How to Unclog a Garbage Disposal

The garbage disposal is a kitchen waste savior, which is why it can definitely be disconcerting when it becomes clogged. Garbage disposals are powerful but they do have their limitations, such as bones and avocado pits. If you find out your garbage disposal’s limitations the hard way, there are ways to unclog your machine and get it back up and running smoothly. The process requires patience and careful attention, but when it’s all said and done you will have your garbage disposal back.

Methods Of Garbage Disposals Unclogging:

  • Pulling Large Debris from the Disposal
  • Impeller Dislodging
  • Plunging the Disposal
  • Drainage/Cleaner Solution
  • Impeller Dislodging from Below
  • Pipe Cleaning

CAUTION: BEFORE ATTEMPTING ANY OF THE FOLLOWING METHODS, ENSURE THAT YOUR GARBAGE DISPOSAL IS POWERED DOWN/TURNED OFF. THE SAFEST METHOD IS TO TURN OFF THE BREAKER LINKED TO THE DISPOSAL AT THE BREAKER BOX!

Getting Started

The tool you will need for this method is pliers or something similar in effect. After taking your safety precautions, follow the steps for unclogging your disposal:

  1. The first thing to do is to take a look inside the disposal. A flashlight is recommended for visual clarity. If there are large objects caught in the disposal, using a tool such as pliers, reach in and try to remove them.
  2. After removing the large object/s from the disposal, give it about ten to fifteen minutes to allow the disposal motor to cool off.
  3. Then you can power the disposal back up and push the reset or overload protector button, typically found on the bottom of the disposal.

If that was your issue, you should be up and running again. Was that not the solution for your clogged garbage disposal? That’s fine too, there are other checks and methods you can utilize to get your disposal back.

Method Two

So, you have checked for large objects stuck in the disposal and that was not your issue. There is another method that can be used. This method involves dislodging the impeller.

  1. You need to find a wooden spoon, broom handle, or something else that is long enough to reach the bottom of the disposal and maintain strength.
  2. You want to put whatever stick-like object you have found into the disposal and push it up against the garbage disposal blades, or impeller.
  3. Next, try rocking the broom handle or spoon back and forth until you are able to free up the blades.
  4. If that was the solution to your clog and you are able to free up the blades, wait about ten to fifteen minutes to allow the disposal motor to cool off. Then, press your reset button; again, this is located on the underside or bottom of the garbage disposal unit.
  5. Fire the disposal back up after the waiting period and check to see if it functions and drains water.

If it did, congratulations you are now a certified disposal fixer (just kidding, you certainly are not qualified to work in others’ homes just because of this). If the solution still eludes you, have no fear cause there are more methods yet to attempt.

The Plunge

plung cleaning of garbage disposalFor this third method, the tool needed is a plunger. Sometimes the drainpipe is not able to drain all of the chopped waste because of one reason or another. Often times that reason is that there was not enough water inflow when using the garbage disposal. In this case, you may be able to unclog the drainpipe just as you would a clogged toilet.

  1. First, place the entirety of the plunger head over the garbage disposal drain.
  2. Next, allow the sink to fill with water, just enough to cover the edges of the plunger.
  3. Then simply begin plunging the drain as you would a toilet, in an up and down motion.

Once finished, you will have a general idea of your success or failure by watching the water in the sink drain or not. If the water drains, there is a high probability that you have cleared the clogging in the drainpipe.

Are you still struggling to unclog the garbage disposal after attempting this method? Do not be discouraged, although the first few methods have not worked for you, you still may find your DIY solution. The next method involves bringing back that old high school chemistry lab experience.

Make a Mix

Some sources and people may suggest using a drain cleaner such as Drano. Be wary in using these types of mixtures and cleaners because they could potentially cause problems for any plastic part of the garbage disposal. And yes, most garbage disposals have plastic parts, which would be more a more intensive fix if they go down than any unclogging effort. Instead, you can whip up your own draining solution comprised of baking soda and vinegar. Vinegar reacts with the baking soda, creating a powerful, yet safe for your disposal, cleaning and clearing solution.

  1. First, pour roughly a quarter of a cup of baking soda into the disposal. There is no need to try and evenly spread the baking soda around the disposal because the ensuing reaction with vinegar will do that job.
  2. After you have poured baking soda into the disposal drain, pour about a half of a cup of vinegar into the drain with it. Patiently allow this chemical reaction to take place for about five to ten minutes or so.
  3. When the timer hits the five to ten-minute mark, you can turn your breaker back on and start your disposal back up.
  4. Once it is powered back on you should run hot water through the disposal drain for a few minutes — around five minutes should do the job.
  5. After pressing the reset button on the bottom of the disposal, check to see if you have functionality.

If your disposal appears to be draining water and functioning, call it a day and do something nice for yourself! If not, again, do not worry. Disposals are complicated pieces of machinery that can have a plethora of issues to try to zero in on.

Moving the Blades: a Second Attempt

So you have gone through the previous methods and none of them was the solution to your clogged garbage disposal. What you can do next is a variation of the second method of attempting to dislodge the impeller or the garbage disposal blades. An additional safety precaution not previously mentioned is to unplug the disposal from its outlet entirely, but only if it is accessible and practical for you.

Garbage Disposals have a slot in the center of the underside of the unit located near the reset button. These slots, or holes, are usually shaped so that an allen wrench can fit into it. With that in mind, you will need an allen wrench for this method. If you are not sure of the proper size to use it does not hurt to get your hands on a couple sizing options to make sure you can fit at least one of them into the disposal.

  1. First, insert the allen wrench into the slot and begin rotating back and forth. What this is doing is similar to the spoon or broom handle method as it is, or should be, turning the blades in an attempt to dislodge the clog.
  2. If you are able to rotate the allen wrench around a few times then do so. This should allow for the dislodging of any obstructing material, at which point you should be able to pull out the debris from the drain opening.
  3. Again, perform this debris removal using a tool such as pliers. NEVER, EVER stick your hand directly into the disposal, it is simply not the safest practice.

Hopefully, you are able to clear up the clog with any one of the four previously mentioned methods. If you are still struggling to unclog your disposal, it is now ok to grow slightly impatient (realistically, keep your cool it is always better). It may now be the time to take apart your unit and do some pipe disconnecting and inspecting. If you do not feel comfortable doing so in fear of destroying your unit or other configurations, now would be the time to call your most trusted professional. If you are the “I got this” type, keep reading.

Pipe Cleaning

You have tried the previously mentioned methods to no avail and your patience is running low. This final method is the make or break method. It’s time to disconnect pipes. The tool of choice for this method is a wire brush; the tighter it fits the diameter of the pipe the better. For this method, you will be working entirely underneath the sink and below the garbage disposal unit.

  1. Once shut down, you can begin to disconnect the draining pipe from the garbage disposal unit. DO NOT disconnect the dishwasher hose line. This is almost never the problem when your disposal is clogged or acting up. In fact, you usually only need to inspect and repair the dishwasher hose line when your dishwasher will not drain. That is not why we are here. So once you are sure you are disconnecting the pipe, do so. You may need a wrench in order to loosen the fastening on the pipe, though some models are hand friendly.
  2. After you have disconnected the pipe from the unit, look inside and see if there is any buildup or debris causing the clog.
  3. Whether or not you can see the debris, you should still work the wire brush down the pipe vigorously. It can be hard to see down the pipes so attempting to clear it out even if you are unsure that there is clogged content is your best bet.
  4. Having cleared the pipe with a wire brush and removed any debris you were able to, it is time to now reconnect the pipe to the disposal unit.
  5. After you have reconnected the pipe to the unit, turn your breaker back on and press the reset button on the bottom of the disposal unit.
  6. Then, use the sink to send water down into the disposal as you turn it on to investigate whether or not it is draining.

If the disposal is back to functionality, congrats! You are basically a plumber. If not, it may be time to call it quits and entertain the idea of buying a new garbage disposal.

Conclusion

Garbage disposals are often times the biggest helpers when it comes to kitchen waste. When they become clogged, we become upset. The various methods listed and discussed above should be enough to fix your clogged garbage disposal. If not, your garbage disposal may be at the end of its road. No matter the case, always, always, always practice safety and caution when dealing with garbage disposal repairs and unclogging. If these methods work for you and you are able to get your disposal up and running, I applaud you for your time and effort in your home’s functionality. If these methods did not work, still give yourself a solid pat on the back for the effort and time you spent attempting to unclog it. Sometimes there may not be a fix, and that happens and it is okay.

If you are looking to take preventative steps regarding future clogging, you can squeeze lemon juice into the drain and run the disposal with light water flow from the sink simultaneously. Lemon juice is acidic by nature. When you run the disposal and have the lemon juice swirling around with the impeller, it allows for the lemon juice to break down any buildup on the blades and prevents corrosion. Doing this every two weeks or so can save you lots of time as it will keep your disposal unit in top condition. Safe practices and good luck!

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Peter Mattson
Peter Mattson / Senior Contributor
A professional plumber. Spent 11 years helping people with their problems. The only author on this blog who wants to share his experience with people and help find the best answers for any question about garbage disposals.
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