5 Star Plumbing | How to Unclog a Garbage Disposal: Step-By-Step Guide & Additional Methods, Causes
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How to Unclog a Garbage Disposal: Step-By-Step Guide & Additional Methods, Causes

5 Star Plumbing > Blog > How to Unclog a Garbage Disposal: Step-By-Step Guide & Additional Methods, Causes

An extensive how-to on unclogging a garbage disposal is provided in this article. It explains the factors contributing to drain clogs, such as food particles, bacon grease, and fiber materials, and provides detailed instructions for unclogging obstructions.

Using a plunger or baking soda and vinegar are two further clog-clearing techniques suggested in the article. In order to maintain the functionality and efficiency of your kitchen sink, this article seeks to assist homeowners in preventing and resolving typical garbage disposal problems.

To help readers comprehend the procedure, a photograph of a clogged garbage disposal or a schematic of its components may be added.

What Causes a Clogged Garbage Disposal?

Garbage disposal clogs can be caused by whatever reason that might make the disposal not able to break up food and flush waste down the drain. It may be an incorrect food type, non-food objects, not washing away leftover waste, hot water, etc. Here, we will attempt to discuss the causes of a clogged garbage disposal.

Incorrect Food Types

One widespread myth regarding garbage disposals is that they can handle any food—including all food parts—that you put in them. That’s not accurate.

A garbage disposal cannot handle items like bones, pits, corncobs, seeds, or ice cubes.

The disposal also won’t function effectively if you put stringy materials like pasta, celery, asparagus, maize husks or silk, lettuce, or banana peels in it.

Food and water can’t move through because grease, fat, and oil solidify and clog the drain and garbage disposal. Eggshells and coffee grounds produce tiny, sticky granules that easily get into narrow spaces and cause problems. When dried, starchy vegetables like beans and potato peels turn into a thick paste resembling bacon grease, fat, and oil. The paste will jam the machine and clog it.


Too Much Too Fast

Another myth is that a garbage disposal can process too much food at once. This is also untrue. Testing and pushing the unit’s limits will overwhelm it. The noise of a buzzing garbage disposal indicates overload.

When you look into your garbage disposal with a flashlight, you can tell whether it’s overloaded if no food waste is moving around inside. A second sign that the garbage disposal unit is overloaded is when water and food mixtures back up into the sink.

When you put too much food waste in the disposal at once, it will struggle to chop a sizable chunk at once instead of focusing on cutting only a few items at once. Due to the larger chunks passing through, the electrical circuit close to the reset switch can be damaged, causing disposal jams.

Non-Food Objects

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Only food should be disposed of in the garbage disposal. The garbage disposal may become damaged if non-food items come into contact with it. When silverware comes into contact with the device, it generates a grating noise that jams it. Some noiseless obstructions that cause clogs and jams include paper, fabric, foil, plastic, a washcloth, a sponge, and flower plant trimmings.

Flower plant trimmings, paper, and foil cut well but cause blockages because the wet clumps are difficult to remove from the drain. They will stop other objects from draining if they become stuck in the pipeline. The impeller blades have trouble cutting through fabric, plastic, sponges, and washcloths. When these things are ground by a garbage disposal, jamming will occur.

Not Washing Away Leftover Waste

After use, the disposal enters the “off” state and doesn’t turn back on until more food needs to be ground. This is not the proper use of a disposal. Over time, food waste accumulates inside the device and blocks the passage of water.

As a result, once the job of grinding the food is done, the disposal should be left on. In order to remove any waste that has become lodged inside during that period, turn on the water and let it run for a minute. After that, shut off the device.

Hot Water

The temperature of the water you use to rinse the garbage disposal is important; hot water is not the proper water to use.

Fats, oils, and grease are dispersed by hot water and enter the drain pipes and the garbage disposal. Oils, grease, and fats harden when they dry out, providing a surface on which additional food can get stuck and eventually cause a clog.

How to unclog a garbage disposal

Having trouble with your garbage disposal? You’ll avoid flushing money down the toilet by being aware of the most typical blockage causes and how to address them.

Before you begin

Before starting any attempts to clear a clogged garbage disposal, turn off the electricity to this potentially dangerous device at the breaker. You may want to put on some dishwashing gloves before you begin because the food particles and other grossness within a garbage disposal unit are fairly disgusting.

At the breaker box, disconnect the power

Turning off the breaker that regulates the disposal should be the first step for any homeowners considering repairs. An emergency hospital visit will always be more memorable than a good home repair.

Find out what is creating the clog by all means

After the breaker has been shut off, shine a flashlight into the garbage disposal unit. Are there any items that you can see that might be the root of the clog? If so, carefully grab these things and clear the area by using a set of long-handled tongs or pliers. When all things that are visible have been removed, re-open the breaker, turn on the water, and then turn on the garbage disposal.

Clear any residual food scraps using a plunger

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Reset the breaker to “off.” It’s time to think about another reason for the clog now that there are no more foreign things to remove: lingering remnants. Food that hasn’t been sufficiently broken down to be rinsed out of the drainpipe can block a garbage disposal unit. In these circumstances, it can help to use a plunger to attempt to dislodge food that has clogged the disposal.

After completely covering the drain with the plunger, cover the edge of the plunger with water and repeat the process several times. Food scraps may begin to drain if the water does, which is a positive indication. If so, try turning on the breaker and the garbage disposal to see whether you can process the food scraps through the drainpipe. If they don’t budge, you might want to mix up a concoction for the clogged drain.

To remove the obstruction, combine vinegar and baking soda

Using aggressive drain cleansers can destroy the plastic parts used in many garbage disposals. Similar unclogging ability is provided by vinegar and baking soda, although on a much more moderate scale.

Recheck to make sure the breaker and garbage disposal are both off, then add 1/4 cup of baking soda to the disposal. After that, add 1/2 cup of white vinegar to the baking soda, and get ready for the fizz and foam.

Restart the breaker and the disposal after 5 to 10 minutes, then run hot water through it for an additional few minutes.

Call a plumber

If all other attempts have failed, call a plumber and restart the appliance. There is still upkeep to be done even after the plumber has fixed the issue and left. The actions listed below should be followed to maintain the appliance in order to avoid further clogging. You can avoid headaches in the future by performing quick maintenance every few weeks.

Other Techniques to Unclog a Garbage Disposal

In addition to the other methods discussed above, there are other specific techniques for unclogging garbage disposals. Let’s explain them one by one.

Try ice to clean the garbage disposal

Just fill it with ice from a tray and turn it on. When the garbage disposal is operating, you might notice a lot of gunk and grime coming up the drain. That’s entirely OK; in fact, it’s beneficial. It indicates that some of that material is being released by the ice.

Use standing water to unclog a garbage disposal

Chemicals are less effective when mixed with unclean dishwater in a clogged sink because they cannot directly target the garbage disposal. In order to clear the clog sufficiently for the sink to drain (even for a double sink), use a plunger while the garbage disposal is off before using the soda and vinegar mixture.

Simply use the plunger to block the drain completely and create a vacuum. Pump the plunger back and forth for around 20 seconds while maintaining the seal. Continue diving deeper if this doesn’t work.

Use boiling water

If the obstruction that is blocking the disposal is anything that hot water can dissolve, boiling water can clear it. Fats that have solidified may be included in this list. Before trying other techniques, you can try putting boiling water into the garbage disposal.

Manually remove the blockages

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Put a bucket underneath the drain of the garbage disposal before removing the P-Trap, and then, using pliers, separate the slip nut fittings on the drain trap to remove it.

Verify the trap for obstructions, paying special attention to the bend. The inside of the garbage disposal drain should be cleaned and unclogged with a wire or brush. If there is no obstruction in this area, it might be in the trap arm.

You can remove the trap arm by releasing the slip nut holding the trap arm to the vertical branch drain. Next, remove the trap arm itself. Clean, then check for any obstructions.

Reassemble the slip nuts and the pipe parts. To remove any lingering debris, run the kitchen sink drain for a few minutes.

How to Prevent Clogged Garbage Disposals

Daily disposal operation

Regular use is beneficial for most appliances, and a garbage disposal is no exception. The moving parts of the garbage disposal might develop corrosion from water and food particles, which may cause it to freeze up. Even if there is nothing for the garbage disposal to gnaw on, run cold water through it daily to stop corrosion.

Run your garbage disposal for a while

Even after it has finished processing the food, leave the waste disposal running for a full minute. By doing so, you can be confident that every food particle has been broken up and removed from the disposal.

Turn citrus slivers into powder

Orange and lemon rinds that have seen better days make excellent garbage disposal cleaners. Food leftovers stuck to the garbage disposal unit are cleaned away by grinding acidic citrus rinds, which also leave a pleasant citrus aroma in their wake.

Avoid giving the garbage disposal more than it can handle

Despite having strong motors, disposal units still have their limitations. When chunks of food are jammed down the drain, the motor works harder and may even freeze up. To avoid overtaxing the motor, cut large pieces of food into tiny parts before putting them in the garbage disposal.


How can a garbage disposal be unclogged without disassembling it?

First, shut off the disposal’s power. Then, clear away any obvious debris with tongs or pliers. After pouring hot water down the drain, pour a solution of baking soda and vinegar.

Why is my garbage disposal not draining?

A blockage in the drain line, a broken or worn-out impeller, a broken or blocked drain valve, a malfunctioning motor, or any of these factors may prevent a trash disposal from draining.

What's causing my garbage disposal to back up?

An obstructed drainpipe or plumbing system, a clogged grinding chamber, or incorrect use (such as disposing of non-food items) can all cause a garbage disposal to back up. To solve the problem, a qualified plumber may be required

Will vinegar and baking soda clear a clogged garbage disposal?

Baking soda and vinegar can help with some blockages, but they might not work for all obstructions in garbage disposals. If the blockage continues, it’s better to seek the advice of a qualified plumber.
Peter, plumber

I bring over 9 years of dedicated plumbing experience to the table. As a seasoned professional in the plumbing industry, I've tackled a wide range of projects, from residential repairs to large-scale commercial installations.

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