How to Fix a Jammed Garbage Disposal

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Why is my garbage disposal not working?

To understand why a garbage disposal isn’t working, let’s review how it should work. ‘The garbage disposal mainly consists of a motor with a shredding mechanism that spins to chop up waste, and a drain line,’ explains industrial maintenance professional Jake Brandon, founder of JBBrandon (opens in new tab).

‘There are two main reasons why your disposal is not working: a jam in the disposal itself or a clog downstream in the drain line,’ he continues. ‘Inappropriate waste in the disposal accounts for the majority of jams from spoons, rings, or other objects. Your dishwasher and garbage disposal use the same drain line, therefore, if you put things like grease in your disposal, you can back up your drain line.’

How to prevent future issues? ‘Don’t put the wrong things down your garbage disposal,’ cautions Jake. ‘Grease, potato peels, cooked rice and pasta can eventually become a big problem.’

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1. If your garbage disposal is not working at all

If the garbage disposal isn’t working at all, there are two things you need to try. The first is pushing the reset button at the bottom of the machine. 

‘Sometimes the garbage disposal will automatically shut off due to overheating or some other problem, and pressing the reset button will often solve a garbage disposal that won’t turn on,’ says Jake Romano of John The Plumber (opens in new tab).

The second approach is to make sure it has power, says Leonard Ang, CEO of iPropertyManagement (opens in new tab). ‘Is it plugged in properly? Is the circuit breaker on? Does the external wiring appear to be in good shape?’

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.

Normally, it isn’t worth trying to repair a broken garbage disposal. It’s usually easier and cheaper to just replace the entire unit. See How to Install a Garbage Disposal.

How to Unclog Your Garbage Disposal

Luckily, as long as garbage disposal humming sound is addressed right away, this problem isn’t too complicated to solve on your own. The solution is often as simple as removing the object from the unit. Due to the nature of the equipment and the sharp blades within, you need to be sure you do so in a safe manner. Our licensed plumbers outline the steps to follow to remove objects stuck down in your garbage disposal.

  • Turn off the power to your disposal. Turning it off at the wall switch is not enough – cut power to the unit at your home’s electrical panel.
  • At the bottom of your garbage disposal, there is a small hex-shaped hole. Using the hex wrench, which is also called an Allen wrench, included with your unit, insert the Allen wrench into the hole. 
  • Turn the wrench clockwise. Doing so turns the disposal’s flywheel, which helps to break up the material jamming the blades.
  • Once you feel the resistance release and are able to turn the flywheel with ease, the jam has been eliminated. Use a pair of tongs or pliers to reach into the garbage disposal from the drain to pull out the offending object. And remember, never put your hands down the drain.
  • Make sure to pull out the Allen wrench and turn the power back on by resetting the circuit breaker at your home’s electrical panel. 
  • Turn on the disposal at the wall switch. If it runs, flush it with hot water for about a minute to clear out any debris left down in the unit.

Final Thoughts

All in all, most garbage disposals are unusually dependable, always there when you need them, and rarely complain.

But if your garbage disposal is jammed, 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.

Garbage Disposal Not Working, No Noise

If your garbage disposal doesn’t do anything—meaning it doesn’t hum or make a sound—it probably isn’t receiving power.

Look for a garbage disposal reset button on the underside of the disposal and press this reset button as discussed above. This simple touch may be all that’s needed to get it running again.

If that doesn’t do the trick, determine whether your disposal is plugged into an electrical receptacle under the sink or hard-wired (directly connected) to an electrical box there.

If your disposal is the plug-in type, unplug the disposal from its electrical outlet and test the outlet with another appliance, such as a hair dryer. If the outlet doesn’t work with another device, go to the circuit breaker panel and reset the circuit breaker that serves the disposal. This breaker is often on the same circuit used by the dishwasher. Reset it by turning it all of the way off and then back on.

If your disposal is hardwired to an electrical box, go straight to the circuit breaker panel and reset the breaker the same way.

Other Causes of Humming

Aside from what has already been mentioned, there are instances wherein humming sound is emitted by your garbage disposal unit. Understanding them will give you an informed decision on what to do next. So, what are these other causes that you should be aware about?

  1. Stuck Foreign Object – this means objects that are not supposed to be in the garbage disposer in the first place. How did it get there? Possibly, a child threw it down the sink and the object found its way into the unit without being noticed. When this causes the impeller blades to jam, a humming sound is produced. Cut all power to the unit and inspect the disposer for anything that is jammed in the unit. Use a tong to remove any stuck foreign object to restore disposer functionality.
  2. Tripped GFI or Disposer – it is not impossible that the GFI, GFCI electrical outlet, or the garbage disposer itself has tripped. This lack of electrical current to turn the motor may cause a humming sound to be produced. In this instance, the best solution is to simply press the reset button and test if normal disposer operation is restored. The reset button can be found at the bottom of the unit.

Is your garbage disposal humming but not jammed?

If you find that there’s nothing jammed or your garbage disposal is still humming after you checked to see if it was jammed, then you might want to try and manually rotated the grinding plate. Overtime, grease and other things can cause the grinding plate to get stuck.

To resolve this issue, equip yourself with an Allen wrench. If you received an Allen wrench with your garbage disposal when you first purchased the unit, you’ll want to use that one. Otherwise, inspect the breaker socket located on the bottom to see what the size is and equip yourself an appropriate sized tool. A 1/4-inch Allen wrench is usually the size that you’ll need. Once you have the right Allen wrench:

  1. Place the wrench on the head of the bolt.
  2. Turn the bold back and forth firmly and steadily. This manually rotates the grinding plate.
  3. Equip yourself with a pair of tongs and pull the loose debris out from the stomach of the garbage disposal.
  4. Give your garbage disposal a test. Turn on the power and try it. If your unit still hums, repeat the procedure.
  5. Once your garbage disposal quits humming, let hot water run down your garbage disposal for a few seconds to help clean it.

It’s important to note that if your garbage disposal doesn’t have a bolt located on the bottom of it, you’ll need to use something else to get the grinding plate to spin. You can use the end of a broom, a long stick, or a slim pole of some sort. To do this, you’ll want to your tool down into the disposer chamber and force it to move.

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.

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. Leaking

    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.

  4. 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.

Prevent Clogged Garbage Disposals to Avoid Time-Consuming Fixes

There's no need to go through the  clog  removal s

There’s no need to go through the clog removal strategies if you follow preventative measures. However, to keep clogs away, you must follow these routines regularly:

  • Read the disposal’s instruction manual. Find the list of what can and cannot go inside the unit. Follow those suggestions to the letter.
  • Be selective about the foods going down the garbage disposal. Throw seeds, bones, pits, peels, ice cubes, and corn cobs in the trash. Additionally, pour oils, meat fats, and grease into a container. Then, throw away the container in the waste bin. Furthermore, keep non-food items away from the garbage disposal entry.
  • Rely on a sink strainer or drain strainer. A sink strainer catches the food particles, bones, pits, seeds, and peels before it enters the garbage disposal so you don’t have to examine every food item.
  • Chop up food waste before feeding it to the garbage disposal. The garbage disposal is not powerful enough to handle large amounts of food waste. By chopping up the waste first, it makes the disposal’s job of cutting the food down to small pieces easier. Cut the food to a square inch or less before feeding it into the garbage disposal.
  • Feed the garbage disposal at a slow pace. Give the disposal a small batch of food at a time (try to stick to ½ cup or less). Allow the unit to dispose of the waste before feeding the next small batch. Continue this until the sink is clear. This process is slower, but it keeps you from overwhelming the device with too much food.
  • Use cold water to rinse the garbage disposal after use. After use, run cold water down the disposal for a minute. Cold water flushes food stuck in the blades and inside the unit down the drain. It also keeps the drain pipes clean and keeps the blades lubricated. During the minute, add solutions like dish soap or citrus peels to deodorize smells.
  • Use the garbage disposal often. Not using the unit is as bad as putting the wrong food inside it. An unused garbage disposal will rust and corrode over time, and it will freeze whenever the unit is on. Therefore, every so often when not in use, turn on the cold water and let the unit run for 30 seconds.

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