How to Fix a Jammed Sink Disposal With an Allen Wrench

A jammed sink disposal is a common issue that can happen to any homeowner. Food particles, grease, bones, and other debris can get lodged in the disposal blades, preventing them from spinning and grinding up the waste. A jammed disposal is not only inconvenient but can also lead to backed up drains, foul odors, and water leaks if left unattended. Thankfully, in many cases, a jammed garbage disposal can be easily fixed with an allen wrench and a few simple steps.

What Causes a Garbage Disposal to Jam?

There are a few common culprits when it comes to a jammed sink disposal:

Food Buildup

Food items like fruit peels, eggshells, coffee grounds, bones, and fibrous vegetables can get caught in the disposal blades. Over time, this buildup prevents the blades from spinning and grinding the waste properly. Pushing more waste down on top of an existing clog will only make the jam worse.

Utensils and Silverware

It’s tempting to throw small utensils like forks, knives, and even spoons down the disposal. However, this is never a good idea. These items can easily get lodged in the shredder ring or impeller blades. Bottle caps, pennies, and other foreign objects can cause jams for the same reason.

Grease and Fat

Grease, oils, and fats that get washed down the drain can stick to the internal components of the disposal. As more fat and food particles combine, it turns into a thick sludge that prevents proper operation.

Old or Faulty Disposal

An older disposal that is worn out or one that has a failing motor can easily get jammed from standard food waste. If your unit is over 10 years old, it may be time to replace it with a more powerful modern disposal.

How to Unjam a Sink Disposal with an Allen Wrench

An allen wrench, also known as a hex key, is the perfect tool for loosening jams and freeing up a stuck disposal. Here are the steps involved:

Gather the Proper Tools

  • Allen or hex wrench (usually found underneath the sink or inside the disposal kit)
  • Flashlight
  • Protective gloves
  • Small bucket or pan

Disconnect Power to Disposal

Unplug the garbage disposal under the sink or locate the circuit breaker powering the unit and switch it OFF. Shutting off electricity prevents accidental injury from turning blades.

Insert the Allen Wrench

Locate the hex-shaped hole underneath the disposal unit. This is where the allen wrench inserts. Slide the long end of the L-shaped hex wrench into the hole.

Rotate the Wrench Back and Forth

Gently rotate the wrench clockwise and counter-clockwise while applying light pressure. This motion will loosen up any foreign objects or debris stuck in the shredder ring or impeller. Going slowly and carefully will prevent damage to any components.

Remove the Allen Wrench

Once you’ve rotated the wrench in both directions, carefully pull it out of the disposal hole. Having it inserted safely prevents fingers from getting near the sharp shredder ring during troubleshooting.

Turn Power Back On

Turn the power back ON at the breaker or plug the disposal back in under the sink.

Run Water and Turn Disposal On

Run cool water in the sink and turn the disposal on for 30 seconds to a minute. This will flush away any loosened debris. Listen for chopping sounds which indicate the unit is no longer jammed.

Insert the Wrench Again If Needed

If the disposal remains jammed, unplug power once more and insert the hex wrench again. Give it some more back and forth turns, remove it, and test again with water running. Repeat as needed until the spinning sound returns.

Unjamming Tips and Tricks

Here are some helpful pointers when trying to unjam a stuck sink disposal:

  • Take it slow and don’t force the wrench. Too much torque can damage impeller components.
  • Wedge a wooden spoon or broom handle into the disposal opening to prevent blades from turning unexpectedly.
  • Place a small bucket or pan under the unit to catch any freed debris.
  • Don’t reach fingers into the disposal opening even with power disconnected.
  • If the Allen wrench method fails, you may need to access and manually clear debris from the shredder ring. Refer to disposal manual.
  • For stubborn jams, you can try turning the wrench from underneath while someone reaches through the drain opening from above simultaneously.
  • If grease buildup seems to be the culprit, use hot water and degreaser to melt and flush away the sludge.
  • Try eliminating the clog from above using a sink plunger over the drain opening while the disposal is turned off.
  • If blades spin freely but won’t grind, the issue may be a jammed flywheel key or fault motor needing replacement.

Preparing to Use the Disposal After Unjamming

Once you’ve succeeded in getting the disposal blades spinning again, here are some final steps to get the unit back up and running:

Flush with Hot Water

Let hot water run for a few minutes to rinse away any remaining particles. You can also grind up some ice cubes to fully clear out the shredder ring.

Check for Leaks

Carefully check under the unit and around plumbing connections for any water leaks that may have resulted from the jam. Tighten fittings or replace gaskets if necessary.

Replace Disposal Guard/Splashguard

The plastic guard fits into the sink opening around the disposal to prevent utensils and hands from accidentally falling in. Make sure this is re-installed properly.

Reset Circuit Breaker/GFIC

If you switched off a breaker or GFIC outlet to disconnect power, make sure it is reset and power is restored to the disposal before using.

Run Disposal Before Using

Once everything is back in place, turn on the cold water and run the disposal for a full minute. Listen for proper grinding sounds indicating normal operation.

Avoid Hard Foods

Go easy on the disposal at first. Wait to put any hard or fibrous items down the drain. Allow freshly ground ice or soft foods to further clear out any residual debris.

With a little patience and the proper technique, an allen wrench can quickly get a jammed garbage disposal spinning freely once again. Just take appropriate safety precautions, work slowly, and don’t force the tool. With regular care and proper use, you can avoid costly repairs and keep your disposal working smoothly for years to come.

FAQs About Unjamming a Sink Disposal

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about fixing a jammed garbage disposal with an allen wrench:

Where is the Allen wrench hole on the disposal?

The hex-shaped hole designed to fit an allen wrench is located on the bottom underside of the disposal unit. Consult your owner’s manual for the exact position. It’s often covered by a removable plug.

What size Allen wrench do I need?

In most cases, you’ll need a 5/32-inch or 3/16-inch Allen wrench. The smaller 5/32 wrench is the most common size and usually included with new disposals or can be found under the sink.

Why does my Allen wrench keep slipping out of the hole?

Applying too much sideways torque when turning can cause the wrench to slip from the hole. Try inserting it as far as possible and putting more downward pressure as you gently rotate back and forth.

Can I unjam the disposal without an Allen wrench?

While not recommended, you may be able to clear out debris by reaching through the drain opening from above while power is off. Never do this with power connected! An Allen wrench provides the safest method.

What if the Allen wrench method isn’t working?

If you can’t seem to break loose the clog with an Allen wrench, there may be a large foreign object like a utensil stuck in the unit. You may need to access the shredder ring and manually remove debris.

My disposal hums but won’t rotate when turned on. Now what?

If the disposal hums but the grinding plate doesn’t spin, the issue is likely with the flywheel key or motor. Replacing the key may work, but a jammed or worn-out motor will need professional service or disposal replacement.

Can I unjam my disposal if it has no Allen wrench hole?

Older units may not have the Allen wrench hole. You’ll have to either access the flywheel from below or reach through the drain opening above once power is disconnected. Never stick fingers in disposal with power on!

Why is my disposal jamming frequently?

Frequent jams usually indicate improper garbage disposal use. Make sure to run plenty of cold water when grinding food waste. Avoid bones, grease, eggshells, and fibrous veggies. And never use harsh chemicals or drain cleaners with a disposal.

Preventing Future Garbage Disposal Jams

A little prevention goes a long way when it comes to maintaining a clog-free sink disposal. Here are some tips:

  • Run a strong flow of cold water before, during, and after grinding to flush away particles.
  • Cut or break up hard items like bones and corn cobs before putting down disposal.
  • Avoid putting stringy peeled veggies like celery or artichokes down the drain.
  • Use a drain stopper when washing greasy dishes to prevent oil and fat from washing down the sink.
  • Remove sink strainers and regularly clean out trapped gunk and food buildup.
  • Avoid chemical drain cleaners and use baking soda for odor control.
  • Freshen the unit by grinding up lemon or orange peels. The citric acids help clean the shredder ring.
  • Don’t use hot water when grinding waste – it can liquify greases that leads to jams.
  • Replace your disposal every 10-15 years to keep the motor and blades running strong.

Following proper garbage disposal usage and maintenance habits will minimize the chances of dealing with bothersome jams. But when they inevitably occur, keep an allen wrench handy to safely and easily get things grinding again.

When to Call a Professional for Garbage Disposal Repair

While many jams can be fixed with some DIY troubleshooting, there are times when it’s best to call in a professional:

Major Damage is Evident

  • Visible cracks in components
  • Major leaking issues
  • Loud scraping, grinding noises

you’ve Removed Debris and it Still Won’t Work

  • Cleared out visible debris but blades still won’t turn
  • Bad odors coming from unit
  • Humming sound but no spinning

Electrical Issues

  • Frequent tripping of circuits
  • Outlets with no power
  • Visible burned wiring

For Garbage Disposal Installation or Replacement

  • Upgrading to a more powerful unit
  • Fitting and wiring a new garbage disposal
  • Hauling away and properly disposing old unit

Avoid frustrations and save time by calling in a pro garbage disposal technician to safely diagnose and fix any complex repairs needed.


Dealing with a jammed sink disposal is one of the most common issues homeowners face in the kitchen. But armed with a little knowledge and the right tools, this is a problem you can easily and safely resolve yourself. Keeping an Allen wrench readily available and knowing how to properly insert and rotate it is key to getting those pesky disposal blades unclogged. Just remember to always exercise caution and disconnect power first when doing any troubleshooting. With the proper care, your garbage disposal should be able to handle most everyday food waste with ease and keep your plumbing running smoothly for years to come.