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How to Fix a Garbage Disposal

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

A garbage disposal is a relatively simple machine that generally operates trouble-free for several years. Eventually, however, a garbage disposal can get stuck or break down entirely. You can handle most repairs yourself. Don’t try to run the disposal if it hums but doesn’t grind.

To fix a garbage disposal that doesn’t work:

      • 1. Push the reset button on the bottom of the disposal and then try it again.
      • 2. Make sure its cord is plugged into a working electrical outlet or hardwired to an electrical box. If necessary, reset the circuit breaker that supplies it.
    • 3. To clear a jam, insert a 1/4-inch hex wrench into the hex-shaped hole in the underside of the garbage disposal and crank both directions a few times to free-up the impellers.
    • 4. If you don’t have a hex wrench, disconnect the power, put a short broom stick into the disposal, push it down against one of the blades, and try to rotate the impeller back and forth.

You’ll find more detail about these steps below.

If your garbage disposal is beyond repair, replace it with a new garbage disposal. This is something you can probably do yourself, too, as discussed in our article, How to Install a Garbage Disposal.

How a Garbage Disposal Works

diagram of a garbage disposal©Don Vandervort, HomeTips

The Working Parts of 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 a 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 Does Not 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 garbage disposal reset button on the underside of the disposal and press this reset 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 is hardwired to an electrical box or 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 Hums or 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. Even when jammed, the disposal will drain and, when the power is disconnected, you’ll be able to feel the cutters on the impeller pivot in most cases.

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.

If the motor has burned out, you’ll need to replace the disposal. You can buy a new disposal quickly and easily online. Please see the HomeTips Garbage Disposals Buying Guide.

To clear a jammed disposal:

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

garbage disposer wrenchIn-Sink-Erator

Inexpensive garbage disposal wrench clears a jammed disposer. Buy on Amazon

2 Under 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.)

3 If 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. Here is a video that shows how to do this:

4 If 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.

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

Basic Garbage Disposal Repair & Removal Video

Disposal Grinds Poorly

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

drain augerGeneral Pipe Cleaners

Inexpensive drain auger is helpful for simple drain clogs. Buy on Amazon

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. You’ll probably need to dismantle the drain pipe under the sink and use a drain auger to clear the clog. See Sink & Drain Clog Repairs.

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.

Featured Resource: Find a Local Appliance Repair Pro


How a Garbage Disposal Works
How to Install a Garbage Disposal
Garbage Disposal Buying Guide

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Garbage Disposals

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