How to Fix Your Garbage Disposal

Posted on September 3, 2015

fix garbage disposal

How to fix a jammed garbage disposal? A yucky stew in the sink, or a backed up dishwasher, not cool. But you can fix it yourself in most cases.

If your disposal is clogged and you have a dishwasher, do not run the dishwasher. The dishwasher drains through the sink plumbing (this is true in all houses), and if you run it with a clogged sink, you will get water backing up into the sink and probably straight out of the dishwasher onto your floor. You have been warned…. Now, on to the disposal!

Before we send out maintenance, which can be costly for you, we wanted to make a few suggestions that you can try to fix the problem yourself. In most cases, a disposal that won’t run, is a simple fix.

Clog or disposal issue?

Normal grinding noises, but water won’t drain? You have a clog!

If you turn on the disposal, can you hear it whirling around, and see the water being disturbed by the blades, but the water isn’t going down? You have a clog! You may also have both a jammed disposal and a clog. I’d fix the disposal first because if you get it running, then it might just clear the drainage issue all by itself (see troubleshooting steps below for humming/no humming). However, here’s a FAQ on unclogging the sink itself (regardless of whether the disposal is working).

Humming or no humming?

No Humming

  • There is a reset button, usually red. On the side or the bottom. Check it and push it. Turn back on.
  • No humming and reset didn’t work? Check fuse box. If flipped, put back. Try again. No luck. Check reset now.

If either of these make it hum (even for a short period of time), move on to humming. This is progress. It means something is causing it to trip, and that something is probably a jam.

Humming, no grinding? It’s jammed.

Remove what is jammed in it

Could be something big. Who knows what might have slipped in there. If it is jammed make sure the switch is off before you put anything  in the opening. Remove any debris from inside the disposal. You may need to use tongs or pliers — again be sure its off! — to remove whatever is inside the disposal (which is off, right? Seriously…not just not working, I mean off at the switch, you don’t want to lose a couple digits, right?). If there is something solid in there, that won’t grind (like plastic, metal, glass), will just tear it up and keep jamming it, so we have to get anything like that out first.

Dislodge with a hex wrench

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. You may not be able to move it, if not, go back to the broom handle because you can get more torque by twisting it around inside.

Dislodge with a switch

Some models actually have a switch to reverse the direction of the blades to unstick whatever’s stuck. Most do not, but if you see a switch, it’s either power (check that!) or a reverse (try that too).

Dislodge with a stick: Try a wooden broom handle or large sturdy wooden spoon

Take the end of a wooden broom handle or spoon, put it in the drain, and move it to dislodge whatever is in the disposal. If doing this, you may have to put some weight into it. Run the water and try the switch again.

You should be able to crank the broom handle hard enough to manually make the bottom of the disposal turn. Wiggle it back and forthBe sure you don’t have the spoon or broom handle or your hand in it when turning back on. Give it another shot. Any progress?

Again, if it is humming, it is jammed, so keep at it. If it isn’t humming, its tripped at the reset or the fuse (it’s not getting power!), OR its dead. The only thing you can’t fix is dead….

Still no luck? Don’t run the dishwasher… and submit a maintenance request

If after trying the above steps, you still cannot unclog the disposal, call the office. Do not run your dishwasher while your disposal is clogged, as it may cause the dishwasher to back up and flood. The approximate cost of unclogging a disposal is $40-$50+ (a plumber will run $60-80) for normal business hours calls. If you burn up the motor by leaving it on while clogged: a lot more than that ($200+). Note, clogged disposals are not maintenance emergencies. Just clean up and leave it until the next business day.

Some other useful FAQs from around the web

Got a stinky sink? Sounds like a machine gun is rat a tat tatting? Check these out from Insinkerator, one of the leading disposal manufacturers.

This next video covers some basics, and shows you how to remove the disposal if you really want to get into it, but that’s pretty advanced and you can make a heck of a mess if the sink is full of stuff.

This one has some sketchy production values, but is pretty extensive.