how-to-fix-a-garbage-disposalWe all love our garbage disposals, but might not always care for them the way we should. Running the disposal without water or accidentally dropping silverware can cause the disposal to jam. Even certain food items, like corn husks and potato skins can jam up your disposal. When this happens, the disposal motor can overheat quickly and cause the red (reset) button to pop out from the bottom of the disposal, which cuts off the flow of electricity to help protect the motor from further overheating. When this happens, you need to find and free the jam with these easy step-by-step instructions.


  • Garbage disposal wrench or 1/4 inch hex key
  • Wooden handled broom or plunger
  • Noncontact voltage detector
  • Replacement wall switch, if needed

Step 1: With the disposal turned off at the wall switch, unplug the disposal from the wall outlet under the sink.

Step 2: Insert a garbage disposal wrench into the center opening at the bottom of the disposal. You can substitute a 1/4-inch hex key if you don’t have a garbage disposal wrench. Rotate the hex key clockwise and counterclockwise to release the jam.

Step 3: Insert the end of a wooden broom or plunger handle into the garbage disposal through the drain opening in the sink. Use the end of the handle to rotate the grinding plate on the bottom of the disposal to release the jam. Some disposals have grinding walls — if yours does, push the wooden handle against the grinding wall until it rotates.

Step 4: Rotate the hex key or disposal wrench once again to ensure you have freed the jam from the plate or wall.

Step 5: Plug the disposal back into the outlet under the sink. Turn on the faucet and let cold water flow into the disposal.

Step 6: Push the reset button on the bottom of the disposal. If the button pops back out, turn off the water and wait 10 minutes for the disposal motor to cool down. Then try pushing the reset button again (it should remain depressed after pushing it).

Step 7: Turn on the water at the sink, then turn on the disposal at the wall switch. If the reset button doesn’t work and the disposal still does not run, turn off the disposal switch and water, and check the circuit breaker.

Step 8: Open the door to the circuit panel, and turn off the kitchen circuit breaker to cut power to the disposal. Then turn the breaker back on to reset it.

Step 9: Check the button on the bottom of the disposal to ensure it remains pushed into the disposal. Turn on the water and then the disposal at the wall switch. If the garbage disposal still fails to operate after pushing in the reset button, check the wall switch.

Step 10: Hold a noncontact voltage detector against the wall switch while the switch is in the on position. The presence of electricity at the switch causes the detector to beep and flash. Leave the switch in the on position and then hold the detector against the outlet under the sink. If the detector does not sense the presence of electricity at the outlet, the switch may have failed and electricity can no longer reach the disposal motor. You will need to have the wall switch replaced.

If after all this, the reset button still fails to operate the garbage disposal, the motor has failed and you will need to replace the disposal.

  • By: Draper and Kramer Mortgage Corp.
  • In: DIY, How To
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