A jammed garbage disposal is an inconvenience that can render your kitchen sink completely useless.

Causes of Jams

Jams are caused by items that become lodged in the rotating grinding apparatus inside the garbage disposal. A disposal has a rotating plate that grinds items against the grinding chamber, essentially pulverizing items into small pieces that can go down the drain harmlessly.

Problems occur when items are placed into the disposal that can't be properly ground up. In some cases, the issue is that the items are simply too tough for thorough grinding. Bones, utensils, and metal or plastic bottle caps fall into this category. A jam can also occur when stringy or gummy items are put down the disposal. Some vegetable peelings, plastic bags, and string are examples of the former, and rice or pasta are examples of the latter. All of these items can cause a disposal to jam.

Effects of a Jam

The most obvious effect of a jam is that you will no longer be able to operate the garbage disposal. To begin with, the motor will make an awful noise when you try to turn it on. If you leave it running, you may hear squealing and smell or even see smoke as the motor overheats due to the lack of movement inside the disposal. Continuing to run the disposal will cause it to overheat and the motor will burn out.

The sink may also back up because of partially ground and unground food stuck in the drain pipe. There may also be issues with the dishwasher drainage, or the sink may back up further when the dishwasher is draining since automatic dishwashers are often routed into the same drain pipe that serves the garbage disposal.

Jam Repair and Prevention

Jam repair requires some caution due to the dangerous nature of the disposal. Always unplug the disposal before trying any repair on your own. The plug is usually located beneath the sink. Once the disposal is disconnected, you can attempt to fish the stuck item out of the disposal.

If you can't break the item loose from the top, you can work it loose with the help of an Allen wrench. On the bottom of the disposal is a small hex screw. Using a wrench that fits the screw, gently turn the screw back forth. Don't force it, but be firm. This screw rotates the grinder, so you may be able to work the jam loose. The jam is cleared once you can rotate the disposal freely. If this fails, you will need a service visit.

Contact a garbage disposal repair service if your unit isn't working properly.