How to Reset a Garbage Disposal

A garbage disposal is a useful appliance found in many kitchen sinks that shreds and grinds up scraps of food so they can easily pass through plumbing. However, like any appliance, garbage disposals can sometimes malfunction or stop working properly. When this happens, resetting the garbage disposal is often a quick and easy fix to get it functioning again. Here is a comprehensive guide on how to properly reset a garbage disposal to get your unit back up and running.

How Garbage Disposals Work

Before learning how to reset a garbage disposal, it helps to understand how they work. A garbage disposal has a motor that spins a rotating disk (called an impeller) at a very high speed. This impeller is mounted on a shaft along with a shredder ring. As water and food scraps flow into the garbage disposal, they pass over these rapidly spinning components which grind the waste into tiny particles.

The small food particles mix with water and pass through holes in the shredder ring, exiting the garbage disposal through the tailpipe which connects to the household plumbing drainage. A special baffle called an anti-splash guard prevents water and food from flying back out of the sink drain.

Garbage disposals typically have a wall switch or toggle button to activate the motor and another switch or button to reverse direction. They require a supply of electrical power as well as a cold water supply line which allows a steady flow of water through the unit when in use.

Why Garbage Disposals Jam and How to Unjam Them

Garbage disposals are susceptible to jamming or clogging for a variety of reasons. Some of the most common causes include:

  • Putting the wrong items down the disposal: Starchy foods like pasta, rice, and potatoes can swell up and clog a garbage disposal. Other items like grease, bones, fruit peels, and eggshells are also likely to cause jams. Avoid putting any of these items down the drain.
  • Overloading the disposal: Putting too much food waste into the disposal at one time won’t allow it to grind properly and can lead to jams. Turn the faucet on and run water through the disposal when grinding food waste.
  • Foreign objects: Items like silverware, bottle caps, glass, or bits of plastic can easily get lodged in a disposal and jam the impeller. Avoid dropping foreign objects down the drain.
  • Power outage: Food debris can harden inside a garbage disposal during a power outage. When turned back on, this debris causes a jam.

If your garbage disposal does become jammed, you may hear grinding or humming noises coming from the unit. There are a few methods you can try to unjam a stuck garbage disposal:

  • Use the self-service wrenchette provided with many garbage disposals. Insert it in the bottom of the unit and turn back and forth to dislodge stuck food particles.
  • Turn the wall switch off and on several times. This will cause the impeller to jerk in short bursts which can dislodge jams.
  • Use a hex wrench or Allen wrench to turn the flywheel back and forth from underneath the sink. This manually rotates the impeller to dislodge jams.
  • Insert a wooden spoon handle or a broomstick into the disposal and press up to dislodge debris. Do not put your hand inside a running disposal.

If these methods fail to clear a stubborn jam, you may need to reset your garbage disposal.

When to Reset a Garbage Disposal

Resetting the garbage disposal is recommended any time the unit is making loud noises, humming, not turning on at all, or has stopped working altogether. Resetting can dislodge minor blockages, clear debris, and get the impeller spinning freely again.

It’s a good idea to try resetting your garbage disposal before calling for service or attempting any repairs. Resetting is quick and straightforward.

Here are some signs that indicate it’s time to reset your garbage disposal:

  • The disposal is completely clogged and none of the unjamming methods work.
  • The unit hums but doesn’t grind when turned on.
  • The disposal turns on but quickly trips the circuit breaker or GFCI outlet.
  • Water is draining slowly or starts to back up when the disposal is used.
  • You’ve turned the power on and off several times but the unit still doesn’t operate normally.
  • Unusual noises (loud humming, squeaking grinding) are coming from the disposal.
  • The disposal has completely stopped working and won’t turn on at all.

Resetting should be done as a first step any time the disposal stops functioning or acts unusual.

How to Reset a Garbage Disposal

Resetting a garbage disposal is a fairly straightforward process that can be done in a few simple steps:

Switch Off Power Supply

The first step is to cut electrical power to the garbage disposal by turning off the switch on the wall or unplugging the outlet underneath the sink that it is plugged into.

Never stick your hand into a sink to reset a garbage disposal while it remains plugged in and powered on. This could result in serious injury.

Make sure power is shut off completely before proceeding with the reset steps.

Insert Allen Wrench

Next, you’ll need an Allen or hex wrench that fits inside the small reset hole on the bottom of the garbage disposal. This is usually a 1⁄4 inch or 3/8 inch Allen wrench depending on the model. Insert the Allen wrench into the recessed reset switch and turn it back and forth a few times.

Insert Allen wrench

On some models you may need to push in and hold the reset button for 10-15 seconds rather than turning the wrench. Refer to your owner’s manual for exact reset switch instructions for your brand and model.

Remove Foreign Objects

Check the interior of the disposal and remove any foreign objects like utensils, bottle caps, glass fragments, pop-tabs or anything else that may have become lodged inside the unit. It’s a good idea to use needle-nose pliers, tongs or a flashlight to see inside the disposal when doing this.

Replace Safety Baffle

If your garbage disposal has a special plastic safety baffle inside, make sure it is securely in place before resetting the unit. This baffle prevents utensils and fingers from getting near the shredder ring.

Check Water Flow

With the power still turned off, turn on the faucet and make sure there is adequate water flowing down into the disposal. A proper water supply is required for the safe operation of a garbage disposal. The sink should drain without any overflow or backing up as well.

Restore Power Supply

Once you’ve completed the previous reset steps, turn the power back on either at the wall switch or outlet.

Turn On Disposal

With the cold water running, turn on the disposal using the wall switch or push button control. The disposal should turn on, spin normally, and operate quietly with no jams. Let the unit run for 30 seconds after resetting to clear any remaining debris.

Tips for Resetting a Garbage Disposal

Here are some helpful tips to get the most out of resetting your garbage disposal unit:

  • Give the reset wrench or switch 10-15 good, firm turns in both directions to ensure you trigger the reset mechanism.
  • If the disposal has a specialized reset button, hold this button down for the full recommended time per the manufacturer directions.
  • Always run cold water before, during, and after using the garbage disposal. The water helps keep food waste flowing and prevents future jams.
  • Let the disposal run for 30-60 seconds after resetting to clear any leftover debris still in the chamber.
  • If the disposal still doesn’t operate properly after one reset attempt, wait 5-10 minutes and try resetting it again.
  • If the unit continues to trip the circuit breaker, unplug it before resetting it again. Leave it unplugged for 30 minutes before the next reset attempt.
  • Use ear protection or unplug the disposal when checking for foreign objects lodged inside. Loud noises are common when manually turning the flywheel or impeller.
  • Avoid putting bones, starch-heavy foods, grease, paper, plastic, glass or other debris down the drain. Proper use prevents most jams.
  • Have a qualified electrician inspect the disposal if water is leaking, you get shocked, the unit turns on by itself, or the motor won’t run after multiple reset attempts.

Resetting a garbage disposal is usually the simplest and most effective way to get it working properly again after a jam or clog. However, if the disposal fails to operate smoothly after several consecutive reset attempts, contact a plumber to have the unit serviced. Continuing to reset an aging garbage disposal that needs repair will result in further damage.

Signs You May Need a Garbage Disposal Replacement

While resetting a garbage disposal is often effective in restoring normal function, sometimes the problems point to a failing or defective unit that requires replacement. Here are some signs your disposal may be too old and worn out to reset:

  • The motor makes loud grinding noises even after resetting. This indicates worn out shredding components.
  • The disposal does not turn on at all, even after tripping and resetting the circuit breaker multiple times.
  • Frequent jams and clogs continue occurring despite attempts to reset the unit.
  • The bottom housing shows excessive corrosion or the mounting bracket is damaged.
  • There are leaks originating from the seals or plumbing connections.
  • Foul odors come from the unit even after thorough cleaning.
  • Resetting provides very temporary relief with symptoms recurring in less than 24 hours.
  • The disposal is older than 10-12 years. The average lifespan of a garbage disposal is 10 to 12 years.

If your disposal exhibits one or more of these signs, it may need to be replaced instead of resetting it again and again. Check your homeowner’s warranty or contact local plumbers to discuss garbage disposal replacement options.

Troubleshooting Common Garbage Disposal Problems

Besides jamming and reduced grinding ability, garbage disposals can develop other functional problems. Here’s how to troubleshoot some typical garbage disposal issues:

Problem: Disposal turns on by itself

Solution: If the disposal starts running spontaneously, it likely has a short in the wires providing power. Unplug the unit and call an electrician to inspect the wires and switches.

Problem: Disposal won’t turn on

Solution: Check that the disposal is plugged in or flipped on at the circuit breaker. Reset the unit. If needed, manually spin the turntable via the Allen wrench to start the motor. Still doesn’t work? Have a technician check the grind components, bearings, motor and wiring.

Problem: Loud humming sound

Solution: Loud or high-pitched humming often means something is jammed. Unplug power and manually turn the flywheel with a wrench to dislodge debris. Avoid using the disposal until the hum goes away after resetting.

Problem: Bad odors

Solution: Rancid disposal odors usually occur when food particles accumulate. Clean the unit thoroughly with baking soda and vinegar. Be sure to grind citrus peels to help freshen the smell after cleaning.

Problem: Leaking water

Solution: Leaks around the drain flange may require a new mounting gasket. Leaks below need the sink drain basket tightened. Persistent water leakage often requires disposal replacement. Shut off electrical power before attempting any repairs.

FAQs About Resetting Garbage Disposals

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about resetting garbage disposals:

How do you know if your garbage disposal needs to be reset?

Signs your unit needs resetting include reduced grinding ability, loud buzzing or humming, failure to turn on, tripping the circuit breaker, slow draining water, bad odors, or leaking.

Why does my garbage disposal keep tripping the circuit breaker?

Frequent circuit breaker tripping usually indicates a jam. Reset the disposal and clear any stuck debris. If tripping continues, have an electrician inspect the unit for internal short circuits.

How many times can you reset a garbage disposal in a day?

There is no set limit on how often you can reset a garbage disposal in a day. However, frequent daily resetting suggests a problem needing repair. It’s best to limit reset attempts to 2-3 times per day max.

Is there a reset button on a garbage disposal?

Many models have a small red reset button on the bottom rather than an Allen wrench receptacle. Check your manual for the exact reset procedure. Turning power off and on also resets some disposals.

Why won’t my sink drain after resetting the garbage disposal?

If water starts accumulating in the sink, the drain line is likely still clogged. Try using a sink plunger to clear the blockage. Resetting the disposal should help grind any debris cleared by plunging.

How do you reset a garbage disposal without a reset button?

For models without special reset buttons, use the following steps:

  1. Turn off electrical power at the breaker or unplug the unit.
  2. Insert an Allen wrench in the reset port and give it a few turns back and forth.
  3. Remove any foreign objects from the disposal chamber.
  4. Turn on water supply and check for adequate flow.
  5. Turn the power back on at the outlet or breaker switch.

Can you burn out a garbage disposal motor by resetting it too much?

Excessive resetting shouldn’t burn out the motor. But frequent resetting does suggest an underlying problem needing repair. It’s fine to reset 2-3 times in one day if needed, but any more indicates deeper issues.

How to Reset a Garbage Disposal Without Power?

With the power off, insert an Allen wrench in the reset port on the bottom of the unit. Turn the wrench 5-6 times clockwise and counter-clockwise. This manually rotates the flywheel to clear jams without power.

When to Call a Professional

While DIY resetting can fix many garbage disposal problems, certain situations call for professional assistance:

  • You’ve reset the unit multiple times with no improvement.
  • The motor or internal components make harsh grinding noises.
  • Water leaks from the bottom of the unit.
  • The disposal trips the circuit breaker every time it’s used.
  • You notice a burning smell coming from the appliance.
  • Resetting the unit causes sewage to back up through the sink drain.
  • The disposal shook violently before stopping completely.

If any of these scenarios occur, stop resetting the unit yourself and call a pro. The garbage disposal likely needs repair or replacement that exceeds simple reset procedures. Professionals have specialized tools and expertise to fully diagnose issues and fix persistent problems.

Bottom Line

Resetting a garbage disposal is a fast and easy first step in resolving many minor problems. By cutting power, manually turning the flywheel, removing debris, and restoring electrical supply, you can get a disposal functioning properly again without taking it apart or calling a plumber.

However, if resetting your unit multiple times doesn’t resolve the issues, or new problems arise, have a qualified technician assess the situation. They can determine whether your garbage disposal needs a more complex repair or if complete replacement is the smartest option to restore full function.