Question: We left our garbage disposal on for a while trying to clear a clog. It went off by itself and now we can't turn it back on. We checked the circuit breaker and all is well. Did we wreck our disposal? Do we need a new one?
Answer: First, tackle the clog problem. Clear out everything from under the sink and set a large bucket under the pipes. Most garbage disposals have plumbing underneath that can be unscrewed by hand. Unscrew the pipes, but be prepared for a rush of water (thus the bucket). Have some old towels on hand, just in case some of the water isn't cooperative and lands outside the bucket.
Take a look in the pipes. . You will likely will be disgusted with the black, mucky mess that has accumulated. Fibrous foods such as banana peels and plant stems are especially good at slowly forming clogs.
Removing the debris should help the problem of the water stopping up. Resecure the pipes tightly. Leave the bucket in place to catch any leaks as you test the disposal.
If the unit seems jammed up with something, you can try to manually loosen it. Most disposals come with a special tool (similar to an alan allen wrench) that can be inserted up through the bottom of the disposal container/motor and rotated to free any debris from the unit. For safety reasons, turn off power to the disposal before using the tool. If you don't have the tool, you should be able to purchase buy one at a local hardware store.
If a disposal is on for too long, most units will automatically shut off. Check the bottom of the container for a reset button. Pressing this will likely restore the power to the disposal. If it doesn't, check your home's electric box to see if you have blown a circuit.
If, despite all this hard work, the disposal still doesn't work, then, yes, it's probably time to get a replacement. Try to get one that's a replacement similar to your existing model so that you don't have to reconfigure your plumbing. Remember to use cold water when disposing of food. Disposing of things such as coffee grouinds, small chicken bones and peach pits can help scour clean the interior of the disposal.
Gina Chapman is President of Mr. Handyman of Richmond , providing Handyman Services to Richmond, Chesterfield, and Glen Allen, Virginia.