Picture of an installed Whirlpool garbage disposal, top view, from sink.

How to Free Up a Stalled Garbage Disposal




Often, we travel, or otherwise, do not run the kitchen garbage disposal for several days at a time.  Disposals featuring iron along their interiors are particularly prone to seizing up when not run for a period.  When you turn the switch on and all you hear is a low hum, you know that your disposal has bound up.  Quickly turn it off, lest you burn out the stalled motor.  We just experienced this in our Whirlpool disposal, and here’s a short explanation of how we fixed it.

Freeing it up however, is a pretty simple process, using common household tools.  The idea is, with the disposal turned off, and a trickle of water running in the same sink as the disposal, to insert something into the throat of the disposal that’s long enough to reach the rough bottom of it, yet protrude out far enough from it that you can bang it a couple times with a hammer, wrench, or other hard object.  We used a long, stainless steel wrench, as shown below.

Picture of a stalled garbage disposal, using long wrench to free its blades.
Stalled garbage disposal, using long wrench to free its blades.

 

The tool you pick should have a rough edge, that will grab the rough bottom of the disposal without slipping too much.  Some people have used boards, long screwdrivers, or even chisels for this.

Insert your tool of choice into the mouth of the disposal, being careful to position it on the bottom, away from the cutting blades to avoid possible damage to them.  Shown in the next picture.  Position it on a rough area of the blade drum, where your tool is the least likely to slip off during tapping, coming up next.

Picture of a stalled garbage disposal with a wrench inserted to free it up.
Stalled garbage disposal with a wrench inserted to free it up.

 

Then, gently tap or pound the end of the tool sticking out of the disposal two or three times.  Doing this does not require cave man strength.  Properly placed, yet gentle hits usually do the trick. Knocking the disposal too hard could crack its interior however, and cause it to leak underneath the sink.  Bad, bad, bad!  So, don’t overdo it!

Picture of a garbage disposal, wrapping inserted wrench with another wrench, to loosen rusted blade drum.
Garbage disposal, wrapping inserted wrench with another wrench, to loosen rusted blade drum.

 

After you’ve decisively tapped it a few times, remove the object you stuck down into it, and quickly turn it on and off again. 

If it still just hums, and the blades still refuse to turn, then repeat the above operation, using slightly harder pounds.  Try running some hot water into it to warm up the parts, and dump a half-cup of cooking oil into the blade area.  This helps lubricate the stuck parts enough to loosen them.

If you can’t loosen the blade drum enough to allow the motor to spin it, after two or three tries, your best bet is to replace the disposal, as there is likely severe rusting inside that’s causing the binding, which indicates that the disposal is probably near end-of-life and due for replacement.  Frequent binding incidents like this are early warning signs that permanent failure is more likely.

We offer this article for informational purposes only.  It does not substitute for advice and service from a qualified home appliance repair professional.    We cannot be responsible for any damaged disposals due to improper application of the information contained in this post.

Related Posts

Revision History

  • 2017-11-03: Originally published.