A garbage disposal is a tool powerful enough to chew off most types of food wastes from your kitchen. However, irrespective of their horsepower garbage disposals can sometimes jam.
A garbage disposal can be unjammed by rotating its blades free of anything that blocks its rotation. One can use a garbage disposal wrench or a broom handle for this purpose. The former rotates the blades using the hex hole at the bottom while the latter does the same through the sinkhole.
The steps to unjamming a garbage disposal are given below;
What is a garbage disposal wrench
Before I start the step by step process let me explain what is a garbage disposal wrench. A garbage disposal wrench is any type of wrench that is used to move the disposer’s blade to and fro. For some garbage disposal models, especially those made by InSinkErator, you can use an Allen wrench while for others, those made by Waste King, you can use a specially designed wrench.
Given below are the two types of garbage disposal wrenches;
You can use one of the above two garbage disposal tools to unjam the disposal. If your disposer is made by InSinkErator, you will get an Allen wrench along with the package. If you don’t have this you can use any Allen wrench of size 1/4 inches. If your disposal is made by Waste King or any other Brands that come under Emerson you should use the latter wrench. They are not included with the garbage disposal so you will have to buy them from a store.
The process of using these wrenches is the same except the Allen key is inserted through a hex hole at the bottom of the garbage disposal whereas the garbage disposal wrench is inserted through the sink drain hole and into the disposal.
Step by step process for unjamming a garbage disposal
Time needed: 15 minutes.
Here is a step by step process of unjamming a garbage disposal using a garbage disposal wrench;
- Switch off the garbage disposal:
It is important that the garbage disposal is disconnected from the power supply lest it comes to life when you are unjamming it.
- Use Allen key or garbage disposal wrench
If the garbage disposal is an InSinkErator insert the Allen key into the hex hole under the disposer unit. Try to turn the wrench to and fro. This hex hole is an extension of the axle connecting the garbage disposal blades so turning the wrench will turn the disposal blades. This to and fro motion will help to remove any object that is jamming the disposer.
If your garbage disposal is WasteKing, Emerson, or Moen it won’t have a hex hole at its bottom. So use the 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 dowel stick instead of the wrench to rotate the disposal blades through the sink drain hole.
- Inspect the insde of the garbage disposal
Once the blades of the disposal are free to turn 360 degrees in both directions use a flashlight and inspect the inside of the garbage disposal from the top for any loosened objects that were possibly the reason for the jam. Remove these objects with the help of tongs.
- Reset the garbage disposal
Press on the reset button of the garbage disposal. This button might have popped out when the disposal got jammed. (Common reset button locations)
- Test run the disposer
Run plenty of cold water and turn on the disposal. Check whether it is running smoothly.
Now that the jam is cleared you can start adding food wastes into it.
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;
Reasons why your garbage disposal is jammed
You know that your garbage disposal is jammed when it just hums without running while it is switched on. Below are some reasons why your garbage disposal is jammed
1. Putting non-friendly food wastes
Even though garbage disposals can dispose of most food wastes from your kitchen it is not suitable for all sorts. Many disposers cannot grind hard or fibrous food items. This even includes harmless looking items like eggshells and potato peels.
The problem with food wastes like potato peels, eggshells, and such is that they will stick to the garbage disposal blades and in time will prevent the blades from freely moving.
This also involves items like rice and pasta which expands with water. They will not only clog the drains but also stick to the grinding chamber of the disposer thus preventing it from working.
2. Overloading the disposer
Overloading a garbage disposal is the most common reason for the occurrence of jams. Even when you are adding only garbage disposal friendly food wastes they should be added in small volumes with plenty of water running. Cramping the food wastes into the disposer will add extra load on the motor and thus prevents it from working.
If you haven’t used a garbage disposal for a long time its blades may attract rust. This rust can prevent the garbage disposal from working properly.
This mostly happens on low-end garbage disposals whose grinding components are made of galvanized steel which is more likely to rust than stainless steel. Regular cleaning of the disposal can prevent this. In extreme cases where there are lots of rust between the blades and the grinding chamber, it is impossible to unjam it. In such cases replacing the unit is the only option.
4. Foreign objects in the disposer
Things like forks or spoons may accidentally fall into a disposer. Sometimes it can be small metal objects like nails or screws. All of them will not only prevent the disposal from running but also can cause damage to its grinding chamber.
5. Not running enough water
Don’t try to save water while running a garbage disposal. You need to start adding water even before starting the garbage disposal, and also you should continue to run water for a few seconds even after turning the disposal off. This will make sure that all the ground food particles are washed away without them piling up in the disposer.
How to avoid jamming a garbage disposal
It is easy to prevent jams in a garbage disposal if you take care of these simple things;
Run plenty of cold water
Garbage disposals should be operated while running lots of cold water. There should be more water than the volume of food wastes to dispose of. Water makes sure that any debris left in the grinding chamber is washed off without leading to jams.
Here is a video that shows the best way to run a garbage disposal
Add food wastes in small quantities
Cramming food wastes into a garbage disposal is a bad idea. They have to be added in small quantities while running plenty of water. This quantity varies with the size of the disposer units, you can add more food wastes at a time into a 1 HP garbage disposal than into a 1/2 HP one.
Some unjamming problems
While unjamming a garbage disposal is easy you may run into some problems. Here are some of them;
Garbage disposal wrench not 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 won’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 jamming 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
Sink not draining
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 are using a Waste King disposer then 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 whole keeping a bucket under to prevent flooding the kitchen. Here is a detailed guide to unclogging the disposal if water stands in it.