Garbage disposals make cleaning up dinner easy, but every once in a while they get jammed. Before you call a handyman (who might stick you with a big repair bill) take a few minutes to try and solve the problem yourself. Most of the time, it’s just a tiny piece of food causing the problem, and once it’s removed you’re good to go!
Diagnose the problem. When you accidentally drop a fork into the disposal during dish duty, the source of the issue is obvious. But if you try to turn on your disposal and nothing happens (or there’s an electric humming but no turning blades) it’s worth doing some investigating. Shine a flashlight into the drain and see if you can visually locate the block.
Reset the power. If you don’t see anything in there, your disposal may have simply gotten overloaded. Wait a few minutes for the disposal to cool down, then look underneath the sink for a reset button (it’s usually red). Press it, and then run some cold water down your drain and try turning it on again. Note: If it doesn’t sound like any electricity is going to the disposal, check your electrical panel and see if you need to reset a breaker or replace a blown fuse.
Clear the blockage. If you can see the obstruction, grab your metal tongs and try to pull it out (make sure you turn off your disposal first). Then give the disposal another try. Note: It may be tempting to reach in with your hand, but that isn’t a safe decision! Even if the disposal is off, it’s not worth risking your fingers for the sake of convenience. Stick with the tongs.
Jostle the blades. Still not working? Use a broom handle to move the blades back and forth. Sometimes this gives the blades enough room to clear the obstruction themselves.
Manually turn the blades from below. On the bottom of your disposal (beneath the sink), there should be a small hole. A lot of disposals come with an Allen wrench that fits into this slot. If you can’t find the wrench (or don’t have one) you can purchase a replacement at your local hardware store. Once you get the wrench in the hole, twist it back and forth in either direction. This almost always frees up the obstruction.
Call a professional. If none of these strategies get your disposal up and running again, it’s time to call a professional.
Clean the disposal blades. If your disposal continues to back up, the blades may actually be clogged with bits of debris, which prevent them from properly grinding new food. To clean your blades, dump a handful of ice down the drain while the disposal is off. Then, run some cold water and run your disposal until the ice is all ground up. Note: Contrary to popular belief, this does not actually sharpen your blades, but it does help your disposal run more efficiently!