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

Garbage disposals clog when you try to grind food wastes they cannot grind. As a result, these food wastes accumulate in its grinding chamber, and the drain pipes obstructing the free flow of water and thus causing clogs.

Clogs can occur within your garbage disposal as well as in the drain pipes. They occur inside your garbage disposal due to a lack of regular cleaning. Unground food wastes can stick to grinding rings, thus obstructing the flow of water. The main reason behind clogs in the drain pipes are eggshells, potato peels, and coffee grounds. Eggshells and coffee grounds are hard to wash away, so they stay in the pipes, eventually clogging them. Food items like potato peels become paste-like when ground, and so they easily form clogs along the drain.

These clogs can cause the water to stand in the sink, or it may drain slowly. In some cases, the sink drains when the garbage disposal is run. There are mainly 4 places these clogs occur;

  • Inside the garbage disposal chamber
  • Inside the p-trap
  • Inside the tail-pipe
  • In the branch drain
Most probable locations of finding clogs in garbage disposal
Most probable locations of finding clogs in garbage disposal & drain

Since clogs occur differently, they need to be addressed differently.

Here is a detailed step by step to unclog your garbage disposal;

Things you will need;

  1. A bucket
  2. An Allen key or a broom handle
  3. A plunger
  4. A drain snake
  5. A flashlight
  6. A pair of tongs

Step 1: Run the garbage disposal

Running your garbage disposal can unclog the drains if the clogs are weak. It creates a pressure while running, which will force the water in the drain pipes to break the clog. You can also fill the sink to the brim with water and remove the stopper while running the garbage disposal. This will create some additional force to break through the clogs.

While this is easy to do, it has one downside. If the clog is not removed, you will have to deal with a sink full of standing water! So try this method at your discretion.

It is also possible that your garbage disposal didn’t run. This is because it is jammed, and hence the clog is very likely inside its grinding chamber. In this case, proceed to step 2.

Step 2: Unplug the garbage disposal

If the above method didn’t work, or you don’t plan to do it, the next step is to unplug the garbage disposal. This is because the rest of the steps doesn’t need you to run it, and this can end messy if the disposal turns on accidentally. It is recommended to unplug it from the mains instead of just turning it off. This will prevent any unforeseen accidents.

Step 3: Unjam the garbage disposal using a wrench or a broom handle

Clogs can happen in the garbage disposal when it is jammed. The solution here is to unjam it. In step 1, I told you to run the garbage disposal, and if you did it successfully, you could skip this step. But if the garbage disposal was just humming, then there is a clog inside it.

What we need to do in this step is unjamming the disposal. For this, we need to manually rotate the garbage disposal blades using an Allen wrench or a broom handle until the blades are free to rotate. Run water during this process to wash away any loosened food pieces. Once the blades are free to rotate, turn on the garbage disposal and check if the clog is removed.

Here is a detailed guide on unjamming your garbage disposal.

Step 4: Plunge the drain with a kitchen plunger

This step is easy to do. Place a kitchen plunger over the sinkhole and plunge it. The larger the plunger, the more effective it is. This method can be used even if there is standing water in the sink.

The plunger can remove the clogs anywhere in the drainage system.

How to plunge a kitchen sink

It is relatively easy to plunge a single bowl sink. But if it is a double sink, the water can push back through the other sink opening. So you will have to keep the other sinkhole closed with a stopper.

Tip: If the water doesn’t push out through the other sink hole the clog is in the tailpipe connected to your garbage disposal.

You will also have to disconnect the dishwasher connection if you have one and then plug that hole to prevent water from draining through there. If done correctly, this is the easiest way to unclog your garbage disposal.

Step 5: Disconnect the p-trap

If the clog was inside the garbage disposal, it should be removed by now by following the above steps. If the sink is not draining still, then a possible location for the clog is the p-trap. A p-trap helps to prevent clogs in the drain system by trapping hair, food wastes, and other things. So a p-trap is expected to have clogs and it is designed to be disconnected easily.

Luckily p-traps are easy to remove; most do not even need a pipe wrench. If your plumber didn’t glue the pipes together, here is how to remove a p-trap;

How to remove a p-trap

A p-trap always has water and dirt in it, so make sure you put a bucket under while removing it. If there is standing water in the sink, it is all going to come down, so be prepared for that.

Once you removed the p-trap, check it for any clogs. Use the drain snake or a brush to clean its insides. If you don’t see any clogs there and there is still water in the sink, then the clog is in the tailpipe connected to your garbage disposal. If that is the case, proceed to Step 6.

If the p-trap doesn’t have any clogs and all the water in the sink got drained, the clog is in the branch drain. Follow the instructions in Step 7 to unclog it.

Step 6: Remove the tail-pipe

Since you didn’t find any clogs in the p-trap and the sink is still filled with water, the clog’s only possible location is in the tail-pipe coming from the garbage disposal. If you have a double sink, this tail-pipe connects to the second sink drain via a tee. This t-junction is a very likely location for the occurrence of clogs.

Now that the p-trap is already removed, it is easy to disconnect the tailpipe from the t-junction. I am 100% sure that you will find clogs there. Make sure that you have a bucket in position to catch all the water coming down. Clean the tail-pipe free of clogs and refit it. Problem solved.

Note: You can also use a Y-formation instead of the tee for double sinks. This will avoid any clogs in there. But the problem is, when the food materials are washed down, clogs can occur somewhere in the main drain line, and it will be more difficult to clear. So if you have a garbage disposal, it is better to stick with the t-junction pipe.

Note 2: There can be more than one clog. So even if the tailpipe is unclogged, you may find another clog in the branch drain. So proceed to Step 7 nevertheless.

Step 7: Clean the branch drain pipe line

The branch line is the drain pipe that goes into the kitchen wall starting from the p-trap. If you couldn’t find any clogs in the p-trap and the water is drained from the sink while you removed it, the clog is in the branch pipeline. Even if you cleared a clog in the tailpipe or the p-trap, it is still advised to check this pipeline as there can be more than one clog.

Since it goes into the wall, one cannot remove this pipeline. What you can do is snake into it using the drain snake to clear any clog. This may take a few tries depending on the length of the pipe. Once done, refit everything.

Step 8: Run the garbage disposal

Now that you cleared all clogs, it is time to test whether the sink is draining or not. So, plug in the garbage disposal, run plenty of cold water, and run it. Make sure you run it for a while without grinding any food wastes to ensure that any solids left in the drain pipes are washed away.

How to unclog a garbage disposal: video

What cause clogs in garbage disposals

There are several food items which you shouldn’t put down a garbage disposal. Clogs happen when you try to grind them. In most cases, the clogs occur in pipes and not in the garbage disposal. This is because your garbage disposal can grind almost all the non-friendly food wastes, but the problem starts once they reach the drain pipes.

Let me give you an example. You shouldn’t put potato peels in a garbage disposal. Potato peels become a sticky paste once ground. Even if it is washed away from the garbage disposal, once it reaches the p-trap, it will cause a clog. This, along with a few strands of hair, can make matters worse.

Here are some such clog causing food items;

  • Eggshells, coffee ground: Eggshells and coffee grounds are sedimentary in nature. They can be ground flushed away in small quantities with lots of water. But gradually, they will accumulate inside the pipes leading to clogs. It is much easier to throw these items in the bin than to put them in the drain. Eggshells and coffee grounds are also great for composting, and they have countless other uses.
  • Celery, asparagus, and similar fibrous vegetables: These vegetables contain hairlike fibrous strands. Like hair in a drain, these fibers together foam a ball that will capture all food wastes coming down the drain, eventually blocking the pipes.
  • Rice, pasta, potato peels: These food items expand on contact with water. They also become sticky and slime-like when ground. It is a wonder if they don’t clog your drain pipes.

My name is Thomas Anderson, and I have worked briefly as a plumber. Even though I am currently working on a different career path I still help out my friends and family with their plumbing issues. This is a hobby blog where I share my knowledge with the audience through random articles. Through this blog, I hope to address some common questions about garbage disposals.