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How To Unclog Rice/Pasta Stuck In Garbage Disposal

Oats, pasta, and rice are on the list of things one shouldn’t put in a garbage disposal. Depositing these items into the Garbage Disposal Unit will have you scrolling through the ‘plumbers near you’ website pages in a surprisingly short time if you don’t obey the rule. 

Sure, the odd grain of rice and a couple of small pieces of pasta will not cause a blockage, but your Garbage Disposal Unit will not handle spoonfuls of pasta or rice.

Here are the reasons why you should obey the no pasta, no rice rule and what to do to resolve the problem if the rule is ignored.

Why you shouldn’t put cooked rice or pasta in the garbage disposal

There is a common misconception that a Garbage Disposal Unit cuts food waste into small pieces that float away down the waste pipes. This is not what happens. The food waste that finds its way into the Garbage Disposal Unit gets ground by the arms that rotate inside the chamber.

So, your pieces of rice and pasta will be ground down to a paste filled with starch and other elements that will combine to form a blob with a sticky consistency that has a high probability of successfully blocking the waste pipes and preventing efficient drainage from your sink.

The second important thing to remember is that there is always water present in the pipework. The ‘P’ trap is deliberately designed to maintain a level of water to prevent odors from entering the sink. Any foodstuff that swells when immersed in water will do just that in the pipes and Garbage Disposal unit, resulting in a blocked drain.

Putting Raw Rice in the Garbage Disposal Unit

Little grains of rice, be they basmati, risotto, or any other rice, look relatively innocuous and benign before slipping down into the Garbage Disposal Unit. However, trouble is on the way once they are in the waste system.

The hardworking Garbage Disposal Unit will happily grind the rice grains into a powder. Now there is water in the waste system which will combine with the raw rice and gently soften the rice and allow it to swell up to more than four times its original size.

The next problem is that rice is heavier than water, so the swollen rice particles will settle in the pipework’s lowest part. The ‘P’ trap is the convenient location for the ground and swollen rice, and your wastewater system is doomed to be blocked.

How to unblock the Garbage Disposal if the rice, Pasta has blocked the drain

Fortunately, a drain blocked with rice is relatively easy to sort out because rice grains will eventually break down in hot water or acid. 

If you are sure that rice has blocked your Garbage Disposal, start by boiling two or three cups of water in a kettle and pour the boiling water down the drain. Let the boiling water get to work for ten minutes or so or until you see the water draining away.

Next, run the Garbage Disposal unit and pour in some lukewarm water. If the water drains away without any problem, then you have successfully resolved the issue. If the water begins to fill the sink, you will have to repeat the exercise one more time.

Should the problem remain after the second attempt, sterner action is required. Here we will do the baking soda and vinegar routine.

Before you begin this exercise, make sure you have the drain plug handy. If your Garbage Disposal unit has a removable rubber baffle, remove it for this exercise.

Pour one cup of baking soda into the Garbage Disposal unit and follow this with a cup of vinegar, then fit the drain plug and allow the baking soda and vinegar to bubble away the rice grains for about twenty to thirty minutes.

After the bubbles have subsided, pour some lukewarm water down the drain after removing the drain plug. Hopefully, your drain is no longer blocked, and the water drains away without any problem.

In the sad situation of all these cleaning remedies failing to dislodge the rice, we will guide you through removing the ‘P’ trap after dealing with pasta problems. 

When all else fails, head for the ‘P’ Trap.

So, you have tried the hot water, then the baking soda and vinegar, and the water still refuses to leave. Although I would like to tell you otherwise, sadly, you will need to get under the sink and remove the ‘P’ trap. It is not that big a deal, so grab a bucket or a basin and perhaps a small towel or two and get under the sink.

Firstly, remove all the items stored under the sink because the chance of them getting wet where they are is better than good. So, with all the items safely removed, you need to remove the ‘P’ trap. 

Typically, the clamps are hand-tightened and can be easily removed. If, for some reason, they are a little stubborn, wrap the towel around the clamp and try again. Remember, anti-clockwise is to loosen.

Before removing the ‘P’ trap, place the bucket or basin under the ‘P’ trap to catch the remaining water in the pipe. Once you have removed the ‘P’ trap, tip the water out and remove all the trapped pasta or rice inside the pipe.

Wash the ‘P’ trap thoroughly to remove any residual foodstuffs and refit the pipe. Remember to fit both sides of the ‘P’ trap before tightening the clamps to ensure the alignment is correct.

Clean and refit the rubber baffle if you removed it, and run some lukewarm water through the drain. Check that there are no leaks before repacking the items you usually store under the sink.

If the water drains well, and I do hope it is, switch the Garbage Disposal Unit on again and let the water drain through for about thirty seconds.

One final task is to cut up and drop a couple of pieces of lemon skin down the drain and let the Garbage Disposal Unit mash them up and provide a lovely fresh smell to the drain.

Some General Safety Tips

  • Wear a mask and safety glasses when using baking soda, vinegar, or other cleaning chemicals in your Garbage Disposal Unit.
  • Do not be tempted to put your fingers into the Garbage Disposal Unit, as your fingers will be treated like other food waste and be ground into little pieces. As a safety precaution, always ensure that the Garbage Disposal Unit is switched off before you attempt any drain-cleaning activities.
  • Avoid using drain cleaners to try and remove Garbage Disposal blockages and instead refer to the unit manufacturers for guidance on what type of Disposal Clog remover product to use.


Is it acceptable to put bread in the Garbage Disposal Unit?

The simple answer is that all foodstuffs containing wheat are not what should go down the Garbage Disposal Unit. The Unit will handle a few crumbs without a problem. Slices of bread should instead go in the trash.

If pasta is a no go in the Garbage Disposal, what about pasta sauce?

Pasta sauces usually contain fats that can contribute to the eventual blockage, so it’s best to avoid pouring sauces down the drain.

Can the pasta water be poured down the Garbage Disposal Unit?

The pasta water contains a fair amount of starch, making it unsuitable to head down the Garbage Disposal Unit. Instead, if you have only added a small amount of salt to the water, use it for pot plants.

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.