How to Fix a Garbage Disposal

©Don Vandervort, HomeTips

Garbage Disposer Parts Diagram

If your garbage disposal is jammed, clogged, or leaking, this illustrated step-by-step guide will help you fix it quickly and easily.

A garbage disposal is a relatively simple machine that generally operates trouble-free for several years. Eventually, however, they can get stuck or break down entirely. You can handle most repairs yourself with little more than a couple of screwdrivers and a hex wrench. And if replacement is required, it’s quite likely you can do this work yourself, too, as discussed in the How to Install a Garbage Disposal.

As shown in the diagram here, a shredder inside the unit breaks down the food, and then an impeller arm and plate force the liquid and particles out the drain. The unit also has a dishwasher inlet so dishwasher drain water can run through the garbage disposal, allowing the unit to chew up any large particles before they are drained away.

Unplug or turn off the electrical circuit that powers your garbage disposal before making any repairs.

Garbage Disposal Doesn’t Work

If the garbage disposal doesn’t do anything—meaning it doesn’t even hum or make a sound—the problem is likely to be that it isn’t receiving power. Look for a reset button on the underside of the disposal and press this button. That may be all that’s needed to get it running again. If not, unplug the disposal from its electrical outlet and test the outlet with another appliance, such as a hair dryer. If it doesn’t work, go to the circuit breaker panel and reset the circuit breaker that serves the disposal (often the same circuit used by the dishwasher) by turning it all of the way off and then back on.

Garbage Disposal Is Jammed

You’ll know your disposal is jammed or clogged when the motor hums but the disposal doesn’t grind, is overly noisy, or runs and then stops before you turn it off. The problem is often a piece of bone, a fruit pit, or the like stuck between an impeller blade and the drain hole. Don’t continue to run the disposal when it’s jammed as this can burn out the motor. Be sure to unplug the disposal or turn off the electrical circuit that powers it before making any repairs.

To clear a jammed disposal:

1Unplug the unit or turn off the circuit breaker that serves it.


Use the reset button or a hex wrench on the underside to free-up a stuck garbage disposer.

2Under the sink, look at the bottom of the disposal for a hex-shaped hole. If you see one, find a 1/4-inch hex wrench that fits the hole (often there is one attached to the disposal). Fit the hex wrench into the hole, and force it back and forth in both directions a few times to free the impellers. (Note: Some models have a reversing switch that accomplishes the same action.)

3If your disposal doesn’t have a hex hole or you can’t find a hex wrench, put a short broom stick into the disposal (with the with the power disconnected!), force it down against one of the blades, and try to rotate the impeller back and forth.

4If something has been put in the disposal that shouldn’t have—such as metal, rubber, glass, or fibrous food waste such as artichoke leaves or banana peels—use tongs or pliers to pull the material out. Never use your hand.

5You may have to remove the disposal to clear a jam. This is actually a lot easier to do than it might seem. Here is a really helpful video that shows the basic techniques for simple fixes and, if necessary, removing a disposal:

Disposal Grinds Poorly

Drain plunger's bell-shaped end folds up for sinks. Neiko

Drain plunger’s bell-shaped end folds up for sinks.

If your disposal grinds poorly, make sure that you are running enough water while operating the unit and that you are not grinding matter that you shouldn’t. If you can hear the garbage disposal running but it is not grinding, the blades may be broken. It’s usually easier and cheaper to just replace the entire unit. See How to Install a Garbage Disposal.

Disposal Drain Is Clogged

When water stands in the sink, it means the drain is clogged either in the disposal or further down the drain line. This isn’t a garbage disposal problem but rather a plumbing problem. See How to Plunge a Clogged Drain.

Garbage Disposal Leaks

InSinkErator garbage disposalInSinkErator

Top-of-the-line InsinkErator Excel disposer does fine grinding with power. Shop for disposals now.

If you notice leaks below the disposal, pinpoint the source of the leak, and tighten the offending connection. If necessary, replace the drain gasket or the unit’s mounting screws.

If the unit is unreasonably noisy, check that something hasn’t entered the unit that shouldn’t have. If all is clear, it’s generally cheapest, fastest, and wisest to replace the entire unit. You can buy a new disposal quickly and easily online. Please see the Garbage Disposals Buying Guide.

Basic Garbage Disposal Care

Garbage disposals work best if you follow these basic rules:

• Use cold water when grinding food (hot water can melt fats and clog the mechanism and the pipes)

• Do not overfill

• Do not pour bleach, drain cleaners, or other chemicals into the unit

• Do not grind overly fibrous materials, bones, or coffee grounds (check the owner’s manual) or such materials as glass, metal, or rubber

• Run water before and after you use the disposal If something has been put in the disposal that should not have been, use tongs or pliers to pull the material out. Never use your hand. To clean a garbage disposal of built-up sludge and debris, fill it with ice cubes and a cup of rock salt and then run it for about five seconds. If your garbage disposal smells bad, you can deodorize it by running warm water down it while you grind a quartered lemon.

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Join the Conversation

  • wayne

    The disposal seems to work okay. It grinds okay and water passes through it when it is running.
    When the disposal stops there is a rush of water running backwards back into the sink.

    What would cause this? How could I resolve this issue?

  • Lyn

    Disposal works great, but now when I run my dish washer, the drain water comes out the air gap. how do I fix this?

  • Jesse Campagna

    Thanks! Incredibly helpful!

  • Fred

    Hello, my disposal wil run for about 2 seconds and then it trips the breaker, anyone have an idea?

  • Danielle Rodenkirchen

    I’m having the same issue…can’t seem to find anything on the internet pertaining to this particular problem.

  • toolboxwebdesign

    Thank you!

    • Don Vandervort, HomeTips

      Glad we helped!

  • Don Vandervort, HomeTips

    If it’s leaking from the hoses or pipes under there, fixing it is usually just a matter of tightening fittings. If the bottom of the disposal is leaking, you’ll probably need to replace it.

  • Don Vandervort, HomeTips

    I’m assuming you turned the breaker back on after using the hex wrench. If there is no noise at all (such as a hum), it’s likely the unit isn’t receiving power.

  • Kaitlyn Ward

    This was very helpful, especially the video!!! Thank you so much!!

  • Lea Tyler

    Ok so my garbage disposal won’t work. It hums when you switch it on but won’t do anything else Please help.

  • Elizabeth Thames

    My garbage disposal is leaking from the bottom – I’ve verified it’s not the hoses or pipes. I’ve been told I could replace an inside gasket but it will begin leaking again within a year. We bought the house 1 year ago and the disposal looks pretty new. I’ve replaced 2 garbage disposals previously and it’s not hard but if i don’t need to replace i’d rather not, THOUGHTS?

  • Tj Boast

    Thanks, this fixed my problem.

  • Jerimi Paul-Burnside

    I have a weird one, and I can’t find any answers. I put some coffee grounds down my disposal this morning, and it worked fine. I ran the dishwasher, and noticed an awful smell coming from the disposal, so I turned on the disposal. It hums, but doesn’t spin. Here’s the thing, though. The blade is free-spinning, not jammed. It just isn’t turning, even though it’s not jammed, and is getting power. Any ideas?

    • Rebekah Gottlieb

      U figure it out? Same prob here!

      • LoGib

        Me too??!!

    • Larry Gomez

      Mine does the same and another source suggested that the motor was faulty. Unfortunately, one has to really scour the net for some info. I am now headed out to buy a new disposal as this one is about ten years old anyway.

      • Jerimi Paul-Burnside

        I wish. It mysteriously started working again. I don’t understand it. We’re refraining from using it at all, at this point, so that we don’t have to call the apartment management. I hate having them over to fix things.

        • Larry Gomez

          Water had leaked into the motor and froze it up. I replaced the whole unit and found a crack in the plastic housing. This unit was 14 years old so we got our use out of it!

  • Mary Roberts

    I need help! We had a power outage in neighborhood. When lights came on garbage disposal stopped working. I tried GFI switch, circuit breaker but nothing would turn it on. I hit reset button and that worked. Now it won’t turn off. It’s turning (so it’s not just humming) but it literally won’t turn off unless I unplug it from the wall. The wall switch is in the “off” position and it’s still on.

  • RSbaer

    Wondering if someone can help with this one: there was significant leaking under the sink, and we discovered that the dishwasher discharge hose had gotten disconnected from the disposal. I saw, though, that the dishwasher inlet in the disposal — which I see from the manual is supposed to be protruding from the disposal – was shorn right off of the disposal. The discharge hose is still connected to the disposal’s dishwasher inlet, but the inlet is broken off from the disposal. Has anyone seen this before? Is there any way to repair this? Disposal is pretty old (Insinkerator 777ss, built in 2003); I understand if i have to replace it but want to make sure there is not an easy repair.

  • Greg

    to turn on my sinkerator I have to turn the stopper all the way to the left or right, as expected, but then I have to gently push down on the stopper handle before the motor starts. Any ideas?

  • Lynda Doose Snider

    The garbage disposal in our vacation home has been unused for about a year. Now when I turn on the switch there is just a hum. I ran water from the faucet for quite awhile but no luck. The reset button is not popped. Any ideas?

  • Amie-Charlie Herrera

    Let the disposal do the work for you!!!!!!!!!!!!! Plumber trick they dont want you to know… the disposal is a pump so let it uclog your drain for you…. All you need to do is block the sink opposite the disposal really tightly and turn the disposal on while running water into it and wait…. it might take a minute but it will work my wife clogs our sink regularly and i have to do it all the time

  • Smarterthanyou11

    Went through the steps and got my humming disposal to work again! Thank you! Using the hex tool freed up a stuck metal pop cap

  • Capt’n

    I went to Home Depot just tonight to buy a replacement. They were charging $200 for their cheapest model plus $200 for installation but they were too busy so I left. I went home and googled for service and accidentally stumbled on your site. All I had to do was push a reset button and that got things running. I didn’t even realize there was such a button. Thank you sooooooo much. You saved me $400.

  • Iverson

    My disposal is working (turns and drains) however, the food isn’t leaving it. I have bits of food that remains in the bottom. Tried flooding the sink with lots of water but the food particles (rice in size) will not leave and is starting to smell!

  • ABraum Happosai Quintero

    one of my blades is coming off and makes a really loud scratch… there a way to replace the blades or do i have to buy a new disposal…my disposal is 13+ years old lol

  • ABraum Happosai Quintero

    one of my blades is coming off and makes a really loud scratch…
    there a way to replace the blades or do i have to buy a new
    disposal…my disposal is 13+ years old lol

  • pam miller

    my disposal is cracked along the side… small leaks of water. is there anything I can use to seal it or do I need a new one? probably 20 years old.

  • Lisa

    The reset button on my disposal has become unattached from the unit. Any way to fish it out and reattach it?

  • Sheryl Luitjens

    You are awesome!!!!! I knew of the Reset Button but not about the the Hex Wrench. Thank you so much. You saved people hundreds of dollars.

  • Jim Totter

    Thanks for showing how to easily remove the unit from the sink. Yes, I had to go that far to get an infant feeding spoon out!

  • susan finesman

    susan F used the new wrench to unstick the motor but know it is leaking from what appears to be the reset button. what to do?

    • Don Vandervort, HomeTips

      Susan, unplug the disposal or, if it is hardwired, turn off the breaker that controls it. Water and electricity don’t mix. Water coming out of the bottom of a disposer usually indicates corrosion, which means it’s time for a new disposer. See our garbage disposal buying guide:

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