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Garbage Disposal Not Working? Here’s How to Fix It

If the water in your kitchen sink is not draining or the motor is not running, you may have a clog in the garbage disposal. If the motor stopped while using the garbage disposal, turn the power off as quickly as possible to prevent any damage to the motor. Consult your owner’s manual for proper instructions.

How to Fix A Jammed Garbage Disposal

Before starting on the job, gather a few items from around your home. You may need a brief trip to the hardware store.

Items Needed to Fix a Garbage Disposal

✔ Flashlight

✔ Needle-nose pliers

✔ Hex-head wrench (if this was included with your garbage disposal)

✔ Wooden dowel or long wooden spoon

✔ Heavy-duty work gloves. (It is always good to wear heavy-duty work gloves when working on garbage disposal!)

Setting Up Your Workspace

A person flipping a breaker

Before doing any work to fix/unclog a garbage disposal, always make sure that it is turned off and unplugged. Figure out where the breaker for the garbage disposal is located, then turn the power off at the breaker.

Fixing the Garbage Disposal

Once you're set up to start working, follow these steps:

1. Inspect the disposal - Shine a flashlight down into it to see if silverware or some other object has lodged in it. (Do not reach into it!)

2. Remove any obstructing objects - If something is visible, try using a pair of needle-nose pliers to reach into the disposal and remove it. If this doesn't apply or doesn't work, skip to step 3.

3. Probe with the dowel or spoon - If the disposal is still not working or the clog is due to food build-up, push the bottom end of the wooden probe against the blades (or impeller) that grind up the garbage. Move the wooden piece back and forth to free any clog.

4. Wait at least 15 minutes - Once the blades move freely again, wait for the motor to cool before restoring power to the disposal.

5. Turn on the power - Turn the power back on, and push the reset or overload protector button, which is usually located on the bottom of the disposal.

Additional Garbage Disposal Troubleshooting

Some garbage disposals come complete with an L-shaped hex wrench, a jammed key or an Allen wrench. If yours does, be sure to turn off the power, insert the wrench or key into the opening at the bottom of your appliance and move it back and forth until the impeller is free. Then wait a few minutes for the motor to cool before turning the power back on.

Black illustration of a screwdriver crossing over a wrench A clog may be present in the drain trap. Turn off the power to the disposal. Find the S-shaped pipe under the sink and release its fasteners with a wrench. Remove the drain trap and clear any blockages you find.

Screwdriver and a wrench Use crushed ice to clean your garbage disposal or even clear a minor clog. Ice sharpens the blades and breaks up any grease build-up.

Screwdriver and a wrench Bleach and cut-up apples also work well to clean and deodorize your garbage disposal.

Follow the above tips for simple maintenance, but if these solutions don’t work, then it may be time to call a professional.

Understanding How Clogs Happen

Garbage disposal with drain catcher and food sitting beside it in sink

What’s in your garbage disposal? These appliances can be a great benefit to any lifestyle, and most last between five and 10 years, depending on the quality and the amount of time it gets used. However, when the disposal is not operated or maintained properly, it can easily break down or clog and become a plumbing nightmare for a homeowner.

Make sure you know the proper way to take care of garbage disposal and which foods should not be thrown into it. Also know that clogs do happen, even when you’re careful about the foods you place in them.

How Do You Prevent Future Clogs?

  • Always look through the owner’s manual to find out what your disposal’s limitations are.
  • Be sure to always run water when disposing of food.
  • Don’t feed food into the disposal too quickly; do it gradually.

Top Seven Items ❌NOT❌ to Put in the Garbage Disposal

  • Vegetable peels and skins
  • Grease
  • Eggshells
  • Bones
  • Coffee grounds
  • Meat scraps
  • Citrus rinds
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