How to Unclog a Garbage Disposal

Close-up overhead of garbage disposal installed in a sink.

Are you dealing with a garbage disposal that’s not grinding properly or that’s leaving standing, smelly water in your sink? There’s likely a clog backing up your unit.

Fortunately, unclogging a garbage disposal can usually be done yourself. By simply removing the clog and resetting your disposal, you’ll likely do the trick.

Follow this helpful guide to learn how to unclog your garbage disposal and help prevent it from happening again!

Signs You Have a Clogged Garbage Disposal

Here are some common signs you have a clog:

  • Water is not going down the garbage disposal
  • Water is draining slowly
  • Strange clanking or humming noises when turned on
  • Foul odors are coming from the disposal

However, it’s time to schedule repair services if you notice these issues happen frequently, or if your unit is leaking or stopped working altogether.

Related Content: How to Find the Source of a Garbage Disposal Leak

How Do You Unclog a Garbage Disposal?

Here’s what to do when your garbage disposal is clogged:

  1. Turn off the power. Go to your breaker box and shut off the breaker that controls the garbage disposal.
  2. Find and remove visible clogs. Using a flashlight, look down into your disposal to see if you can identify a clog. Use tongs or pliers to remove the clog, then turn your disposal back on and test to see if it’s working properly.
  3. Remove the P-trap. Like you would for a sink, grab a bucket to place beneath the P-trap and unscrew the slip fittings to remove it. Once the trap is removed and any excess water spills out, check for visible food buildup or objects blocking the drain. If you don’t find the clog in the P-trap, look inside the trap arm (the horizontal piece connecting the P-trap to the drain pipe) for visible clogs. Remove the clog and clean out the drain pieces.
  4. Reset the disposal. If after removing the clog, your disposal still doesn’t work, try resetting it. The reset button can usually be found on the bottom of the disposal unit.
  5. Use a kitchen sink plunger. If you’re wondering, “Can I plunge a garbage disposal?” the answer is yes! Using a kitchen sink plunger to clear a clog in any drain is a useful method. When using a plunger, make sure water covers the edges around it before pushing down to plunge. If the water then begins draining, you’ve likely either cleared or loosened the clog, and you can then turn the disposal back on and test it.
  6. Break down the clog with baking soda and vinegar. If the clog is persistent, turn the power back off and try using a clog-clearing solution of ¼ cup of baking soda and ½ cup of white vinegar. Let the solution work its foaming magic for 5-10 minutes then turn the power back on. Finally, run hot water down it and test to see if it’s working properly. You may need to reset the disposal again to get it running.

What Are the Causes of a Clogged Garbage Disposal?

The most common causes of garbage disposal clogs are:

  • Not running water when using. If you’re not running water down the garbage disposal when using it, it’s more likely that substances will not be properly flushed down, resulting in a clog.
  • Putting starchy or clumpy food down the disposal. It’s a common misconception that all food can go down the garbage disposal. But there are quite a few foods that should never go down your drain or garbage disposal like eggshells, coffee grounds, fats, fish skins, stone fruit pits, and more.
  • Overloading. Putting too much down the disposal at once can lead to clogs. Make sure when disposing of appropriate food items, it’s in small amounts at a time.
  • Malfunctioning parts. If the disposal unit isn’t working right, clogs can result. There may be loose bolts or connections inside your unit, broken or malfunctioning parts, or an issue with electrical connections.
  • Worn down unit or parts. Most garbage disposals will last anywhere from 8-15 years. If your unit has reached that life expectancy and it’s giving you trouble, it may be time to replace it.

Related Content: How to Clean Your Garbage Disposal

Let the Experts Tackle Your Clogged Garbage Disposal

Whether your garbage disposal clog keeps returning, or you simply don’t want to deal with it on your own, the licensed professionals at the Benjamin Franklin Plumbing near you are ready to help. Our experts will make sure that the clog is fully removed and provide you with any maintenance needed to prevent it from happening again. Call us at 1-877-BEN-1776 or book an appointment online.

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