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How To Easily Unclog A Garbage Disposal: A Step By Step Guide

The water in your kitchen sink with a garbage disposal attached to it is not draining as fast as you are used to. Sometimes it even takes a few minutes for the water to slowly start draining out of the sink. You suspect this is a sign that your garbage disposal and its relevant pipes are clogging up, but now you wonder whether you can unclog the garbage disposal yourself and if so, how do you do it? 

You’re right. The water which is draining slowly from your sink is a definite sign that your disposal system is in an advanced state of clogging. But the good news is that in most instances you can unclog a garbage disposal yourself. By following a few logical steps you can even fix the problem in less than 15 minutes. 

In this article, I provide you with the steps to take to unclog your garbage disposal. For your convenience, I also suggest a few tips on how to prevent clogging in future.

Steps to unclog your garbage disposal

 “Clogging” of your garbage disposal system means that the disposal and/or drain pipes have become so clogged with thick or sticky matter that very little or no water from your sink can pass through. Although stopping the water flow might sometimes be the result of an object which has become stuck in the system and is preventing the water flow, the term “clogging” actually refers to a process taking place over time. 

The disposal and pipes get clogged when oil, fat and other sticky substances stick to the inner sides of the disposal and pipes and over time build up until the flow of the water is blocked partially or even completely.  In this article, the focal point is how to remove clogged matter such as oil and fat. 

The troubleshooting steps we’ve prepared for your convenience follow a logical “route” and therefore we recommend that you follow the steps in chronological order.    

Step 1: Turn off the power to the garbage disposal

Before you try to do any garbage disposal unclogging, the first step you have to take is to ensure that no electric power is coming to the garbage disposal’s motor while you’ll be working with the disposal.  Water and electricity can be a very dangerous combination! 

To turn off the power, unplug the garbage disposal, and if you cannot find or reach the plug, turn the power off at the breaker box.  If the circuit breakers are marked and you can locate the garbage disposal’s breaker, put it off. If they are not marked, put off the main switch.   

Just keep in mind that after every step you’ve taken you’ll have to turn the power on again to test whether the problem has been solved. When you put a circuit breaker on, you first have to press the switch completely to the “Off” position and then press it to the “On” position until you hear it clicks in place. 

Also, remember that if the step you’ve taken has not successfully solved the problem you have to cut the power again before you take the next step. 

Step 2:  Check for “one-off” clogging/blocking material

After you’ve put off the power, use a flashlight and look into the disposal. Although it doesn’t necessarily mean that your garbage disposal is jammed when you encounter a clogging problem, it is always good to start your troubleshooting by looking into the disposal to see whether there is an object blocking the flow of the water. If there is something caught in the disposal, remove it with long pliers or tongs. 

After you’ve removed everything which could be blocking the water flow, test the system to see whether the water is flowing normally again. Restore the power to the disposal, open the cold water tap and turn on the disposal. If the water drains and everything work properly, you’ve successfully removed the substance which has blocked the system. You actually didn’t encounter a clogging problem – there was only an object blocking the free flow of the water. 

If, however, there is still a water flow problem, you have a clogging problem and have to turn off the power supply again and proceed to step 3. 

Step 3: Try to remove the clogging with a baking soda and vinegar solution

If you couldn’t resolve the water flow problem with the previous step, the next step is to pour a baking soda and vinegar solution down your sink. To prepare the solution, pour ½ cup of white vinegar over ¼ cup of baking soda. Use a large enough holder to prepare the solution because it will fizz and foam quite a lot.

After you’ve put off the power to the garbage disposal’s motor, pour this baking soda and vinegar solution into the disposal. Wait about 10 minutes, and then restore the power to the garbage disposal’s motor. Turn the disposal on while you are running hot water into the sink. Because this solution usually unclogs grease, fat, and oil, your problem might be solved. If the water is running smoothly out of the sink you’ve successfully unclogged your garbage disposal.

If it is still clogged, cut the power to the disposal again and take the next troubleshooting step.

Step 4: Force the clogging out with a plunger

A plunger uses water pressure to push clogs down the disposal and drain pipe. If you plunge up and down for a few minutes, chances are good that the clogging material will loosen and move out of the system with the water.

Just remember, if you have a double sink, you have to plug the one sink drain with some kind of stopper before you plunge the other sink’s drain. You want the pressure to push through the garbage disposal and pipes and not back into the other sink. And remember to check whether the power is off before you start plunging.

Plunging to unclog a garbage disposal

To plunge successfully, fill the sink you are going to work from with enough water to seal around the bottom of the plunger. The plunger’s rim must form a watertight seal.  Then, plunge the plunger up and down vigorously for a few minutes. 

Use a flashlight and remove all items that have become loose and are now visible in the disposal. Then put on the power, open the cold water tap, put on the disposal and see whether the water drains with ease. If so, you’ve solved the problem. 

If the water is still not running smoothly out of the sink, put the power off again and take the last DIY troubleshooting step. 

Step 5: Use the hex wrench

Your garbage disposal might have come with a hex wrench and is equipped with a hexagon hole at the bottom of the unit where you can insert the L-shaped hexagonal wrench. If you don’t have the original wrench anymore, you can purchase an Allen wrench which will fit into the unit’s hole.

Fit the wrench into the hexagon hole and move the wrench clockwise and counterclockwise four or five times until the blades spin freely in both directions. When the blades spin freely again, you know that the clog that has prevented them to move is now free. 

Open the sink tap, put on the disposal again and flush all the loose clogging matter out. If, after about a minute the water is running smoothly out of the sink, you’ve successfully unclogged your garbage disposal and the relevant pipes.  

Step 6: Call the plumber

If the water is still not easily draining out of the sink, you’ll have to get a qualified plumber to inspect the pipes and clean them out professionally. 

How to prevent garbage disposal clogging

We’ve now looked at the steps to follow to unclog your garbage disposal, but clogging can be prevented or at least cleaned up regularly by implementing the following tips:

Tip 1: Run the device regularly

To keep all the parts moving and prevent rust and corrosion turn on your water and run the garbage disposal frequently, even if there is nothing to grind. By using it regularly and running water through it at least once a day, you also prevent the leftover debris from hardening inside the device and pipes causing clogging.

Tip 2: Let water and device run for a minute after grinding the garbage

 Always keep the water and the disposal running for about a minute after you’ve finished grinding up garbage. This ensures that everything flushes out and nothing sticks to the pipes to start building up the clog. 

Tip 3: Use cold water

Use cold water instead of hot water when you use your garbage disposal. Hot water melts food that is supposed to be ground, making waste cling to the sides of the device and pipes. Cold water hardens food and prevents it from clinging to the inner side of the garbage disposal and its pipes. 

Tip 4: Don’t put grease or oil

Do not put grease or oil, into your garbage disposal as they can easily cling onto the inside of the device and pipes and can build up into clogging matter. 


Q: Can you unclog a double sink with a garbage disposal?

A: A double kitchen sink has a standard drain on one side and a garbage disposal on the other. Seal off the regular drain and then plunge the garbage disposal side. Then plunge the other side while covering the garbage disposal drain.

Q. Does it take long to unclog a garbage disposal?

A: If the clog is not severe, it should not take you longer than 15 minutes to troubleshoot.


A clogged-up garbage disposal system can be very inconvenient – the water can stop draining from your sink when you urgently need to use your sink. Fortunately, in most instances, you can unclog your system yourself, even if you are not a do-it-yourselfer. The guidelines in this article should help you to get your garbage disposal system unclogged within less than an hour, and the tips I’m providing on how to keep it unclogged might save you time in future!   

My name is Thomas Anderson, author of DisposalQA. I have 15 years experience working as a plumber in CA, and this is where I answer common questions about garbage disposals.