Q: I have a food disposer in the kitchen sink that came with the house. Yesterday while grinding up some food, it just stopped working. Does it need to be replaced? – Carmen in Albuquerque, N.M.
A: Food disposers are very reliable appliances, but if they’re underpowered they may be prone to jamming or, when under a heavy load, will shut off.
Turn the disposal switch on the wall to the on position. Do you hear a humming sound, but no grinding? Or do you hear no sound at all?
If you hear a humming sound, it’s likely that the grinder is jammed. Turn the switch off, and then turn off power to the disposal at the main circuit panel.
Now, open the sink cabinet and look underneath the disposer. You should see a reset button and possibly a small round hole or slot in the center of the unit. The slot is likely an access point for the impeller. It’s accessed with a small handheld wrench (like the Allen wrench that often comes with assemble-yourself furniture), which hopefully is stored on or near the unit. Insert the wrench into the impeller slot and turn it clockwise to try and unjam the unit.
To see if it worked, turn power to the unit back on at the circuit panel. Then climb under the cabinet again, locate the reset button and push it. Go up to the power switch and turn it on. The grinder should operate again.
What if you can’t locate a wrench or an access slot for the impeller? You could always try my mother’s favorite fix. Turn off power at the circuit panel, then grab something with a wooden handle, like a broomstick or plunger. Insert the handle into the disposal from the top, place it against one of the blades, and try to turn it clockwise. Then reset the unit as above and test.
If neither method works, turn off power to the unit again and look inside the disposal to see if anything is blocking the blades, like a metal utensil or a large object like a bone or avocado seed. Carefully remove any such object and test again.
And if all else fails, you may need to replace the entire unit. If so, look for one that has a motor with at least 1/2 horsepower, overload protection and a self-reverse feature to reduce jamming.
HOME TIP: To keep your disposal smelling clean, grind up a few lemon or lime peels in it periodically.
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