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Steps for Fixing a Jammed Garbage Disposal:

If your garbage disposal suddenly stops working, there’s a good chance that it is simply jammed. In this how-to video, This Old House plumbing and heating expert Richard Trethewey shows how to fix one.

Step 1: Check the Electricity

  • First, confirm that electricity is flowing to the garbage disposal by first checking the appropriate circuit breaker or fuse at the main electrical panel.
  • If the circuit breaker is tripped or the fuse is blown, reset/replace it then return to the disposal and switch it on.
  • If you hear the disposal motor hum, immediately turn off the switch, unplug the disposal (or turn its circuit breaker/fuse off) and proceed to Step 2.
  • If this process fails to restore power to the disposal, flip the disposal’s wall switch off, reach inside the sink cabinet and press the thermal overload button located on the bottom of the disposal (it will be projected about 1/4-in. down if it is tripped and should sit almost flush with the bottom once it is properly set).
  • Flip the wall switch again. If the motor hums, turn off the switch, unplug the disposal (or turn its circuit breaker/fuse off) and proceed to Step 2. If pressing the thermal overload doesn’t restore power to the disposal, call in a licensed electrician.
Richard Trethewey Inserts Hex-Head Allen Wrench Into Hole of Garbage Disposal

Step 2: Free the Jam

  • Confirm that the disposal is unplugged or the circuit breaker/fuse is off.
  • Next, locate the recessed hex-shaped hole in the bottom of the disposal.
  • Insert into the hole the hex-head Allen wrench that came with the disposal. If you cannot locate the wrench that came with the disposal, a ¼-in. Allen wrench will work.
  • Use the wrench to manually turn the disposal’s motor shaft first counterclockwise, then clockwise until the obstruction is dislodged and the motor shaft spins freely. It’s okay to use some force when turning the wrench, just be sure to support the disposal unit as you do. If you can’t turn the motor, proceed to Step 3.
  • Remove the wrench and plug in the disposal (or turn on the circuit breaker/fuse).
  • From above, run water into the sink and turn on the disposal. If it runs smoothly, you’re done. If it does not turn on, make sure that the thermal overload button is reset.

Step 3: Still Jammed?

  • Reach for a specialty wrench.
  • If the disposal motor is still jammed, turn it with a special garbage disposal wrench.
  • Push the wrench down into the disposal from above and rotate it until its jaws lock onto the cutter wheel inside the disposal.
  • Forcefully turn the wrench first in a counterclockwise direction, then clockwise until the jam is cleared and the motor spins freely.
  • Remove the wrench, plug in the disposal (or turn on the circuit breaker/fuse) and check its operation.


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