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Garbage Disposal Spinning But Not Draining: Fix

In any modern kitchen, the garbage disposal unit performs a valuable function in eliminating waste and preventing odors. It makes cleaning up so much easier and quicker, effortlessly disposing of food scraps. 

It all sounds great until the unit stops working and the sink builds up with water and food debris. You can hear the motor still spinning the blades, and the water in the sink makes pretty swirling patterns but refuses to leave.

Before you call the plumber, try these easy fixes to restore your Garbage Disposal unit to the efficient unit it was designed to be.

Listen for the motor.

If you can hear the motor running when you switch the unit on and see the water swirling a little above the drain hole, you will know that the unit is working and the blades are grinding, but the water is not draining. The problem is a blockage in the unit or pipework. Here is how to get rid of the blockage.

But first, a word of caution.

The Garbage Disposal Unit is not meant for fingers. The unit is designed for grinding up small food waste particles and disposing them through the greywater system. The system will not discriminate between food waste and your fingers, so don’t be tempted to put your fingers down the drain into the garbage disposal. You will do some severe damage to your fingers. Step one, when trying to unblock the garbage disposal unit, is: Switch Off the Garbage Disposal Unit.

1. Try the Ice Trick

If there is water in the sink, you will need to remove it before attempting the first trick because we will be using ice to try and dislodge the blockage. Once you have removed as much water as possible, remove the rubber splash guard or gasket, sometimes referred to as a baffle, fill the garbage disposal with ice cubes, and switch the unit on. You can add coarse salt to the ice to create an excellent scouring paste.

You will hear the blades grinding away at the ice cubes, which could be pretty noisy. Once the ice has been ground up, the unit will quieten down. Fill the sink with water and check if the water drains as it should.

If the water drains quickly, you can award yourself a gold star for removing the blockage from the Garbage Disposal Unit.

If, however, the ice cubes are all ground up and the blades are simply spinning, but the water is not draining, do not despair. We have a few more arrows in our quiver to get the blockage removed.

2. Unclog using Baking soda and vinegar

Pour a cup of baking soda into the drain and let it settle there for between half an hour to an hour, depending on your level of patience. After the baking soda has worked its magic, pour in a cup of vinegar that will mix with the baking soda and make bubbles that will attack any blockage in the garbage disposal unit.

Fit the sink stopper to allow the bubbles to work for five minutes or so, then remove the sink stopper and flush the drain with hot water. If the water disappears down the drain, there is one more step to complete the process. 

Take the skin off one lemon and place the pieces in the drain. Refit the gasket and switch on the Garbage Disposal unit. The result will be a delightfully fresh aroma and a clean drain.

3. Plunge the sink

Here we have to get a little closer to the action, so make sure you switch the Garbage Disposal Unit off. Get a torch and shine it down into the garbage disposal unit to see if there are any large pieces of waste. Using tongs or long nose pliers but not your fingers, try to remove any solid pieces of debris and dispose of them in the trash. All the big pieces of waste must be removed, so make sure you have removed them as much as possible.

Once you have removed all the visible pieces, fill the sink with a couple of inches of water because we will try using a standard plunger to get rid of the blockage.

If you have a double sink, you must insert a plug into the other sink before the next step. If you have an overflow in your sink, you will also need to seal it. Stuffing a wet cloth into the overflow will help make the plunger work more effectively.

Fit the suction plunger neatly over the drain and, using moderate pressure, depress it and lift it in a vertical pattern. Do this a couple of times for about twenty seconds and then remove the plunger from the sink and hopefully watch the water rapidly disappear down the drain.

If the water does disappear down the drain, switch on the garbage disposal unit and pour cold water down the drain to flush out any residual waste.

If none of the above methods have been successful, then I’m afraid you will have to grab a couple of tools and get under the sink. The first step is to remove any items that have been stored under the sink because you will need some room, and there will be some water spilled.

4. Clean the ‘P’ trap.

Although the Garbage Disposal unit is not strictly part of this operation, it is best to make sure it is switched off before you get under the sink.

A clear indication that your ‘P’ trap is blocked is if water from both sinks is slow to drain away, so let’s start with the ‘P’ trap and get that cleared.

Before you get under the sink, you need to get a bucket or basin to place below the sink to catch any remaining water in the pipework. 

Usually, the two screw fittings connecting the ‘P’ trap to the pipework are hand-tightened, and you won’t need any tools to loosen them and remove the ‘P’ trap. Remember to loosen the nuts you need to turn them in an anti-clockwise direction. If they are too tight, you might need a wrench to begin to loosen them.

Once the ‘P’ trap is removed, tip the water in the pipe into the bucket and check that there is no waste material blocking the pipe. Once it is cleared up, you will be ready to refit the ‘P’ trap section.

Before you refit the ‘P’ trap section, it is a good idea to inspect the pipe from the Garbage Disposal to the ‘P’ trap and the pipe leading away from the ‘P’ trap. There may be some waste in those sections, so it’s good to check before refitting the ‘P’ trap section.

 It is best to fit both sides of the ‘P’ trap before you tighten the nuts completely to allow for the easy alignment of the pipes.

Once everything has been tightened up, it’s time to test your handiwork. Turn the hot water tap on and allow the water to run for a minute or so to check that the drain is free from any blockage.

If the water drains away without any problem, switch the garbage Disposal unit on again and replace all the items stored under the sink.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I use the sink if the garbage disposal is clogged?

Unfortunately, you cannot use the sink if the garbage disposal is clogged or broken. Since the water from the sink drains through the garbage disposal, any damage to the garbage disposal will affect the use of the kitchen sink. Even if the water drains from the sink when the garbage disposal is not working, eventually, the food particles going down the sink will clog the garbage disposal and thus the drain. So if the disposer is not working, you should either repair it or replace it with pipes.

How to reset a garbage disposal that stopped working?

A garbage disposal can be reset using the reset button on it. The reset button pops out when the disposal unit is clogged or stopped working. Once the problem is eliminated, gently push the reset button and the disposer is ready to be used. The location of the reset button on a garbage disposal is either at its bottom side or towards the bottom of its front.


Now that you have completed the task of dislodging blockages in your Garbage disposal unit, here are a couple of tips on keeping the drain operating without any problems.

Only switch off your unit a little while after you hear the last food particles being ground up. The unit needs to run without any material for a short time. Always run water through the unit to flush any food waste away.

Abide by the rules of items that shouldn’t go into the Garbage Disposal Unit. Cooking Oil, large pits, bones, fibrous vegetables, coffee grounds, eggshells, and potato peels are not for the drain. 

The golden rule is to feed food waste slowly into the Garbage Disposal unit. Dumping a large pile of food scraps into the unit at once is a sure way to create a blockage. 

A little extra time in disposing of the food scraps is much less than the time it takes to remove the blockage.

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.