How to Fix a Jammed Garbage Disposal
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If you want to know how to fix a jammed garbage disposal, know that we’ll cover several solutions that don’t involve calling a plumber. However, we’ll also discuss when you need professional help.
The Reset Button
We joke about how many computer problems are solved by rebooting the computer. In some cases, the jammed garbage disposal isn’t actually due to a physical item stuck in the gears or blades but instead of a technical or sensor glitch. This can be solved by hitting the reset button or overload button underneath the disposal.
If this fails, then you’re down to mechanical solutions. And you need to take the proper safety precautions to avoid injury.
Words of Warning
Before you start working on a garbage disposal, turn it off and make sure it stays off. Better yet, unplug the unit. This prevents the horror stories of the blades turning on while your hand is in their way. If you don’t know how to do this, turn off power to that part of the kitchen at the circuit breaker.
The Mechanical Clearing Process
Now that the garbage disposal is turned off, you can try to clear the jam yourself. We’re not saying it is safe to reach in with your hand. Instead, take the cover off the drain and look down it with a flashlight. You may try to remove the food or utensil causing the drain with a fork or hook. Or you may use something to try to break up the solid mass so that it can be flushed down the drain. Some people use broom handles for the big, tough clogs.
If there isn’t a single obvious cause or your pipes look like they have a bad case of arteriosclerosis, the problem is a build-up of grease and food particles in the pipe. The solution here is to use a plunger to break it up. Another option is pouring chemicals down the drain that will dissolve the grease, fat and food particles. However, you’ll probably still want to use a plunger on the drain to break it all up so you’re not back in this situation in a few weeks.
And in the future, make sure you’re cleaning your plates out in the trash and not pouring grease down the drain. Furthermore, you can reduce the odds of a recurrence by running water for a few seconds after the grinder has run so that it rinses away all the food debris.
After you’ve used a plunger, run hot water through the garbage disposal to clear the remnants. This is especially true if you’ve used chemicals to try to break up the clog. If the garbage disposal still won’t start up or the clog remains, let all the water drain before you move on to the next step. Just know that some chemicals used to unclog a drain can damage erode the plastic parts in your disposal, so using the wrong grease busters in your drain may have caused the disposal to fail in the first place.
Clear the Grinders’ Gears
If you see something stuck in the gears but cannot reach it with your tools or the cleaning of the pipes didn’t work, then the problem may be something stuck in the grinders or its gears. Make sure the power is off. Then you can get underneath the garbage disposal and try to manually rotate the grinder gears with a wrench. The standard procedure involves turning an Allen wrench clockwise as far as you can while it is connected to the grinder gears.
You want to get the blades to go in a full circle. Don’t worry about applying too much pressure, because this equipment is designed to handle heavy forces. You could bend the wrench without damaging the disposal’s hardware. If you want to take it to the next level, you could use a garbage disposal wrench instead of an Allen wrench, though most of us would call a plumber instead of buying a tool we’d hopefully only use once.
This may get the blockage out, though you may need to climb up, lean over above the sink and break up the mass you just got free. When it is a hard mass like an almond or piece of bone, you’ll need to fish it out because it could get stuck in the grinder again. When you think you’ve cleared the mass, verify this by trying to turn the gears a full circle again. If the jam is clear, the blades should spin almost effortlessly.
The next step is removing the unit’s housing and checking inside the grinding chamber. If you see anything other than the little teeth of the shredding disk, remove it with tongs or pliers.
Clean everything up, and reassemble the unit. After you’ve done this, you’ll likely need to hit the reset button after you’ve powered up the unit. The only exception is when you’ve found broken pieces of metal while clearing out the grinder’s gears; this suggests something is damaged and the unit will be dangerous when reactivated. You don’t want to risk creating shrapnel while cleaning up dinner.
Check the P-Trap
The next option is disassembling the P-trap, the pipe behind the disposal that connects to the trap arm. Sometimes the root cause of the clog is a build-up of coffee grounds and food debris in that pipe. Removing the pipe and cleaning it may solve this problem.
Call for Service
The garbage disposal may have stopped working because of serious mechanical problems. Broken gears and sheared off pieces of the grinder could be the root cause. A burned out motor may be why it won’t turn, too.
If the motor is overheating for some reason, whether it is due to wear and tear in the motor or an electrical problem, this isn’t something the average home owner can fix. The best you can do when it overheats is shut it down, let it cool off, and minimize its use until you can get it fixed. In these cases, you need to call in an expert like Langley Plumbing.
If you were not able to turn the gears at all with a wrench, the unit probably needs to be replaced. If you’ve cleared the obvious blockage and the unit seizes up again, you either need to call for a plumber to repair it or replace it.
Garbage disposals can jam for a variety of reasons. A few of these can be addressed by homeowners, but other cases can only be handled by plumbing professionals.