How to Fix a Stuck or Locked Up Garbage Disposal

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Dear Home Ec 101,

When I flip on the switch for my garbage disposal, nothing happens. It was working fine the other day. Could it be broken?


D$*&# Disposal

white kitchen with silver cooktop and sink

Even though it seems like it won’t come on, the first thing to do is turn off the power to the garbage disposal at the breaker. While a garbage disposal won’t grab your hand and pull you down the drain a la that horrid Freddy Kreuger or Jason movie, broken fingers wouldn’t be a treat.

It’s best to wear gloves during the next step, as there is a chance of coming in contact with a sharp bone fragment or an errant piece of glass. Remove any food or debris and then gently try to feel around the blades (they are dull, used for grinding, not slicing). Sometimes a piece of bone or other debris gets wedged under a blade.

Each blade should move with slight pressure, but only in one direction. Do not try to force the blade to turn. Garbage disposals are designed with a breaker that trips when the motor is at risk of overheating. If a blade becomes blocked, the unit shuts down and will need to be reset.

If the blades don’t turn with gentle pressure, it’s time to find an Allen wrench or hex key. Grab a flashlight and open up the cabinet under the sink. At the base of most disposal units is an opening for a hex key that lets you manually turn the blades. Give it a turn. If it won’t turn, it’s time to call the manufacturer or look up the specific unit’s manual online for further advice.

Once the blades turn, look for a button near the opening for the hex key, press this. Then, restore power to the unit, turn on the cold water, and flip the switch.

Happy disposaling!

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18 thoughts on “How to Fix a Stuck or Locked Up Garbage Disposal”

  1. I needed this post last week! The plumber already came and replaced my disposal. I have a home warranty so it didn't cost much but it's the principle of the thing.

  2. I've had to open my garbage disposal up and remove a plastic bag from around the blades. (best friend accidently washed it down the sink) It was actually pretty easy to fix and put back on. I don't call in the professionals unless it's something pretty drastic, aka broken pipe I just absolutely can't fix.

    • Two nights ago I got fed up with the slow sink drain upstairs and pulled off the j-trap. Sure enough it was packed with legos, hair, and toothpaste goo.
      I want to do so much I just keep running into that not enough time in the world situation AND the if I post too often people get fussy.

      • I like your posts! Now if I can only figure out how to remove the drain stop from the tub so I can unclog it. The drain stop won't even go down all the way, so we have to put a cup over it to keep it from draining.

  3. Our plumber once told us to put a broom handle in the disposal to try to move the blades around. This is when it makes a stuck "wrrrr" sound when you hit the switch. It has fixed it more than once! But I guess it isn't the recommended method…. 😉

  4. my disposal works but is very noisy. turns out there is a chicken bone (not intentionally put down there) jammed under one of the blades. I can't figure out how to hold the disposal still while I knock the blade loose. Do I have to take the thing appart?

  5. Good point and nice user-friendly website with navigation.Thank you for such a nice piece of information. Your points are all very important and all of them following will certainly give the result.

  6. Glad I found this post tonight before buying a new one tomorrow. Used a hex key to manually turn it and found a small baby fork stuck in the blades. Works just fine now. Thanks for the posting!

  7. Thank you thank you thank you!! I got Legos stuck in my disposal and followed these directions. Worked perfectly! Thought we were going to have to replace the whole thing. Thank you!

  8. I have had to unclog the garbage disposal several times before (4 kids in the house).. however.. this time.. the allen key would not turn at all.. when I stick my hand down the drain the blades turn.. when I turn it on it just hums.. I have pressed the reset button.. still just hums.. I’m afraid a screw went down the drain.. it fell down their the other day but when I went to fish it out I couldn’t find it.. I assumed it just went all the way down (it was a small screw).. is there anything I can do to fix this myself?


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