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How To Unjam A Garbage Disposal

A stuck garbage disposal can be unjammed using a hex key, if it has a hex hole underneath, or a broom handle.

Most garbage disposals, like InSinkErator, have a hex hole on their bottom face which is connected to the axle of the rotor. Using a hex wrench aka Allen key, and manually rotating the cutting blades back and forth, these disposals can be easily unjammed. Certain garbage disposals like Moen, Waste King, and Emerson do not come with hex holes. Therefore it is not possible to unjam them using a hex key. So, in order to unjam them you need to use either a specially designed wrench or a broom handle.

You can also use the handle of a spoon or a plunger for this purpose. The handle is inserted from the top, through the sink hole, into the garbage disposal to rotate its blades.

Given below is the step by step process for unjamming a garbage disposal;

Steps 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. rotate the blades using a hex wrench or a broom handle

Use the Hex Wrench:

Most garbage disposals come with a hex hole on their bottom face. Check underneath your garbage disposal and see if it has a hex hole. If it has one, follow the steps below;

  1. Insert the hex wrench into the hex-shaped hole at the bottom center of the garbage disposal. This hole is specifically designed for manually turning the disposal blades.
  2. Turn the wrench back and forth to manually rotate the blades and dislodge any jammed objects.
  3. You should feel the blades moving freely once the obstruction is cleared.

Use a Wooden Spoon:

If your garbage disposal is Waste King, Emerson, or Moen it won’t have a hex hole at its bottom. In this case, folow the steps below to unjam it;

  1. Use a wooden spoon or a similar long object to try and manually turn the blades from above.
  2. Insert the spoon into the disposal and leverage it against the blades to turn them.

You can also use the wooden handle of a broom, a plunger handle, or a wooden spoon instead. Insert the handle through the kitchen sinkhole and use it to rotate the garbage disposal blades.

3. Inspect 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.

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.

The video below shows using a Moen unjamming wrench to unclog a garbage disposal;

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

Unjamming a garbage disposal with a broom handle

Challenges when unjamming a garbage disposal

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.