How to Fix a Clogged Garbage Disposal

There comes a time in every garbage disposal owner's life when they will experience a jam of some sort. In my experience, this has typically been broken glass, a small unseen piece of bone, or plastic ware that has taken the plunge. You will immediately know when there is a jam by the sound of a humming motor without the spinning grinding vortex sound of the disposal's impeller. The light in your kitchen ceiling or one directly over the sink may also slightly flicker if it is on the same electrical circuit as the disposal due to the extra draw on the power.

Occasionally you may need to unclog a jam in your garbage disposal.

Occasionally you may need to unclog a jam in your garbage disposal.

If a jam happens, follow these seven simple steps to safely unclog your disposal before damage occurs.

  1. Immediately turn off the disposal.
  2. Using a long wooden spoon handle or something similar, rustle around the inside of the disposal to feel anything loose rattling around.
  3. Using small tongs or long pliers reach in and grab any loose items found. These three steps will not free up the jam, but will prevent any further jams of the same materials.
  4. Using the 1/4" Z-shaped Allen Wrench provided with your disposal or any 1/4" Allen Wrench (the longer the better for leverage), reach beneath your sink and under your disposal to find the 1/4" hex socket directly in the middle of the bottom. This hex socket is connected directly to the drive shaft of the disposal. Now insert the shorter end of the Allen Wrench into this hex socket making sure it is inserted all the way in.
  5. Using a light and steadily increasing force, begin to try and move the wrench back and forth. In this step, if the drive shaft begins to move in one direction or another, you will most likely hear some crunching in the case of glass, bone, or plastic. This is normal. Continue to move the wrench back and forth until you can completely spin the shaft without hesitation. Again, hearing crunching is normal as you free the jam.
  6. Once the drive shaft is freely spinning with the Allen Wrench, repeat steps 2 and 3 to determine if there is any further debris inside the disposal.
  7. Turn on the water and allow it to flow freely down the drain. Now stand back (never look directly down the drain hole) and turn on the disposal being prepared to immediately turn it off if it is still jammed, or if it jams up again. You will hear some more crunching for a brief moment. In my experience, once I've freed the jam manually there are no further issues at this point and the job is complete.
Once the jam is cleared, water will flow easily.

Once the jam is cleared, water will flow easily.

If you are unable to free the jam manually using the wrench, that means whatever debris that has fallen inside, possibly cannot be broken down any further, and is wedged in there pretty well. Continue to try moving the shaft in both directions, but do not use so much force as to wobble your sink or damage the connection between the drain and the disposal. Never try to disassemble your disposal, as they are not meant to be taken apart. You may actually need a new disposal in the worst case of jams if it cannot be freed using the above steps. However, I hope this simple and efficient way of doing a little self-repair will save you the unplanned expense of buying a new disposal.