How I freed a seized-up garbage disposal

Last Updated on November 26, 2015 by Dave Farquhar

I’m sure all landlords have a story like this, but let me tell you my garbage disposal story. I don’t know what the last occupant put in that disposal, and I don’t want to know. What I do know is that it was completely seized up and wouldn’t run.

The motor hummed, which I know from years of tinkering with old Lionel and Marx electric trains that meant the motor wasn’t completely dead, so I had to find a way to free up whatever was keeping the motor from turning.

The usual fix is to use a garbage disposal wrench (which is really just an allen wrench–so you can use any allen wrench that fits) to spin the motor in both directions until it turns freely. There’s a little key in the center of the underside where the wrench goes. Mine wouldn’t budge. I wasn’t being wimpy either–I’d lean on it to the point where the disposal itself was shifting in its mount, but the motor stubbornly refused to go anywhere.

At this point I’d about written it off. A 1/3 horsepower Waste King Legend disposal costs around $55 online, and sometimes you can get their low-end half-horse unit for around $5 more, so I figured I didn’t have a whole lot to lose, and I knew I couldn’t make the disposal any worse.

I really wanted some vinegar or some other mild acid to dump down in there to try to loosen up the blockage. But I didn’t have any on hand. I didn’t have any Pepsi either (something I’m notorious for using, in certain circles).

So I ran a bunch of water, then sprayed a bunch of water into the disposal, hoping maybe that would loosen things up a bit. No dice.

So I looked around to see what I did have. My best option was some orange cleaner. Being mildly acidic and mildly lubricating, it seemed like something that could help on two fronts. So I sprayed some of that down the drain and let it sit for a few minutes. Then I ran a little water, shut the water back off, grabbed the wrench, positioned it, and I leaned into it with all the might I had left. The neighbors probably heard the crunch, but that was OK. I spun it 12 times in both directions, and the crunching still didn’t subside. At that point, I decided to try the motor. So I turned the water back on, flipped the switch, and heard the suddenly sweet, familiar Insinkerator roar.

Chewing through whatever was in there released a vicious stank, but I understand pouring about a quarter of a cup of Borax into the drain, letting it sit 30 minutes, then running the water with the disposal running for a few minutes will clear that up.

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