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?
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.
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