How to Fix a Stuck or Locked Up Garbage Disposal

Dear Home Ec 101,

When I flip on the switch for my garbage disposal, nothing happens. It was working fine the other day, could it be broken?

Signed,

D$*&# Disposal

Heather says:

Even though it seems like it won’t come on, the first thing to do is turn off power to the garbage disposal, at the breaker. While a garbage disposal won’t grab your hand and pull you down the drain a la that horrid Freddy Kreuger or Jason movie, broken fingers wouldn’t be a treat.

It’s best to wear gloves during the next step, as there is a chance of coming in contact with a sharp bone fragment or an errant piece of glass. Remove any food or debris and then gently try to feel around the blades (they are dull, used for grinding not slicing) sometimes a piece of bone or other debris gets wedged under a blade.

Each blade should move with slight pressure, but only in one direction. Do not try to force a blade to turn. Garbage disposals are designed with a breaker that trips when the motor is at risk of overheating. If a blade becomes blocked, the unit shuts down and  needs to be reset.

If the blades don’t turn with gentle pressure, it’s time to find an allan wrench or hex key. Grab a flashlight and open up the cabinet under the sink. At the base of most disposal units is an opening for a hex key, thatlets you manually turn the blades. Give it a turn.  -If it won’t turn, it’s time to call the manufacturer or look up the specific unit’s manual online for further advice.

Once the blades turn, look for a button near the opening for the hex key, press this. Restore power to unit, turn on the cold water, and flip the switch.

Happy disposaling!

Send your domestic questions to helpme@home-ec101.com.



15 Comments

  1. April on May 4, 2016 at 11:48 am

    I have had to unclog the garbage disposal several times before (4 kids in the house).. however.. this time.. the allen key would not turn at all.. when I stick my hand down the drain the blades turn.. when I turn it on it just hums.. I have pressed the reset button.. still just hums.. I’m afraid a screw went down the drain.. it fell down their the other day but when I went to fish it out I couldn’t find it.. I assumed it just went all the way down (it was a small screw).. is there anything I can do to fix this myself?

  2. Amy on July 19, 2015 at 1:37 pm

    Thank you thank you thank you!! I got Legos stuck in my disposal and followed these directions. Worked perfectly! Thought we were going to have to replace the whole thing. Thank you!

    • Heather Solos on July 21, 2015 at 7:39 am

      Your house sounds a lot like mine. WHY? Is there a LEGO in the sink? Four sets of shoulders shrug in unison. . .

  3. Michael Butterfield on October 25, 2013 at 10:43 pm

    I cant find a place to put my hex key. help

  4. Sam on April 21, 2013 at 10:41 am

    Thank you so much!! Life saver

  5. Bill on December 1, 2012 at 9:32 pm

    Glad I found this post tonight before buying a new one tomorrow. Used a hex key to manually turn it and found a small baby fork stuck in the blades. Works just fine now. Thanks for the posting!

  6. @starabic13 on December 13, 2010 at 7:56 pm

    Good point and nice user-friendly website with navigation.Thank you for such a nice piece of information. Your points are all very important and all of them following will certainly give the result.

  7. quinn on July 20, 2010 at 12:38 am

    my disposal works but is very noisy. turns out there is a chicken bone (not intentionally put down there) jammed under one of the blades. I can't figure out how to hold the disposal still while I knock the blade loose. Do I have to take the thing appart?

  8. P J @ home decor on June 4, 2010 at 11:36 am

    The broom handle trick is what I use to do also. It works, but usually I can dig around and find what has lodged the disposal.

  9. Michael Carnell on June 3, 2010 at 8:48 pm

    Our plumber once told us to put a broom handle in the disposal to try to move the blades around. This is when it makes a stuck "wrrrr" sound when you hit the switch. It has fixed it more than once! But I guess it isn't the recommended method…. 😉

    • HeatherSolos on June 3, 2010 at 9:24 pm

      Maybe he was hoping for repeat business? I have heard this tip, but I cannot in good conscience recommend it.

  10. tinkerschnitzel on June 2, 2010 at 1:56 pm

    I've had to open my garbage disposal up and remove a plastic bag from around the blades. (best friend accidently washed it down the sink) It was actually pretty easy to fix and put back on. I don't call in the professionals unless it's something pretty drastic, aka broken pipe I just absolutely can't fix.

    • HeatherSolos on June 2, 2010 at 2:59 pm

      Two nights ago I got fed up with the slow sink drain upstairs and pulled off the j-trap. Sure enough it was packed with legos, hair, and toothpaste goo.
      I want to do so much I just keep running into that not enough time in the world situation AND the if I post too often people get fussy.

      • tinkerschnitzel on June 3, 2010 at 1:31 pm

        I like your posts! Now if I can only figure out how to remove the drain stop from the tub so I can unclog it. The drain stop won't even go down all the way, so we have to put a cup over it to keep it from draining.

  11. caroline on June 2, 2010 at 1:31 pm

    I needed this post last week! The plumber already came and replaced my disposal. I have a home warranty so it didn't cost much but it's the principle of the thing.

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