How to fix a garbage disposal

Last Updated on October 22, 2022 by Dave Farquhar

If your garbage disposal quit suddenly, don’t fret. We’ve all been there. There are three common ways to fix a garbage disposal and none of them require any special tools.

Reset it

fix a garbage disposal
Before you replace it, try three simple fixes for your garbage disposal.

You should always try the simplest fix first. Garbage disposals have a built-in circuit breaker. The button to reset the breaker is on the disposal’s underside, near the power cord. Push that button and see if the disposal comes back to life.

Using the garbage disposal key

Insinkerator disposals have a key or wrenchette, which is really nothing more than an allen wrench, that you can use to unseize them when they get stuck. In the center of the disposal on the underside, you’ll find a hexagon-shaped hole where the key fits. Place the key in the hole and turn it. It may turn more easily in one direction than the other. Turn in the easier direction first, then try the other direction to break up the obstruction.

If your wrench is missing, many stores carry replacements. But try any allen wrenches you may have on hand. If it fits, you can use it.

I once came across a disposal that was locked up so solidly that when I tried to turn it this way, the disposal itself turned on its mount. If that happens to you, proceed to the next step.

Break out the broomsticks

When a disposal is really locked up, or in the case of Anaheim or Moen disposals that don’t have a key, you can break up the obstruction with a couple of broomsticks. Push two broomsticks down into the disposal at an angle to engage the blade and make a big X. Turn the broomsticks against each other to gain leverage and force the blade to turn. Turn in both directions until you can turn freely.

Once the disposal turns freely, remove the broomsticks. Next, turn on the water, then turn on the disposal. The disposal will chew up whatever was left inside and work freely.

Dealing with leaks

Leaky disposals are, unfortunately, a fact of life. If the disposal is leaking at the pipe, you may need to replace the tailpiece, the rubber o-ring that presses up against it, or both. Those parts are available at any hardware store.

If the disposal is leaking at the bottom, you’re looking at a more difficult repair. The most frequent cause of that is putting drain cleaner in the disposal. Although it’s possible to disassemble a disposal and rebuild it, for most people it’s more cost effective to replace the disposal if it’s reached that point. It’s not cost prohibitive.

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