Fixing the garbage disposal

The most important thing I learned in high school stage tech was a paradigm. I usually phrase it this way:

Things are made of stuff.

By which I mean: a door is (more or less) made of pieces of wood and pieces of metal, attached to each other with screws or nails. Chairs and tables likewise. A curtain is a piece of fabric, attached to other things in various ways. You can construct actual solid 3-dimensional objects out of pieces of various kinds of materials, using common tools. And that's true not only of objects on stage, but also objects in (for example) houses.

It doesn't cover all situations, of course. A stage wall is made of muslin and wood and paint and hardware, but a real house wall might be made of a bunch of harder-to-work-with materials, and might be load-bearing, and so on. Many things are made partly of glass and plastic, which are also harder to shape to your purposes. Many things require electricity, which I still find scary despite doing lighting and sound for a bunch of plays. And that's not even getting into software.

But even so, knowing that things are made of stuff has been a very useful paradigm for me over the past few decades.

But I feel like I haven't been putting that paradigm to much use lately. For a while, I had a handyman who did most of the little jobs that needed doing around the house. He moved out of state, and I haven't yet found a replacement, but most of the little jobs that need doing are beyond my meager skills.

But recently, I feel like I've been getting back to that idea a little. For example, when a couple of my new fidget spinners made rattling noises, I unscrewed the caps and the pieces inside, and re-tightened them, and the rattling went away.

And I bought some begleri, and KTO showed me how to tie the right kinds of knots to adjust string length. And then I saw a video about how to make begleri out of ball bearings and paracord and monkey's-fist cord patterns, and I was so taken with that idea that I followed the instructions and made a couple of sets: first using orange cord that Kam gave me, then using blue cord that I bought online. That was immensely satisfying.

And a couple weekends ago, I attended the Bay Area Book Festival, and purchased a great bookbinding kit, and a couple days ago I made a book, using the paper and boards and thread and tools and glue supplied in the kit. And that, too, was extremely satisfying. I keep picking up the book and looking at it, and being amazed all over again that things are made of stuff.

So with all of that as background: A couple of weeks ago, I dumped some food into my garbage disposal. It was most of a container of labane, a sort of thick Greek yogurt that in this case tasted too much like sour cream for me to enjoy it; a friend had left it in my fridge a while before, and I wasn't going to eat it, and I was leaving town for a while, so I figured I would toss it before I left.

And it seemed non-solid enough to go down the sink instead of into the trash. So I scooped it out of its container and dumped it into the sink, and then ran the garbage disposal.

Which kind of hummed and buzzed, as if stuck.

So I turned it off and back on again, and this time it didn't make any sound at all.

I figured the circuit breaker had probably tripped, but I didn't have time to go look, so I left it alone.

And that was a couple weeks ago. I did look at the circuit breakers at some point, and they were all fine, but I thought maybe if I left it alone for a while and ran water through it, it would start working again. Or something. But last week while I was away, my houseguests complained about the smell of the stuff that was still in the garbage disposal. I figured I was going to have to hire a handyperson or a plumber or something to come clean it out.

But I wasn't even sure whether this was more a plumber thing or more a job for someone else. So I did a Google search.

And what I found was this page:

How to Fix a Garbage Disposal, by Don Vandervort.

And that page is great. It shows a diagram of the parts of a garbage disposal, but more importantly, it shows a few extremely simple steps that anyone can easily follow to fix most garbage disposal problems.

That page says, in essence: if the garbage disposal won't turn on at all, then first, check the circuit breaker. Next, push the reset button on the bottom of the garbage disposal.

The reset button. I had absolutely no idea that garbage disposals have reset buttons.

So I pushed the reset button, and got back to the state where the disposal was humming but not actually running. And that instruction page addresses that too: it usually means that the thing that turns around is stuck. And garbage disposals are designed to make it easy to fix that problem: you unplug the disposal, and then you take a quarter-inch hex wrench/allen wrench, and you stick it into a socket on the bottom of the disposal that's specifically designed for this purpose, and you rotate it back and forth a few times to get the turny part to turn freely.

So I did that (took me a minute to find my toolbox in the garage, where my hex wrenches are), and then I plugged it back in, and then I ran some water in the sink and turned on the garbage disposal. And it worked perfectly.

And I'm amazed. If I hadn't seen that web page, I would have spent probably hours and probably a lot of money and probably a fair bit of stress, to find a plumber and get them to come to my house at a time when I'm home, and then watch them do two minutes' worth of work.

That page also includes an excellent 6-minute video by AdamDIY, illustrating how to do all the steps. Both the instructions on the page and the video are clear and straightforward and friendly, and they make it clear that fixing most garbage disposal problems is super easy.

So thank you to Don Vandervort and AdamDIY, and to and YouTube, and to Google for providing useful search results that I didn't even know I needed.

And I'll try to keep in mind that things are made of stuff.

One Response to “Fixing the garbage disposal”

  1. jacob

    Yay! I like this story.

    And I’ve also experienced that YouTube (and, more importantly, the goodwill of the thousands of people who have made videos on YouTube about how to do stuff) is an absolutely game-changer for doing stuff myself. For me it’s mostly been car stuff — fixing things around the house is my wife’s job and she can handle anything up to load-bearing walls. But I’ve recently done things like replace side mirrors on my car, change headlight bulbs, fix a turn signal light, etc. that previously I would have had to pay someone a lot of money to do. It feels good.


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