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Project Guide

How to Fix a Garbage Disposal

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Gather tools and materials
A garbage disposal sitting on a workbench with tools.

You'll need a few tools to complete the repair, including a screwdriver, hex key, garbage disposal wrench, bucket and cup plunger and clamp

Materials needed include baking soda and vinegar.

Check electrical connections

If the disposal shows no activity at all, the failure might be a simple electrical problem. 

  • Look under the sink and check that the garbage disposal is plugged in.
  • Press the red reset button on the bottom of the unit then try to switch on the unit.
  • Check your main electrical panel to see if the circuit break to which the device is connected has tripped.

If none of these solve the problem, the unit itself may need to be replaced.

Rotate the blades

If the disposal produces a low, humming sound when you turn it on, the device may have a blockage that is preventing the blades from turning. 

  • Turn off the disposal and unplug the unit.
  • Clear any standing water in the sink with a plunger or by bailing the sink out and pouring the excess water into a bucket.
  • If you have a dishwasher, prevent dirty water from backflowing into the dishwasher line by attaching a strong clamp over the flexible part of the drain line.
  • Insert a hex key (also called an Allen wrench) into the blade access hole at the bottom of the garbage disposal.
  • Turn the hex key back and forth to rotate the blades until you feel the clog break up and the blades move more freely.
Rotate the impeller

If  the disposal is still jammed, try rotating the impeller.

  • Turn off the disposal and unplug the unit.
  • Insert a garbage disposal wrench or the tip of a broom handle through the top of the disposal.
  • Work it back and forth until the blockage breaks up and the blades move freely.
  • If a larger object is responsible for the clog you may be able to remove it by hand. Don a nitrile glove to protect your hand and reach in through the top of the disposal to remove the obstruction.

Plug in the unit and flip the switch to test.

Prevent garbage disposal clogs
  • Don't overload the disposer; grind no more than about 1 cup of food debris at a time.
  • Do not put grease, egg shells, coffee grounds, starchy foods, plastic or large bones down the disposal.
  • Every month, clean the disposal with either a disposal cleaner or a mixture of vinegar, baking soda and hot water.
  • About twice a year, grind up a cup of ice cubes to help keep the blades sharp; add a few bits of lemon peel along with the ice to keep the disposal smelling fresh.

A garbage disposal is a huge convenience in the kitchen. If you decide that a new garbage disposal is what you need, check out our handy guides that help you choose a new garbage disposal and learn the basics of how to install the disposal safely and simply.