Best Tips on How to Unclog a Garbage Disposal

If there’s a garbage disposal unit under your Cincinnati kitchen sink, a clog could stop up the drain and even damage your garbage disposal. When using garbage disposals to grind up food waste, clogs inside the unit or within the drain pipe can result from improper disposal maintenance and use, such as not using enough water, using hot water as the disposal unit runs, overloading the unit, and putting the wrong foods down the drain, like banana peels, potato skins, and coffee grounds.

If you know how to unclog a garbage disposal, you will be able to get your sink draining once more. Thomas & Galbraith shares the tips and tools you need to fix your clogged garbage disposal without making a call to our plumbing team! Dislodge clogs, free up jammed motor blades, and use your disposal the right way to keep it from clogging again in the future!

Reasons Why You Have a Clogged Garbage Disposal

If a garbage disposal is unable to grind up food and flush waste through the drain, the disposal unit may be clogging for some reason. Clogging occurs due to malfunctioning plastic parts and components, a bad motor, jammed impeller blades, debris in the pipes, and too much food stuck inside disposals.

The signs of a clog in your garbage disposal are easy to spot. First off, your unit drains at a snail’s pace, or maybe not at all, leaving standing water to fill up your sink. You may notice bad smells coming from the garbage disposal unit when it’s not in use, or the garbage disposal may not even turn on at all!

Garbage disposals experience clogs due to the following reasons:

  • Not Using Enough Water When the Disposal Runs
  • Using Hot Water While the Garbage Disposal Grinds Up Food
  • Filling the Disposal With Too Much Waste
  • Sending the Wrong Items Down the Drain and Into the Garbage Disposal Instead of Throwing Them Out With Other Household Garbage

How to Unclog a Garbage Disposal on Your Own

Unclogging garbage disposals isn’t always a complicated job. Often, homeowners are able to fix clogs with simple tools found throughout the house and professional tips to guide the process. If you discover a clogged garbage disposal under your kitchen sink, don’t wait to get to work, as the clog will start to produce nasty odors and the unit can sustain damage if you continue to use it.

Garbage disposal blades are very sharp, which is why it is critical you follow these tips in order to safely unclog a garbage disposal at home. Never put your hand down into the drain, especially when the disposal unit still has power. Instead, insert tools that aren’t attached to your body when you need to grab something that is stuck down in the disposal.

Before you can unclog a garbage disposal, you’ll need some tools to do the job:

  • Standard Sink Plunger
  • Pliers
  • Tongs
  • Allen Wrench (or the Hex Wrench That Came With the Disposal)
  • Bucket
  • Flashlight
  • Measuring Cup
  • White Vinegar
  • Baking Soda

Follow these steps to free your garbage disposal of clogs within the unit.

1. Disconnect power from the unit in every way possible. Unplug it from the wall outlet, turn off the wall switch, and flip the breaker off.
2. If there is standing water in your sink, you’ll need to use the plunger to force it through the drain. Place the plunger over the drain hole, then plunge the drain until no water is left in the sink. When a plunger isn’t available, just use a cup to scoop water out of the sink and into a bucket, then throw it out.
3. With a clear sink, you are able to peek down inside the garbage disposal to look for clogs. Shine the flashlight through the drain flaps so you are able to see into the cannister of the garbage disposal unit.
4. If you do not see anything down in the garbage disposal chamber, it is possible that there isn’t a clog at all. If the unit tripped, the breaker on the garbage disposal would stop the unit from working – this causes some to assume clogs are to blame. All you’ll need to do is reset the breaker – look for the reset button on the underside of the garbage disposal and press the reset button in once you find it to reset the system. Wait about 15 minutes to give the disposal time to cool if it has overheated.
5. If you are able to see something jamming the blades, flywheel, or motor, try the following:

a. If you can see something stuck down inside the garbage disposal, do not put your hand down the drain to grab it! Instead, insert the tongs or pliers to grab it. Use these tools to wiggle the item free and remove it out the drain opening. If there are debris wrapped around the blades or sitting in the cannister, use these tools to unwrap material and pull out food particles, then throw them in the garbage.

b. If the garbage disposal motor or blades have seized or an item is too difficult to dislodge with your pliers or tongs, you can perform a manual turn of the components to free them. Under the garbage disposal, locate the hole in its center and insert your Allen or hex wrench – if you do not have the tool that came with your garbage disposal or you did not get one when the unit was installed, try using a ¼-inch Allen wrench for the job. Turn the wrench fully in both directions to free up the moving parts. Turn all the way counterclockwise before you switch and turn completely clockwise. If you are able to freely move the blades after doing so, remove the wrench from the insertion point.

6. Insert the garbage disposal plug back into the outlet and turn on the breaker to restore electrical power.
7. Run cold water and turn on the garbage disposal switch.
8. Let the water and disposal unit run for a minute and watch to see if it is draining. If your sink doesn’t fill back up with standing water, your unclogging efforts were successful.
9. Shut off the wall switch and turn off the water.

If these steps do not help you unclog a garbage disposal, the clog may not be within the disposal unit. We can create clogs in the drain lines that carry food waste out of the home by flushing the wrong items down our garbage disposals. To clear clogs in the drainpipes, have a plumber come out to fix your drain, and keep your garbage disposal turned off until repairs are completed.

Garbage Disposal Maintenance

Prevent clogs in garbage disposals by taking care of them and using disposals correctly. These tips will help you keep your garbage disposal clean and free of clogs.

1. Use the garbage disposal on a regular basis. Run water through the unit and turn it on for a short period every few days, even if you don’t have waste to get rid of. Regular use works to prevent rusting that can cause parts to seize.
2. Use only cold water when grinding food with your garbage disposal. Hot water warms up fats, oils, and grease, causing them to liquify. As they move through the disposal unit and into the drainpipe, they cool and stick to pipe walls. This debris contributes to drain clogs.
3. Be diligent about what you put in the garbage disposal. Throw these items into the garbage can instead – coffee grounds, banana peels, potato skins, fibrous vegetables, fats, oils, grease, pasta, rice, eggshells, seafood shells, bones, nuts, fruit pits, and chicken skins.
4. Don’t stuff your garbage disposal full of food. When you have a lot of waste to process, do it in smaller batches. You will avoid overloading the garbage disposal which prevents overheating and clogging.
5. Make sure you are using enough water as your garbage disposal grinds. Turn on the cold water before you turn on the disposal unit, leave it running while your garbage disposal completes its task, and let it continue to run for about 30 seconds after grinding is complete to flush leftover bits down the drain.
6. Clean the garbage disposal unit on a regular basis – every two weeks or so should be good.

a. Drop ice cubes down the drain and pour in a cup of rock salt. Turn on cold water and run the garbage disposal for a minute or so to remove materials that have collected on the inner walls of the cannister.

b. Keep the garbage disposal off and pour one cup white vinegar and one cup baking soda into the disposal unit. Cover the drain and let the solution sit until it stops foaming. Remove the drain cover and run hot water through the garbage disposal unit. This step will disinfect the disposal and help control odor.

c. Turn off the garbage disposal and use a brush or sponge with vinegar, baking soda, or dish soap to scrub the baffle flaps around the drain opening.

7. Do not use commercial drain cleaners to care for your garbage disposal. These cleaners can degrade your plumbing and damage your pipes.
8. Run small portions of citrus peels through the garbage disposal to keep odors under control.

Garbage Disposal Repair in Cincinnati

If you are not able to unclog a garbage disposal with the steps above, call Thomas & Galbraith to request garbage disposal repair services or drain cleaning performed by our licensed Ohio plumbing team.

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