
  5. Remove the cover panels to access the motor, chain, and switches.
  6. As needed, remove fasteners holding the control panel in place. Test the electrical cord, motor, switches and other controls (see the Appliance Controls Fix-It Guide) using a multimeter and replace as needed.

Fix-It Tip

Refer to the trash compactor owner’s manual for specific information on and sources of replacement parts. Make sure you specify the model and serial number, typically found near the door, when ordering replacement parts. You’ll also want to read the manual for instructions on lubricating and maintaining your trash compactor. An hour once or twice a year can extend the compactor’s life by many years.

Replace or adjust a trash compactor chain:

  1. Unplug the electrical cord, or turn off the breaker or remove the fuse from the electrical service panel.
  2. Disassemble the unit to access the motor (see above).
  3. Remove the motor mounting bolts and the motor as needed. (Some models are easier to repair than others so first refer to the owner’s manual or a service manual.)
  4. Remove the drive gear from the shaft.
  5. Remove the chain from the drive gear’s rear sprocket.
  6. Remove the power screws from the frame without removing the power screw nuts.
  7. Remove the chain from the sprockets.
  8. Install the new chain around the sprockets and adjust the chain tension.
  9. Reassemble the unit.
  10. Plug the unit in, or turn on the circuit breaker or replace the circuit fuse.

Fix-It Tip

It’s a good idea to check tension on the drive chain or belt once a year to make sure it isn’t so loose that it damages gears and sprockets. If you’re uncomfortable with this job, remove the unit and take it to a professional to save the price of a house call.