How to Unclog a Garbage Disposal

Although most homeowners are careful about what they put down their garbage disposals, accidents do happen. Inevitably, clogs will occur; however, there are several simple steps you can follow to minimize the chances of this occurring. The following incidences are generally the root cause(s) of why clogs develop in your garbage disposal:

  • Putting food waste into your garbage disposal too quickly
  • Forgetting or failing to run an adequate amount of water while the garbage disposal is operating (the water is what flushes out the pipes)
  • Accidentally dropping a foreign object down the disposal

Depending on the motor and the grinding capacity, one garbage disposal will vary from the next in terms of what it can devour. Your garbage disposal’s owner’s manual will tell you what your model’s specific limitations are. You should never use chemical drain cleaners in an attempt to clean out your disposal. Because these substances are so highly toxic, they can damage the plastic and rubber components of your disposal.

If the owner’s manual does not provide you with the info you need to unclog your disposal, here are 5 simple steps you can unclog a garbage disposal yourself:

  • Step Number 1- ​The first, and most important step, is to switch off the power breaker that supplies power to your garbage disposal. A trip to the emergency room will be remembered for a lot longer than any successful home repair you make.
  • Step Number 2 - After the breaker has been switched off, take a large flashlight and shine it down your disposal. Are there any obvious foreign objects that could be obstructing the drain? If you do see something, carefully take a pair of long nosed need pliers or a pair of long handled tongs and retrieve the item to clear a pathway. After all visible objects have been removed from your garbage disposal, switch the breaker back on and turn on your disposal. (Don’t forget that you may have to push a manual reset button.) If the water drains properly and the garbage disposal appears to be working properly, give yourself a pat on the back. If it doesn’t, keep reading.
  • Step Number 3 - Once again, turn off the breaker. If there aren’t any foreign objects obstructing the pipes, then it’s time to consider alternative causes. The next most common cause of garbage disposal clogs is leftover food residue. It’s not uncommon for food that is improperly broken down to cling to the interior of pipes. In this type of scenario, it is advisable to first use a manual plunger to loosen any food that has caused the clog.
  • Step Number 4 - Once you have used the plunger to completely cover the drain, run enough water in the sink so that it covers the plunger’s edges and plunge the drain several times. After you have finished, look to see if the water is draining properly. If so, this is an encouraging sign that the leftover food will soon follow. You can now turn the breaker back on to see if the stuck food can now be run down the drain. If it works, congratulations! You are on your way to becoming an amateur plumber. If not, sit back and fix yourself a drink. This is going to take a while.
  • Step Number 5 - After making sure that both the garbage disposal and the breaker are turned off, pour ½ a cup of baking soda down the drain. Follow it up with ¾ a cup of white vinegar. Be prepared for this cocktail to foam and bubble. As aforementioned, you do not want to use harsh chemical cleaners on your garbage disposal for fear that they might harm the plastic or rubber components of the unit. Ultimately, this mixture will offer the same cleaning abilities as its chemical cousins, but in a much gentler dose.
  • Step Number 6 - Let the mixture sit for the next ten to fifteen minutes. After the time period is up, switch back on the breaker and the garbage disposal. Let hot water run into your disposal for the next five minutes. Again, remember that it may be necessary to hit the reset button. If the sink has unclogged itself, it’s time to call it a day. If not, well…it’s time to call in the professionals.
  • Step Number 7 - Turn off the garbage disposal and the breaker, and call a professional plumber. Even after he/she has remedied the problem, remember that your part isn’t exactly over. Every two to three weeks, you need to put half of a lemon in your garbage disposal. Doing so will ensure that your blades continue to work properly, and it will keep your garbage disposal smelling as fresh as a daisy. Trust us: this two minute investment of your time will save you hours of headache in the future.

In most cases, if you follow the steps above, you should be able to unclog your garbage disposal yourself.

 

Justin Curtis
 

I am not a professional plumber, but I do feel like I am pretty handy :). I would love to hear your comments about this post or others. Thanks for reading!

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