How to Reset a Garbage Disposal

how to reset a garbage disposalMost garbage disposals have a reset button. It is usually red, and it is usually located on the bottom of the disposal.

If something happens to cause a temporary jam or other problem, it will pop out. The reset button popping out is similar to a local fuse being tripped. It’s a safety feature that helps protect the disposal from overheating and ruining the motor when something bad happens.

If you are familiar with your garbage disposal, it should be simple enough to turn the unit off and just push the reset button. Afterwards, wait a few seconds, then turn on the cold water and then turn on the disposal.

Safety Tip: No matter how small the job, if you are doing any kind of maintenance on potentially dangerous equipment, always turn it off at the power source. Always follow this rule, even if you are just pushing the reset button.

Voila! Problem solved! Your disposal should now be working properly again.

But what if that doesn’t fix it? Life often doesn’t go as smoothly as we expected it to go.

In fact, if you are googling this question on the internet, you may have already tried all of the above with no success to show for it. Or maybe you simply couldn’t find the reset button and got no further than that before trying to look up an answer.

Now What?

Finding The Reset Button

Although the reset button is typically on the bottom of the disposal, it can be in various places. Some of those positions are more readily visible than others.

If you are lucky, it may be on the front bottom edge and clearly visible when you open the cabinet door. However, it can also be hidden away on the very bottom of the unit where you cannot see it. This problem may be further compounded by it being relatively low to the ground.

If you can’t see it, you can still find it and push it. Some people will be happy to feel around on the bottom of the unit until they can find the button. Other people will be more squeamish or safety conscious and will not like that idea.

Never fear, there is still a solution. A small hand mirror can help you find it without feeling around on the bottom of the disposal.

Just place it below the unit to get a look at the bottom. However, since disposals tend to be in dark cabinets, you might also need a flashlight to help you see. This can introduce additional complications.

It won’t work to aim the flashlight at the mirror. Instead, aim it at the bottom of the disposal. You may need to fiddle with it to get the angle right so it doesn’t just reflect back blinding light.

What If There Is No Reset Button?

Occasionally, you will be unable to find a reset button at all. The unit may not have a reset button.

But that doesn’t mean it cannot be reset. Even if there is no button, there should be a hex key hole. It typically fits a standard 1/4 inch hex key, also known as an Allen Wrench.

You may even have both features on your disposal. Not only does the hex key hole serve as a means to reset the disposal, it also can serve as a means to dislodge small jams.

Turning it back and forth turns the rotor blades as well. In many cases, this will resolve the issue.

What If It Still Doesn’t Work?

If you have done all of the above and it still doesn’t work, it may be badly jammed. You will need to remove the blockage and try the reset button again.

First, turn it off at the wall. Then go underneath the sink and unplug the unit.

Use a long-handled tool to reach into the disposal and rotate the blades. You can buy special tools just for this purpose, or you can improvise. Some people use a broom handle or similar long, wooden item.

Tip: Remember to wipe it down afterwards with something that kills germs. If the tool itself is a likely source of germs, also disinfect the sink afterwards.

Some people have been known to use the handle of a toilet plunger. Stop and think about the implication for a minute. Are you grossed out yet? Yeah, either don’t do that or make sure you disinfect everything afterwards.

After you successfully dislodge the jam, plug the disposal back in, turn on the cold water and turn on the disposal. In most cases, it should now be running smoothly.

If it is not, there may be a weird little problem that sometimes happens. Let’s talk about that next.

If This Seems To Be A Mysterious, Chronic Problem

If you can’t seem to fix it, there may be a hidden problem. Someone may have dropped a small coin in the disposal, such as a penny or a dime.

Check out this video about how to remove a coin from your disposal. The big trick is simply finding it!

Coins can be quite sneaky. They tend to not stop the disposal from working entirely, yet they promote frequent jams, overheating incidents and often trip the reset button.

If you can hear something grinding when the disposal is running, that may be a small coin rattling around in the disposal. It needs to be removed.

If Nothing Works

If none of this works, it may be time to call a professional and let them handle it. In reality, you may need to replace the disposal. You can check the list of the best garbage disposals, we’ve collected and reviewed for you.

Disposals don’t last forever. Although rare, sometimes when they stop working, there is no reviving them. It is time for them to go to the landfill.

But don’t be depressed. Look on the bright side. This may be an opportunity to upgrade to a newer model.

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Peter Mattson
Peter Mattson / Senior Contributor
A professional plumber. Spent 11 years helping people with their problems. The only author on this blog who wants to share his experience with people and help find the best answers for any question about garbage disposals.
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