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How to Unclog a Garbage Disposal

March 3, 2024

A clogged garbage disposal can bring your kitchen activities to a standstill. But don’t worry! It might be an easy fix.

First things first, you want to prioritize your safety. That means turning off the power, not putting your hand directly into the disposal, and allowing the unit to cool down before troubleshooting.

Things to Remember When Unclogging a Garbage Disposal

Turn Off the Power

turn off the powerBefore you do anything, disconnect the power from the unit. Make sure the garbage disposal switch is off and unplug the unit for good measure.

That will prevent accidental activation and will protect you from electrical shocks when dealing with garbage disposals.

And remember to press the reset button only after confirming the unit is turned off and the power cord is unplugged.

Don’t Put Your Hands Inside

Never put your hands directly in the disposal. The blades inside the unit are incredibly sharp and pose a significant risk of injury.

Instead of using your hands, use tools like tongs to remove any visible items.

Wait for It to Cool Down

Wait about 20 minutes after using the disposal before addressing any issues. That will allow the motor to cool down so that it won’t overheat.

Finding the Cause of the Clog

Clogs can originate within the garbage disposal blades, the internal construction, or the sink drain.

Inspect for Visible Blockages

First, check for any visible culprits. Use a flashlight to inspect the inside of the garbage disposal and the sink drain for any obstructions. Remember, safety first – make sure the power is off before you start this inspection.

Check for Common Clog Culprits

common clog culpritsCertain items are notorious for causing clogs. These include:

  • Potato peels
  • Celery
  • Corn husks
  • Onion skins
  • Coffee grounds
  • Non-food items like paper or plastic

Fibrous and starchy foods can also create paste-like substances that can block the pipes.

Identify Non-Visible Obstructions

A persistent clog might indicate that there’s an obstruction deep within the drain system.

In cases like this, you may want to use a sink drain auger or similar tool to dislodge the clogs within the drain line.

How to Unclog Garbage Disposal

An Allen wrench or needle nose pliers can prove handy when it comes to dislodging trapped items and clearing jams within the disposal unit.

Use an Allen Wrench

An Allen wrench is your go-to tool for freeing up jammed impeller blades within the unit. Insert the wrench into the hexagon slot, which is the manual rotation socket, and move it back and forth – that will manually rotate the shredder ring and blades, effectively clearing the jam.

Use Needle Nose Pliers

Needle nose pliers are ideal if you can see the debris inside the disposal. Make sure the unit is completely powered down (flip the built-in circuit breaker if necessary) and use the pliers to carefully extract the debris, avoiding contact with the disposal’s blunt impeller lugs.

Natural Solutions for Clearing Clogs

Common household items like baking soda and vinegar can be effective in breaking down clogs.

Baking Soda and Vinegar Technique

baking soda and vinegar techniqueThis method is as simple as it is effective. Combine ½ cup of baking soda with 1 cup of vinegar and pour it directly into the disposal. The fizzing action will help break down minor clogs. Plus, it’s a great way to eliminate unpleasant odors from the disposal.

Hot Water and Dish Soap Flush

Another natural method involves your everyday dish soap. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Squirt a generous amount of dish soap down the drain
  2. Pour boiling water down the drain
  3. Let the mixture sit for 10 minutes
  4. Run hot water and switch on the disposal to wash away the loosened food particles

Resetting Your Garbage Disposal

Once the clog is cleared, you want to reset the garbage disposal.

The garbage disposal reset button, typically found on the bottom or side of the appliance, can restore functionality if the garbage disposal stops working due to an overload or jam.

If you’re having trouble finding it, refer to the garbage disposal’s user manual or check the manufacturer’s website for specific details.

When to Press the Reset Button

Press the reset button if the disposal clogs, overheats, or experiences an overload. Remember to press the button only after clearing jams and allow additional time for the unit to cool down if the button doesn’t engage immediately.

When to Use a Plunger

At times, traditional plunging can effectively clear minor clogs in the disposal. However, there are a few things that you want to keep in mind:

Proper Plunging Form

For effective plunging, follow these steps:

  1. Ensure the plunger has a flat bottom rim
  2. Place the plunger directly over the drain opening
  3. Run enough water into the sink to cover the plunger cup – that will help create a better seal
  4. Maintain the seal and pump the plunger handle in a vigorous up-and-down motion to dislodge the clog

Precautions with Plungers

Make sure to wear eye protection and gloves when plunging the drain – that will protect you from potentially harmful splashes.

Advanced Fixes: Tackling Stubborn Disposal Clogs

If the clog persists, you may need to clear the drain trap or assess electrical issues. Depending on the situation, professional help may also be needed.

Clearing the Drain Trap

clearing the drain trapIn some cases, you may need to disconnect and clean the P-trap, the U-shaped drain pipe under the sink.

After placing a bucket under the trap, disconnect the slip-nut fitting on the drain trap, and remove the trap to inspect for clogs.

Once cleared, reassemble the trap and run cold water through the system to clear any remaining debris.

Assessing Electrical Issues

Electrical problems can also cause the garbage disposal to stop working. Check for proper connections and consult a professional if needed.

Maintenance Tips to Prevent Future Clogs

As the saying goes, prevention is better than cure. A routine of regular cleaning and careful disposal of food waste can significantly prevent future clogs.

Regular Cleaning Routines

Regularly running the disposal with ice cubes can sharpen the blades and help remove any buildup. Additionally, a mix of citrus rinds and ice can deodorize the disposal, while vinegar and baking soda offer a safe alternative to harsh chemicals.

Mindful Food Scrap Disposal

Be mindful of what goes into the disposal. Non-food objects like silverware or paper can cause clogs or damage the unit. Also, avoid disposing of certain food scraps like leftover meat scraps, wet dog food, and whole fruits in the unit as they can cause blockages in the dishwasher hose and pipes.

If necessary, use a disposal cover or drain strainer – that will prevent large items from slipping into the disposal.

Unclogging Your Garbage Disposal – Summary

Dealing with a clogged garbage disposal involves diagnosing the clog, manually unclogging, and using natural solutions as well as resetting the disposal.

Remember to follow safety precautions, and don’t hesitate to seek professional help if needed.

With proper maintenance and mindful usage, you can minimize future clogs and keep your garbage disposal running smoothly for many years to come!

Garbage Disposal Not Working – Frequently Asked Questions

How can you unclog a garbage disposal with standing water without a plunger?

To unclog a garbage disposal with standing water without a plunger, pour baking soda followed by white vinegar, wait for 20 minutes, then pour boiling water to wash away debris.

Can I use my hands to remove visible clogs from the garbage disposal?

No, it’s not safe to use your hands to remove clogs from the garbage disposal because of the sharp impeller blades. You should use tools like tongs or needle nose pliers instead.

How do I reset my garbage disposal?

To reset your garbage disposal, locate and press the reset button on the bottom or side of the appliance after clearing away any jams.

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Ethan Clarke

Ethan Clarke is a seasoned expert in appliances and household waste systems. Referencing his extensive experience as an appliance repairman, Ethan shares his invaluable knowledge through detailed maintenance & troubleshooting manuals. Ethan’s insights help homeowners understand and maintain their appliances efficiently, ensuring longevity and optimal performance. He’s here to provide practical, easy-to-follow advice for all your appliance needs.

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