A garbage disposal can be a very handy tool around a busy kitchen, until it gets jammed that is. Sometimes it can take a professional plumber to get things fixed up (someone like the Plumbing Detectives, for example) but sometimes a disposal jam can be handled on your own.
A jam isn’t the same as a clog. A jammed disposal still lets water drain away, but something has stopped the blades from spinning. It will usually hum loudly or whine but not spine.
Clearing a Jammed Garbage Disposal
The very first step is to cut power to the unit. To be safe, don’t just turn it off either. Actually unplug it or shut off the circuit breaker that powers it.
Now look underneath the disposal unit. There should be a small hex-shaped hole in the center. Get the right sized hex key (or Allen wrench) to fit the hole, and insert it. It should be around 1/4 inch in size. Rotate back and forth to move the blades inside. This should help move the jam or at least loosen the obstruction for removal.
Use a flashlight to look down the drain and hopefully you can see whatever is jamming your disposal. Get a pair of narrow tongs or fine-nosed pliers to reach down into the disposal. Do not just stuff your hand in. Even when off, the disposal is sharp and dangerous.
Some models will also have a reset button, usually red and on the bottom near the hex hold we just mentioned. If you were trying to run a jammed disposal, this button may pop out to stop the unit and protect the motor. You’ll need to push that back into place when you retry the disposal or it won’t run. It doesn’t actually do anything to fix a jam though.
If you can’t get the jam cleared by wiggling the hex key around or using pliers, you may have to remove the entire unit to get the chunk of food or whatever out. It’s really not that difficult though it will require a few more tools, but usually not more than a couple of screwdrivers. Once it’s disconnected, it will be simple to remove the blockage. Again, use pliers rather than your fingers for safety.
Of course, preventing jams in the first place is always a good approach too. Don’t just toss anything down the drain and expect the disposal to handle it. Large pieces of food, especially bones or heavy fruit pits should not be allowed to go down the disposal.
Also make sure there is an adequate supply of water going through the disposal when you run it. Water is necessary to keep the pieces of food and debris moving so don’t skimp on the water.
Being able to remove a jam is just one way you can do some garbage disposal repairs on your own. If you unable to get things working though, call a professional so that no damage is done to your disposal for your efforts.