How To Unclog A Garbage Disposal

Last Updated On May 23, 2024

Updated on October 5, 2023



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“It’s clogged? Not again! What is the point of having a garbage disposal if it keeps getting clogged?”

First, take a slow deep breath. You’ve got this. And Plumbing Nav has your back.

This post will walk you through the process AND provide you with the number 1 absolute best method for how to unclog a garbage disposal fast. 

Now, are you ready to tackle that garbage disposal clog? Let’s do this.

What's In This Guide?

      Before Unclogging That Disposal – Safety First!

      Make sure the unit is turned off. Then unplug it. Do NOT go reaching in there. The garbage disposal blades are very sharp! Many people have discovered this the hard way with a trip to the ER. 

      Methods to Unclog Your Stubborn Garbage Disposal

      A clogged garbage disposal is something most homeowners face from time to time. But fear not, there are several techniques you can use to deal with that clogged garbage disposal sink.

      Try this first!

      Most models feature a reset button located underneath. Pressing this will reboot internal mechanisms, often resolving minor operational hiccups. 

      Didn’t work? Ok, now move on to these methods.

      1. Take a Peek Down the Garbage Disposal

      Use a flashlight and a long wooden spoon, and take a peek inside. Look for anything obvious that might be jamming up the blades (Very sharp blades!). Do you see a spoon, fork, or other foreign object? 

      If there’s standing water in the sink, this might make it more difficult to see. You can use a plastic cup and rags to bail out that standing water. Pour this down the other sink drain.

      You might be able to reach in with a long pair of pliers or salad tongs to get the object. If you can pull out those food scraps, banana peel, or whatever is in there, that may solve the problem.

      2. Try Using a Sink Plunger on that Clogged Disposal

      A sink plunger might take care of the clog. It can work well on a clogged drain trap, so why not a disposal unit? This is worth a try.

      All set? Fill up your kitchen sink with enough water so that the base of the plunger is covered, and cover/plug the other drain in the sink (unclogging a double sink can be a bit trickier). 

      Then place the plunger over the drain, and pump vigorously. This action creates suction which could dislodge food waste or other debris blocking your garbage disposal.

      Repeat a few times and see if the water goes down. 

      3. Baking Soda + Vinegar = Unclogged Garbage Disposal

      An eco-friendly alternative involves baking soda mixed with vinegar – ingredients readily available in most homes. This will act as a natural enzyme drain cleaner for your disposal. 

      Pour half a cup of baking soda followed by the same amount of vinegar into the blocked disposal unit.  

      Wait around 20 minutes before flushing with warm water (never use boiling water). The natural reaction helps break down the obstruction (works especially well on grease and fats). 

      As an added bonus, this process will help to deodorize your disposal and kitchen sink.

      Didn’t work? Here are the best drain cleaner options for a garbage disposal.

      4. Mechanical Intervention to Unclog Your Garbage Disposal (Main Method)

      In cases where the blades are jammed against some hard object, like chicken bones, you can use this method.

      At the bottom of the disposal is a hexagon-shaped hole. Your disposal should have come with a tool (hex wrench) designed to fit into this opening. Check your user manual for more details.

      You can use this to rotate the blades manually back and forth until the object gets dislodged. Turn the wrench clockwise and counterclockwise 4 or 5 times until the blades turn freely.    

      Then you should be able to reach in using pliers or tongs to pull out the now loosened object.

      Some units won’t have this hex wrench option. You can try using a wooden broom handle to turn the blades. 

      Place the handle down into the disposal from the sink opening, and turn the blades back and forth using the leverage of the wooden handle.

      5. Try a Drain Snake to Unclog That Disposal

      A drain snake shouldn’t be used directly into the disposal. But, the pipes around the disposal might be clogged. A snake (or other hair clog removal tool) will come in handy if this is the case. 

      You’ll want to go in through the P-trap to flush out the drain opening. 

      Watch this video on how to unclog your garbage disposal: 

      Key Takeaway: 

      Don’t let a clogged garbage disposal get you down. Use your plunger to create suction and dislodge the blockage. If that doesn’t work, try an eco-friendly solution of baking soda and vinegar. For stubborn jams caused by hard objects, use a hex wrench to manually move the blades. Always remember safety first – disconnect power and no hands inside the disposal.

      Test To See If the Garbage Disposal Is Now Unclogged

      Once you’ve unclogged your garbage disposal it’s time to check its proper operation. This involves running water through the system and watching how well it drains.

      Start the process by turning on your kitchen faucet and letting a stream of cold water run into the drain for roughly sixty seconds. 

      Cold water helps solidify any remaining grease or oil that may have contributed to causing a blockage in your garbage disposal drain. 

      Remember not to use hot water at this point because fats could melt only to re-solidify further down in the drain line, creating another potential drain cleaning problem.

      Fun Fact: Some DIY suggestions tell you to feed ice cubes (or crushed ice) into the disposal to sharpen the blades and solidify grease. The studies are not conclusive, but ice cubes do not sharpen the blades. 

      We do not recommend it. Read the user manual, and always keep in mind the product’s warranty limitations.

      If after doing this you notice that the sink drain is running slowly, or doesn’t drain at all, there might still be an obstruction within either your drain pipe or inside of the garbage disposal. 

      In such cases, consider repeating some unclogging methods like using a sink plunger again.

      did you know how to unclog a garbage disposal

      Can’t Unclog that Garbage Disposal –  Remove and Dismantle

      This is probably not a DIY project for everyone. But, it is one approach that will allow you to fix a clogged garbage disposal that is really jammed up. 

      Watch: Is Your Garbage Disposal Jammed or Clogged?

      But if you think disassembly is what’s needed, you should consider calling in your local plumber. 

      Professional plumbing services are probably needed for this advanced garbage disposal repair. 

      Best Way To Unclog that Garbage Disposal: Prevention

      The secret to preventing a clogged garbage disposal lies in knowing what should and shouldn’t go down your kitchen sink drain. 

      Certain food waste, like coffee grounds, eggshells, bones, or fibrous vegetables like celery can lead to severe blockages in the garbage disposal.

      An important step is running cold water before – during – and after you use the disposal. This helps flush out any residual particles that might otherwise stick around inside your pipes.

      Here are some other things to avoid to prevent disposal clogs:

      1. Avoid pouring grease or oil down the drain
      2. Never put non-food items into appliances designed specifically for disposing of food waste. It is not designed for non-organic stuff.
      3. When in doubt, throw it out, rather than putting it down the disposal.
      4. Go slow when putting food down the disposal. If you jam it in all at once, it will jam up the unit.
      5. Use the garbage disposal unit regularly. This may seem counter-intuitive, but if it sits unused, it can start to corrode.
      6. Read the manual. It will have some helpful tips on keeping your unit running smoothly.
      7. To prevent voiding the warranty, always follow the manufacturer’s instruction manual.

      Most food scraps are better put to use through composting. Consider creating a compost pile, and here is some helpful info.

      Final Thoughts on How To Unclog A Garbage Disposal

      Identifying the source of a clog in your garbage disposal is the first step to solving this common household issue.

      Try some of the methods for removing such blockages, including using a plunger, trying out a baking soda and vinegar mix, or utilizing tools like hex wrenches and wooden spoons.

      This can also work on that clogged garbage disposal dishwasher unit.

      Testing for proper functionality by running water through your disposal ensures you’ve successfully unclogged it.

      The importance of preventive measures cannot be overstated – keep future clogs at bay with regular maintenance!

      Plumbing Nav is here to help homeowners like you navigate these tricky waters. We are here ready to help you with practical DIY guides on all things plumbing-related. You can fix it yourself – let us show you how!

      FAQs About How To Unclog A Garbage Disposal

      How do you unclog the garbage disposal?

      You can use a plunger, a plumber’s snake, or a combination of baking soda and vinegar. For stubborn clogs, try using a hex wrench or wooden spoon to manually turn the blades. 

      How do you unclog a garbage disposal that won’t drain?

      Firstly, remove as much water as possible. Then plunge the drain before trying other methods like baking soda and vinegar or using a plumber’s snake.

      Is it OK to use Drano in a garbage disposal?

      Drano® Professional Strength Crystals Clog Remover is NOT safe for use in garbage disposals. However, other Drano products are, but read the instructions first. 

      What to do if your garbage disposal is clogged and not spinning?

      Use the Allen wrench that came with the disposal. You can manually turn the blades from the hole in the bottom of the disposal. But first read the manual.

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      About Plumbing Navigator

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      We write about “all things plumbing,” helping you navigate common questions, repairs, and the best plumbing products on the market.

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