How to Unclog the Garbage Disposal

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Man and Woman doing the Dishes with clogged garbage disposal that's been fixed

(Updated Nov. 15, 2021)

A clogged garbage disposal can be incredibly frustrating. Especially if you spend ample amounts of time in the kitchen. We expect a lot from our homes, including not to develop leaks or clogs. Yet we don’t always put in the level of care that we should to make that happen.

The good news, almost anything can be fixed. That goes for your garbage disposal, which can be unclogged with a few DIY tricks we’ll discuss in this blog. If you’ve already tried flushing down the obstruction with water with no luck, it’s time to get your hands dirty.

Common Signs of a Clogged Garbage Disposal

The most common indication of a clog in your garbage disposal is standing water in your sink that won’t drain, usually accompanied by an unpleasant smell. There are many things you shouldn’t put down your sink drain, including potato peels, coffee grounds, banana peels, chicken bones, and other food waste.

We have a whole list for your convenience here. Clogs can occur for a variety of reasons, but most often it’s food that doesn’t belong in the garbage disposal. It can also be food products that can do down the disposal but just haven’t been washed down the drain properly.

Without a steady flow of water pushing the food all the way down, it can get stuck on or in between the blades. So do your best to be diligent about what you put down your garbage disposal and how to avoid future clogged disposals. In the meantime, here’s how to get the water flowing again.

How to Unclog a Garbage Disposal

DIY how to unclog a garbage disposal

A word on safety: A word on safety: Water and electricity make for a dangerous combination. Before attempting to unclog a garbage disposal, cut off its power with a switch found on the wall or under a cabinet. If for any reason you can’t find the power switch, shut off the home’s main breaker until you’re finished. Always wear thick gloves to protect your hands from the sharp garbage disposal blades.

Simple Drain Clogs
The first thing you can try is locating the cause of the clog. Take a flashlight and shine it down your clogged kitchen sink drain. Sometimes you can actually see food items or foreign objects that are stuck. If you can see what’s clogging the disposal, take a pair of pliers and carefully pull the obstruction out.

Wait a few minutes for the engine to cool, turn on the water, and turn on the disposal to see if that was the problem. Remember to turn the power back on, too. (You’d be surprised how often that little step is forgotten.) If that didn’t solve the problem, keep reading.

Resetting Your Garbage Disposal

Ready to do some troubleshooting? Although the following is a little more involved, all you’ll need is an Allen wrench or InSinkErator jam buster wrench. Both of these tools can be found at your local hardware store and even most supermarket stores.

resetting your garbage disposalMake sure the garbage disposal is off and water has drained or otherwise been removed. Insert the wrench at the bottom of the disposal and turn it back and forth, both directions. Keep turning it until it turns freely all the way around.

You’ll also notice a red button, called the overload protector. It functions as a reset button and allows for the garbage disposal to turn off when there is an issue. If it is extended down, go ahead and press it, and wait a few minutes to make sure it stays up. Run the water to check if it drains and the garbage disposal is functional.

How to Unclog the Garbage Disposal with Baking Soda

Believe it or not, there’s one more thing you can do if resetting your garbage disposal doesn’t work. What you might think is a clogged garbage disposal may actually be clogged drain pipes beneath the disposal. This can be fixed with drain cleaners made from a few household items.

Here’s what you’ll need before you start:

  • Baking soda (large box)
  • White vinegar
  • Old rags
  • Bucket

It may sound strange, but the clog is likely in a pipe on the side of your sink that does not have the garbage disposal. A quick peek under your sink will reveal both straight and bent pipes. The pipe that is bent like an elbow macaroni is more likely to have a clog. So you may be asking how do I unclog my garbage disposal?

  1. First, unplug the garbage disposal. You do not want to troubleshoot and work on a garbage disposal that is plugged in and still has power.
  2. To unclog a pipe with baking soda, pour half the box of baking soda into the disposal drain. Pour the other half of the box into the other side of the sink.
  3. Next, pour white vinegar into both sides of the sink, distributing most on the side without the garbage disposal. Allow the baking soda and white vinegar to sit in the sink for about 30 minutes.
  4. Pour hot water into both openings. This should clear the clogged pipes.
  5. If you find that your sink is still operating at less than 100%, you can also disassemble the sink pipes yourself. For this approach, grab the rags and bucket to collect any refuse that falls out of the pipes when opened up.
  6. Tap the pipes lightly and listen for an echo (hollow) vs. a dull (solid) sound, indicating the clogged area.
  7. Open up the pipe as close as you can to the clog and empty any material within.
  8. Close pipes back up and run your water to see if the clog has cleared. Allow hot water to run through the garbage disposal to remove excess gunk.

If you’ve done your best, but the obstruction remains: It’s time to call in the pros. A professional plumber can have your pipes cleared and unclog your disposal quickly. Our team is happy to answer any questions you have about your particular pipes and tips to avoid garbage disposal clogs in the future.

A clogged garbage disposal unit can be annoying and a little gross. If you’re feeling ambitious and want to tackle unclogging your garbage disposal, we hope this blog helps. If you want to skip the headache, our plumbers have taken care of many clogged garbage disposals and know what to expect.

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