How to Reset a Garbage Disposal

This quick-fix can save you time and stress.

The under-sink part of a garbage disposal

snyferok / Getty Images

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 5 - 10 mins
  • Total Time: 5 - 15 mins
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $0

Garbage disposals are one of those appliances that you may not fully appreciate until it stops working. Then panic sets in as you try to figure out whether to consult the internet or immediately look for a professional to repair the unit because most people don't know how a garbage disposal works or how to begin repairing one. This is also why many people don't realize the disposal has a built-in safety system that will automatically turn off the appliance in case of a jam or overheating.

When the safety system is triggered, it pops out a small button on the bottom or side of the unit, similar to the red button on a GFCI electrical outlet. If nothing else is wrong with the unit, then pressing this button will reset the appliance, saving you time and money that would have otherwise been spent on a garbage repair professional. Read on to learn exactly how to reset a garbage disposal and what to do to dislodge a jam.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Flashlight
  • Tongs
  • Pliers
  • Allen wrench

Instructions

  1. Ensure the Disposal Is Off

    Safety needs to be a priority when you are working with a garbage disposal. While you should definitely avoid sticking your hand into the disposal, it's also important to have the disposal turned off to avoid electric discharge from the motor or wires while you work. Turn off the switch to the disposal, then turn off the switch on your breaker panel assigned to the disposal or general kitchen area. This extra step ensures that you stay safe while you work, though you may need to use a flashlight or portable work lamp if the breaker switch also controls the lights in the room.

  2. Check for Obstructions

    Use your flashlight to look down into the disposal. A common reason for a disposal to overheat is some type of obstruction, like a fork, a piece of jewelry, or even large bones. If you can spot any visible obstructions, use long pliers or a set of tongs to try and remove the blockage.

    Even though the power is off to the disposal, it still isn't recommended to reach into it with your hand. You never known when someone else in the home could turn the switch back on without thinking to ask about why it was off in the first place. It's always better to be safe in these circumstances.

  3. Locate the Reset Button

    With any visible obstructions removed, the garbage disposal should be able to function properly without overheating. Look at the bottom of the garbage disposal or on the side near the base of the appliance to find a red reset button similar to the reset button on a GFCI outlet. If you can't find this button, check the user manual or consult the manufacturer's website for the exact details.

  4. Push the Reset Button

    The red reset button pops out when the safety system is triggered due to a jam or overheating. You can reset the system by simply pushing in the reset button. However, if the button pops out after pushing it in the disposal may still be too hot. Allow the disposal to cool down for about 10 minutes before trying again.

  5. Test the Disposal

    After resetting the disposal you will need to test it to make sure that it's working correctly. Turn the power back on to the unit and run cold water down the drain for several seconds before turning on the switch. If the garbage disposal is clear and working correctly it should start up immediately and sound normal. However, if the disposal produces a loud hum, turn it off immediately because the disposal is jammed.

  6. Dislodge Jams and Retest

    Turn the power off to the disposal before working on it. Use the offset wrench that came with the disposal. (The flywheel opening is usually set up for a 4-sided wrench, so if you have lost yours or it didn't come with your home, you can usually find one in your local home center.) Turn the wrench in the clockwise direction to dislodge the jammed impeller or flywheel.

    When the flywheel is free, turn the power back on, then run cold water into the disposal while quickly flipping the switch on and off. This rapidly spins the flywheel and helps to dislodge any obstructions and rinse them into the drain to prevent the disposal from jamming again.