Clearing Jams in Your Garbage Disposal

The Basic Home Maintenance Series

What is this Tool? (Hint: It helps you Unjam Your Garbage Disposal)

Do you have one of these tools in a drawer in your kitchen?  Ever wondered what it is used for?

This is an angled Allen wrench. It usually comes with your garbage disposal and is used for clearing jams in your garbage disposal.

How often? As Needed

When? As Needed

Estimated Cost? $0.00 -$10 if you need to purchase the tool

Time Commitment? 10 Minutes

Your disposal may from time to time get jammed up when a bone or other hard object gets between the internal impeller blades and the wall of the disposal. When a jam initially occurs, you will continue to hear a humming sound as the motor strains against the foreign object, jamming the impeller plate. As the motor heats up, the automatic shutoff feature included in nearly all newer garbage disposals will shut off the motor entirely.

Unjamming the disposal is a simple matter involving removing whatever object is causing the jam—which may require using the wrench to move the impeller blades to free whatever is jamming—and then resetting the motor using the reset button. Only the very oldest garbage disposals do not have a reset feature (time to consider replacing the disposal if this is the case). It’s an easy task that should take 10 minutes.

Tools and Supplies You Will Need

You will need a hex wrench to fit the socket on the bottom of the garbage disposal housing. Most disposals come with this wrench just for this purpose.  If you don’t have a disposal wrench, you can use a standard 1/4-inch Allen wrench.

  • Hex wrench
  • Flashlight
  • Needle-nose pliers (optional)


Unplug the garbage disposal unit from the outlet it is plugged into. If the unit is hardwired and has no outlet, make sure the switch controlling the disposal is in the OFF position, then turn off the disposal’s circuit breaker in your home’s service panel (breaker box). This ensures that the disposal can’t be turned on accidentally.

Check for Obstructions

Use a flashlight to peer down into the sink opening of the disposal. You may be able to see the object jamming the impeller. If you see an obstruction, you can attempt to remove it by hand. Alternatively, you can use needle-nose pliers if you’re uncomfortable with using your hand. (There’s nothing sharp inside the disposal, including the impeller teeth, which are blunt metal, but, if you suspect broken glass is in your disposal, be careful using your hand.)

Loosen the Jam

Identify the hex socket on the center of the underside of the garbage disposal unit. It’s inside a small, round hole in the motor housing. Insert the hex wrench into this socket, then move the wrench back and forth to free the jam or confirm that the impeller is freed. This socket is connected directly to the impeller hub, and moving the wrench usually loosens whatever object is jamming the disposal.

Restore Power

Plug the disposal back into the outlet, or switch the disposal’s circuit breaker back on to restore power.

Reset the Disposal

Press the small reset button on the disposal unit; this is usually a red button located on the bottom of the unit. The reset button works like a circuit breaker and automatically trips the prevent the motor from overheating. Pressing the button resets the little internal breaker.

Test the Disposal

Run the cold water at the kitchen faucet, then turn on the disposal. If it spins freely, you’re done. If the motor hums but doesn’t spin (and may shut itself off), it’s probably still jammed. Repeat the same process to free the jam and reset the unit. If the motor won’t turn on at all, it’s likely that the disposal has burned out and needs to be replaced.

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