How do I Fix a Garbage Disposal?

Ron Marr

Sooner or later, virtually every homeowner will be forced to fix a garbage disposal. If the blades are not broken, or if the motor is not burned out, the repair job is a relatively easy process.

An Allen wrench is often needed to fix a garbage disposal.
An Allen wrench is often needed to fix a garbage disposal.

Before attempting a repair, one should always unplug the disposal and turn off its power source at the breaker box. Even with the electricity off, it is never a good idea to reach into a garbage disposal with bare hands. Always use tongs or a pair of pliers.

The power should be turned off at the breaker box before garbage disposal repair begins.
The power should be turned off at the breaker box before garbage disposal repair begins.

With the power off, the first step one should take to fix a garbage disposal is to press the re-set button. This button will be either black or red, and is located on the side or bottom of the disposal unit. All that needs to be done is to press this button, restore power, run water through the disposal, and flip the unit’s “on” switch. Many times, this procedure will solve any problem.

Many other times it won’t, and further steps must be taken to fix the garbage disposal. If the unit merely hums and refuses to grind, in all likelihood its blades are jammed with a piece of food. This is the most common problem associated with a garbage disposal, and again, there is a simple remedy.

To fix a garbage disposal that is jammed, unplug the unit and push the electric breaker to the off position. One should again inspect the bottom of the disposal unit. In the very center is a small socket, and most disposals come with the wrench that fits in this opening. If the wrench has been lost, a 1/4-inch (1 cm) Allen wrench will generally suffice.

Place the end of the wrench in the socket and move it side-to-side until it turns in a complete, counterclockwise circle. At this point one should shine a flashlight into the disposal from the top, locate the material that jammed the blades, and remove it with tongs or pliers. Restore power, run water into the unit, and turn it on. Most times, this is the quickest way to fix a garbage disposal.

It should be noted that some garbage disposals do not possess the wrench and socket apparatus that will manually turn the blades and remove an obstruction. In this case, the handle of a broomstick can be inserted into the upper opening of the unit. Move the stick back and forth to remove any blockage until the blades will turn freely in a counterclockwise direction.

The best method to fix a garbage disposal is to not break it in the first place. While that might appear a simplistic piece of advice, there is no doubt that the garbage disposal is the most abused appliance found in the average home. It is designed to grind leftover food and transport it down the drain. Unfortunately, it only functions well with certain types of refuse.

To avoid the need to replace or fix a garbage disposal, one should never attempt to grind large bones, seed pits, or fibrous waste such as banana peels, celery, or cornhusks. Also, much to many a homeowner and plumber’s chagrin, one should take pains to prevent pieces of rubber, metal, rings, or coins from falling into the disposal. Such is a sure way to either jam the disposal or break its blades.

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