A garbage disposal is designed to make life easier, and there is nothing worse than when it stops working. Many different things can impact your garbage disposal, but the most common issue is that it becomes jammed.
This guide will help explain why this happens and what you should do if your garbage disposal is jammed.
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Why Do Garbage Disposals Jam? (Common Causes)
Garbage disposals are designed to prevent blockages and clogs in your pipes by pulverizing food into small chunks. Given the nature of the device, it's ironic that garbage disposals themselves will jam, but unfortunately, it's an all-too-common problem. Understanding the problem can help you prevent it, and here are the key reasons that it happens:
Metal Objects Get Stuck In Garbage Disposals
Metal is the worst enemy of a garbage disposal. If metal gets into your disposal, then your mechanism will not be able to deal with it, and it can cause the grinding plates to jam.
Even worse, it can clatter around in there, causing damage and creating a lot of noise. Unfortunately, metal can get into your disposal all too easily and cause issues. You should particularly look out for silverware, bottle caps, screws, nails, and lost wedding rings.
Too Much Waste Too Quickly Clogs Disposals
Most modern disposals are continuous because they are more convenient, but if you feed too much waste into the machine too quickly, your disposal can't handle it. Eventually, the mechanism will become clogged, and it will jam. You need to be conscious of the size and power of your disposal, as this will dictate how much waste it can handle.
Hard Food & Bones Jamming The Mechanism
Putting the wrong types of food down your garbage disposal can be just as bad as putting too much down. Bones can be a struggle for disposals to crunch up and will jam the mechanism. Some small bones might be ok, but it’s good to avoid them altogether if you can.
Fatty & Fibrous Foods Impacting The Device
Similarly, fatty and greasy foods can clog up your garbage disposal and impact the mechanism. This can actually cause long-term damage to your disposal, and if left unchecked, it can mean you need to replace the device. Fibrous and starchy foods can have the same effect, so avoid putting potato skins or celery down the sink.
How To Tell If My Garbage Disposal Is Jammed (Common Signs)
It isn't always obvious that your disposal is jammed, but there are some tell-tale signs to look out for, which mean you probably have an issue:
Garbage Disposal Hums Or Makes Loud Noises
Sometimes your garbage disposal will switch on, and you can feel it vibrating, but all the disposal continuously hums. If this is the case, it means that power is reaching your device, but the grinding mechanism is jammed and therefore can't move around inside the disposal. You might also hear a clanking noise which indicates there’s some metal stuck within the device.
It can be tempting to leave your disposal on to see if it starts working normally, but you run the risk of burning out your motor and damaging the internal mechanism. Switch it off straight away until you can solve the issue.
Disposal System Emits Really Bad Smells
Garbage disposals are used to make your kitchen more hygienic, but if your disposal starts to smell, it means some potentially harmful bacteria might be in there. This means there's some kind of food waste in your disposal that shouldn't be there, and there's likely some kind of blockage developing in there.
This may mean you have a clogged disposal drain line, and you'll need to try and get that cleared as soon as possible, or it can mean bacteria will spread into your home.
Problems with the Disposal’s Power or Reset Mechanism
Your reset button is used to restart the device when the circuit has tripped. Many modern disposals are designed to trip the circuit automatically if there’s a blockage to prevent the motor from burning out trying to push some grinding plates that won’t budge.
If you find your reset button won’t push down and your disposal won’t switch on, then it probably means there's a jam in the disposal. You'll need to get rid of it before you can switch it on again.
How To Fix A Jammed Garbage Disposal (Step-By-Step Guide)
Now you know why your disposal might jam and the signs that your disposal is jammed, it’s time to get into the detail of how you fix a jammed disposal. Before you get started, you'll need pliers, an Allen wrench, and a disposal wrench.
It’s hugely important that you completely turn off the power before you undertake any work. This means turning off your device, unplugging it, and turning the power off at the circuit. Don’t put your hands in the device unless you know it’s turned off.
Once you’re ready, here are a few ways to fix a jammed garbage disposal. We recommend working your way through these and testing as you go to see if the problem is fixed.
1. Reset The Device
Start by seeing if you can reset the garbage disposal. Turn the power back on temporarily and locate the reset switch, which is usually a red button on the bottom of the disposal.
If it's sticking out, then try pushing it in, and this may solve the problem. Keep an eye on the reset button and check it 15 minutes later.
If it's pushed out again, then push it back in. If it pops out again, this clearly won't solve the problem, and you should move on to step 2.
2. Manually Rotate Disposal Blades
Locate the hole at the bottom of the disposal in the center of the machine. This should be a hexagonal-shaped hole, and your Allen wrench should fit right into it. Slide it in and jiggle it if necessary until you meet resistance. Crank the wrench and turn it clockwise until it doesn't turn anymore.
Apply some force and keep going until you can rotate the Allen wrench all the way around. In doing this, you are manually rotating the disposal blades inside the device and forcing the blockages out.
Once you can move the blades all the way around, switch everything back on and test the device. If it's working, then great; if not, move onto step 3.
3. Check For Visible Blockages
Grab a flashlight and look down the sink from the top. Check the splash guard at the top of the disposal and look for anything that might be jamming the device. If you can see any blockages further down, then use your pliers to lift them out and break them up if you can.
If you manage to get rid of some of the debris, then run some cold water through the disposal and test it. If it’s still not working, then move on to the next step.
4. Spin The Blades With A Disposal Wrench
Get yourself a disposal wrench, which looks like a grabber with prongs on the end, and stick this down the drain. Push this down until it connects with the blades and then take it in turns to rotate it clockwise and counter-clockwise. Keep going until you can feel it's moving freely and the mechanism is working again.
Run cold water through the disposal to clear any debris that’s come loose and test the disposal. Hopefully it’s now working, and you can use the disposal. If not, then keep reading as further on this article we cover what to do next.
Popular Disposal Brands & How To Unjam Them
Moen Garbage Disposal Jammed
Most Moen garbage disposals have a removable splash guard, so you should start by taking this off. Then, use a flashlight to look for any visible debris and use pliers to remove it. Then, use a disposal wrench or a large wooden spoon to check for any restrictions in movement.
Do this by inserting it into the disposal and rotating both ways until it moves. Once you've completed that, push the reset button on the bottom of the device, and hopefully, it will switch on.
Moen has provided some specific instructions on how to deal with a jam here.
Badger 5 InSinkErator Garbage Disposal Jammed
For the InSinkErator Badger 5 garbage disposal, they recommend that you start by turning your disposal off and using an Allen wrench to crank the disposal mechanism. They provide a self-service wrenchette with their devices, and you can insert this into the disposal and rotate it until it starts to move freely again.
Check for any visible blockages and remove them, and then run cold water through the device to cool it down. Wait 5 minutes, and then press the reset button before turning it all back on.
You can find more information about clearing a jammed Badger 5 in the user manual here.
Waste King 1001 Garbage Disposal Jammed
For the Waste King 1001 garbage disposal, they advise you to follow all the steps set out above but says you can use a broom handle and insert it into the disposal until you reach the plate and wiggle it until it starts moving. The reset button is located opposite the power cord near the bottom of the disposal, and you should be able to reset it once the blockage has been cleared.
You can find the Waste King user manual with more information here.
Tips For Preventing Garbage Disposal Jams
Hopefully, you now know how to go about unjamming a garbage disposal, but there are things you can do to stop it jamming in the first place. You should start by considering how you use the disposal. Always run cold water through the disposal for at least 30 seconds before putting any solids in the device.
This will help remove any food waste in your disposal and stop it from getting clogged in your device. You should also consider cutting your food debris into small pieces before you put it in the disposal, as this will make it easier to grind and pulverize.
There are some foods you should also avoid putting down your disposal. Starchy or fibrous foods can jam up your device, and bones will play havoc on the mechanism. By considering what you put in your device, you can help prevent your disposal from jamming.
Finally, you should consider how you’re cleaning and maintaining your disposal. Using lemon and lime peels in your disposal can help to freshen the scent and remove some old food waste. You can also pour some vinegar through your disposal as the acid will help to dissolve any scraps of food waste that haven't been fully disposed of.
By taking these steps to look after your device, you'll help prevent any jams and help increase the lifespan of your garbage disposal.
Garbage Disposal Keeps Jamming & Not Working: What To Do?
Unfortunately, not every problem can be solved at home, and if you've followed the steps in this article and your garbage disposal is still jamming, then it's time to call in a professional. You'll probably need a plumber rather than an electrician, but if you know there is an electrical issue, you may decide to get an electrician instead.
The advantage of bringing in a professional is that you know they will get it right, and there’s no risk of them damaging your garbage disposal or your plumbing. The downside is the cost, and you can spend anywhere from $60-$150.
Remember, don't be proud. It's better to pay a bit more and get the job done right rather than save some money but have a disposal that isn't working as it should.
Frequently Asked Jammed Garbage Disposal Questions
How long does it take to fix a jammed garbage disposal?
You should be able to fix a jammed disposal in under an hour.
Can you plunge a garbage disposal?
You can try to unclog a garbage disposal by plunging the sink, but make sure you use a sink plunger, not a bathroom one.
How do you fix a jammed garbage disposal without an Allen wrench?
Try inserting a broom handle or disposal wrench down into the disposal and rotating the plates from the top of the device. Keep going until the grinding plates can rotate fully.
Your garbage disposal is an important tool and will see a lot of use. Unfortunately, as with any well-used device, you are likely to encounter some problems at some point; your garbage disposal is probably going to jam.
You can solve the issue yourself most of the time, and it isn't too difficult to get your disposal working again. Hopefully this guide has given you some useful information to help you, and you now feel more confident attempting this yourself.
Ian Haynes is an expert writer who has successfully deployed over 500 plumbing pages and other related content. He has an excellent understanding of home plumbing issues and translates his experiences via Plumbing Lab so readers can have a better understanding of common household problems. Outside of his work, Ian likes exploring Brooklyn with his Labrador.