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How To Unjam A Stuck Garbage Disposal (Using A Wrench Or A Broom)

A garbage disposal can jam for several reasons, including:

  • Putting non-friendly food waste like eggshells, potato peels, rice, and pasta can stick to the blades and prevent them from turning.
  • Overloading the disposer can cause jams by putting extra load on the motor
  • Rust can prevent the garbage disposal from working properly, especially in low-end disposers with galvanized steel grinding components.
  • Foreign objects like forks, spoons, nails, or screws can cause jams and damage to the grinding chamber.
  • Not running enough water while running the garbage disposal can cause food particles to pile up, leading to clogs and jams.

When this happens, the garbage disposal will stay stuck without running. You may also hear a humming noise coming from the garbage disposal. If you hear this noise, turn off the disposal immediately; otherwise, you risk burning out its motor.

Also, if you hear a metal clanking noise from the garbage disposal, unjam it immediately. This means that some metal items fell into the disposal grinding chamber, which can damage its impellers. You need to take it out before grinding food waste again.

Below are the steps to unjam a garbage disposal if it stays stuck or makes clanking noises.

Steps for unjamming a garbage disposal

Time needed: 15 minutes.

Here is a step-by-step procedure for unjamming a garbage disposal;

  1. Turn off the power:

    Before you begin, turn off the power to the garbage disposal unit by unplugging it or turning off the circuit breaker that controls it. This is important for your safety.

  2. Manually rotate the blades using a hex key or a broom handle

    If the garbage disposal is an InSinkErator, insert a hex Allen key (1/4″ or 5/8″) into the hex hole under the disposer unit and turn it to and fro. This hex hole is an extension of the axle of the garbage disposal blades and flywheel, so turning the wrench will turn the disposal blades. This to-and-fro motion will help dislodge any object jamming the disposer.

    If your garbage disposal is Waste King, Emerson, or Moen it won’t have a hex hole at its bottom. So use this specially designed garbage disposal wrench here. Insert it from the top of the disposal through the sinkhole and into the disposal chamber. This wrench will get hold of the disposal blades. Once the wrench is in position, start rotating the wrench in both directions to loosen the blades.

    You can also use a broom handle or a wooden spoon handle instead. Insert the broom handle through the kitchen sink hole and use it to rotate the garbage disposal blades.

  3. Inspect the inside of the garbage disposal for obstructions

    Once the blades of the disposal are loosened, use a flashlight and inspect the inside of the garbage disposal from the top for any dislodged objects that were possibly obstructing the impeller blades. Remove these objects with the help of tongs or pliers.

  4. Reset the garbage disposal

    Press the reset button of the garbage disposal. This button might have popped out when the disposal got jammed. (Common reset button locations)

  5. Test run the disposer

    Finally, turn the power back on and test the disposal to make sure it’s working properly. Turn on the water and run it down the drain, and then turn on the disposal to make sure it’s running smoothly.

Here is a video showing the unjamming of an InSinkErator unit with an Allen key. It also shows using a disposal wrench, so one video for both;

Here is a video of unjamming a disposer with the help of a broom/plunger handle;

Unjamming a garbage disposal with a broom handle

What if the garbage disposal wrench isn’t turning

Whether you are using an Allen wrench or a Waste King wrench, the garbage disposal may refuse to turn. This means that the jam is big and strong. It is alright to exert some extra force at this point, you can even use a pipe as an extension to lengthen the leverage of the wrench.

If the blades still don’t turn, then you have a problem. Exerting any more force can damage the disposal, so the best thing to do at this point is to look into the disposal using a flashlight to see if you can spot any objects obstructing the blades.

Use a pair of tongs to scour through the insides of the disposal and remove any debris. Try again using the wrench to turn the blades. If the blades don’t turn the problem could be something else. It is better to bring in a professional at this point.

Continue reading: How to fix allen wrench not turning

Unjamming when the sink is full

Unjamming a garbage disposal while the sink is full is another thing. It is not easy. If the disposer is an InSinkErator one, then the unjamming process is less tedious. However, if you use a Waste King disposer, you will have trouble inserting the wrench from the top. It is better to wait and see if the sink will drain. If you are in no luck, try the broom handle method, as the handle is much longer than the wrench.

But still, a full sink makes it impossible to see the insides of the disposer. If your first attempt is not successful, then the only option is to drain the sink. For this, you will have to disconnect the disposer from the sink, all the while keeping a bucket under to prevent flooding the kitchen. Here is a detailed guide to unclogging the disposal if water stands in it.

How to prevent garbage disposal jams

Here are some tips to prevent garbage disposal jams:

  1. Use cold water when using the garbage disposal: Cold water helps solidify food particles, making them easier to grind and preventing them from sticking to the sides of the disposal.
  2. Cut up large food items: Break up large food items into smaller pieces before placing them in the disposal. This will make it easier for the disposal to grind them up.
  3. Avoid fibrous and stringy foods: Foods like celery, onion skins, and banana peels can get tangled in the disposal’s blades and cause a jam.
  4. Don’t put non-food items down the disposal: Avoid putting non-food items like utensils, rubber bands, or bottle caps down the disposal as they can damage the blades or get stuck in the unit.
  5. Run the disposal regularly: Running the disposal regularly helps prevent rust and corrosion, and keeps the blades sharp.
  6. Keep the disposal clean: Regularly clean the disposal with a mixture of ice cubes and rock salt, or with a mixture of baking soda and vinegar to prevent buildup of food particles.

My name is Thomas Anderson, author of DisposalQA. I have 15 years experience working as a plumber in CA, and this is where I answer common questions about garbage disposals.