In this article, you’re going to learn exactly what to do if you jam your garbage disposal. As a bonus, we’ll also tell you how to solve four other common garbage disposal problems.
3 Ways to Fix a Jammed Garbage Disposal
Generally speaking, disposals are dependable home appliances. But have you ever had an experience like this:
You’ve just had a big dinner. Instead of throwing the left-over food and debris into the trash, you stuff it all down your disposal. You hit the power switch and…nothing. Once again, you hit the switch, only to be met with a humming sound, then a click. You do it again, and not even the humming greets you.
Here’s how to fix it.
1. Hit the Reset Button
Before attempting any fix, make sure the disposal’s power switch is in the “off” position. When you jam your garbage disposal, there is a reset button underneath it that trips out. It’s a safety measure similar to how your circuit breaker “trips” off when too much electricity flows through it.
Wait about 15 minutes before you hit the reset button. It’s located on the underside of most disposals and usually red. You should hear a click when you push in the red reset button. That means it has been reset.
With the water running, try switching on the disposal. In many cases, this is enough to fix the problem. But if it’s really jammed, it will probably trip again. If so, leave the switch off for a few minutes before hitting the reset button again.
2. Clear the Debris
Do you still have a jam in your garbage disposal? No worries, here’s what to try next.
Use a pair of tongs — never put your hands down a garbage disposal, even if it’s off — remove any large items from the disposal.
Once you remove the largest pieces of food and debris, hit the reset button, turn the water on, and hit the on switch. It should be running smoothly now.
Remember to always throw away large pieces of food and debris into a trash can, not your disposal. You’ll avoid having to go through this process next time.
3. Use the Wrenchette
If the disposal is still balking at your previous efforts, locate the wrenchette (it’s simply the small, custom wrench that came with your garbage disposal).
If you threw it away with your packaging, you can use a 1/4-inch Allen wrench instead (also called a Hex wrench).
Insert the wrenchette or Allen wrench into the hex hole (also called the flywheel) under the disposal and rotate It back and forth. Continue working the wrench until it turns freely in a complete revolution — both clockwise and counterclockwise.
Remove the wrench before you try the disposal again. At this point, going through all three steps above, your garbage disposal should not have any issues working again. If not, you should probably contact a trusted local plumber.
4 Problems and Quick Solutions
We’ve seen how to get a jammed garbage disposal working again. But there are other problems that impact the performance of your disposal. Here are solutions to four such issues.
- Not Running At All
It could be an obstruction (if so, use the above instructions) or a power issue. Check the power to the circuit that feeds the disposal. If it’s okay, then check the power at the switch.
If you have power coming into, but not leaving, the switch, then your switch is the culprit. Turn the circuit off and replace the switch or call a service company.
- Poor Draining
Make sure the water is running full blast when using the disposal. The more water, the better drainage. If it’s still draining slowly, disconnect the J bend (also called a P-trap or S-trap, it is the U-shaped pipe under your sink) and check for a clog.
This is normally easy to do by unscrewing the pipe nut with a pipe wrench or channel lock wrench. Place a bucket under it first to catch water and debris. You are likely to get grease and other nasty things that have accumulated in your pipes over time.
An old wire coat hanger can easily dislodge most clogs. Once you’ve scraped out what you can, just reattach and tighten snugly into place. Your drain issue should now be a thing of the past.
If your garbage disposal is leaking around the mounting assembly, try tightening the screws on the sink-mounting ring. You’ll need an offset screwdriver to be able to reach the screws once the disposal is already assembled.
Check to be sure that the disposal’s lower mounting ring is fully engaged and locked to the mounting assembly. If the leak is coming from the drainpipe, tighten the screw that holds the drain gasket.
If the leak persists, you might try replacing the drain gasket. And if you’ve already gotten frustrated by that point, consider hiring a plumber.
- Too Noisy
Let’s start with this: garbage disposals have never been known for being the quietest appliance in your home.
They’re noisy by nature (sounds like the name of an old-school rap group!). But you’ll know when the sound is even louder (and more grating) than normal. They make quite a ruckus when something gets in there.
With the power switch off, grab a flashlight and look down the drain for anything that might be causing the extra-loud noise. Pay special attention to the area around the outer edge of the rotating shredder, where you will see V-shaped or window openings.
Plastic or metal items (spoons, forks, knives) are usually the culprits. Fish out the item(s) with a pair of tongs.
If there’s nothing in the disposal, check the mounting screws. If loose, they may vibrate enough to cause a lot of noise. The noise could also indicate that you have a damaged flywheel. If that’s the case, you’ll be better off buying a new unit than going through the motions and expense of trying to repair it.
Learn More About Garbage Disposals
Want to learn even more about repairing garbage disposal problems and other common problems — including what food items should never go into your disposal?
- For more tips and tricks, read this article: How to Troubleshoot A Garbage Disposal.
- To replace a garbage disposal, watch this:
All in all, most garbage disposals are unusually dependable, always there when you need them, and rarely complain.
But if you jam your garbage disposal, you can bet it’s going to protest. In fact, it will either get too noisy, spring a leak, or just stop doing your bidding. So keep these garbage disposal repair tips close by. You might need them someday.
In the meantime, keep these tips in mind: always turn the power off before you work on them, never put your hands down the disposal, and don’t put plastic, metal, and these food items down your garbage disposal.