Water running down a garbage disposal sink drain
If a garbage disposal won't turn on, the overload protector may have been tripped.-Oxford-/Getty Images

When things with your garbage disposal go awry, resetting it is often the first thing professionals recommend. It's a relatively simple process that could save you the hassle and cost of a plumber's visit.

According to Lee Devlin, the director of Homecure Plumbers, there are two main causes for resetting your garbage disposal: if it is jammed with waste, or if it has overheated. If it hums when you turn it on but doesn't work, your disposal is probably jammed. If there is no humming whatsoever, overheating is likely the problem. 

Though resetting is relatively simple, it's important to keep a few things in mind. "The first thing we'd tell [people] to do is turn the garbage disposal off and not to pour any harsh chemicals down like drain busters, or other trash to 'force' the blockage through," Devlin said. "Gentle cleansing soaps are fine but not thick chemicals." 

What is an overload protector? 

A graphic illustration of a garbage disposal exterior.
The reset button on a garbage disposal is on the underside.Shayanne Gal/Insider

Most garbage disposals are equipped with an overload protector, or reset button, as a safety feature. It's usually a small red button, often found on the underside of your garbage disposal unit. Double-check the manual if you're having trouble finding it. 

When things are running normally, the button will be flush to the machine, or flat. When your disposal is experiencing motor issues, it will automatically trip the overload protector to prevent the machine from burning out. The button will pop out about a quarter of an inch, prompting you to reset it.

It didn't work. Now what?

So you've tried pushing the overload protector twice, and it still won't stay in. If your garbage disposal has overheated, the circuit that powers it may have turned itself off to prevent damage. 

To reset the circuit, locate the electrical panel in your home: it's usually a gray, metal box with a latched door. Open it and find the switch that powers your garbage disposal – it will be facing the opposite way as all the other switches. Flip it back to its original setting, then check the overload protector again. 

If it now stays flush when you press it, you can continue the reset process at step five. If the overload protector still won't go back in, you probably have another issue on your hands. "If it doesn't pop back in, or it keeps resetting, you likely need a replacement or a professional to fix it," Devlin said.

Insider's takeaway

Resetting your garbage disposal is necessary when the overload protector, usually a small red button found on the bottom of your disposal, is sticking out. This usually happens when the disposal is jammed or has overheated.

Follow basic safety measures: make sure the power is off, and never stick your hand down the disposal. Resetting your circuit breaker may also be necessary if the garbage disposal has overheated. Don't be afraid to contact a plumber or the manufacturer of your garbage disposal if resetting it doesn't work. 

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