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How to fix a clogged garbage disposal?

This article explains simple methods like manually running blades, using pliers, tongs, plungers, cleaning the P or S-trap which help to fix a clogged garbage disposal. Preventive measures described help in the long term maintenance of garbage disposal.


Garbage disposer is an electrical appliance installed under a kitchen sink to shred food waste into small pieces of approximately less than 2mm in size so that they can easily pass through plumbing. It is an appliance that is usually taken for granted. Every now and then it gets clogged despite of all the conscious efforts of trying to keep it open. Clogging is quite common as food components do get trapped in it when proper flushing does not takes place. No one really want a clogged garbage disposal, especially at times when friends and family get invited. Though it may look like a nightmare, but still the process of opening garbage disposal is not that tedious. Need of the hour is to learn to fix clogged garbage disposal as well as know regarding all those preventive measures which will keep clogs to minimum. One need not call plumber when every time clogging takes place. It is an easy process and just few tools and right technique is needed to fix clogging. Before making an attempt, it is important to refer owner's manual to get a rough idea about how to open a clogging. One should also know limitations of disposal i.e., what to throw and what not to throw in it.

Causes of clog formation in garbage disposer

If we accidentally drop a foreign article into garbage disposal, it gets clogged. Object can be anything from a spoon to a pencil. Garbage disposal is finicky. We cannot expect it to remain clear despite of throwing all the components mindlessly. Thus, never throw objects like chicken bones, fish bones, seeds of certain fruits, corncobs etc. If we let the garbage run down quickly then clogging takes place. Water plays a very important role to flush out wastes from the draining pipes. If we somehow fail to run enough water from time to time and especially when garbage in the pipes is still processing, it is very likely that garbage disposal will get clogged. Garbage disposal easily and quickly gets clogged with food products. With time, coating develops on waste lines due to obstructed food. Grinding egg shells or ground coffee powder is the main cause for clogging of disposal. These ingredients may not seem like the ones which can pose a problem but still they does. Small granular wastes which these ingredients result can immediately result in a clog as these wastes easily tend to get accumulated in waste lines by sticking to sludge. Grinding potato peels and banana peels also cause clogging. Potato peels appears just like mashed potato and this starchy paste can immediately result in a clog. Banana peels are similar to that of potato peels but also carry some fibers with it which pose more danger of forming clogs.

Determine the source of the clog

In order to decrease risk of injuries and accidents, turn off the disposal before making an attempt to fix it. If one is only looking for clogged content then there is no need to turn the power of the disposal. However, before sticking anything into it, turn off the power. Power button may be located under the sink or else near the fuse box. Look down the drain area with the help of torch to know what ingredients or components have caused blockage. Depending up on the contents causing blockage, one may need to bring tools to clear the same. If blockage has resulted slowly due to slow deposition of food debris then one may need to plunge the sink. If food or other components are causing clog then do not try to flush or run water, instead try to remove blockage by using same methods which would have been used to unclog food. If any valuable article is clogging it then call for help so that plumber can remove it without causing any damage. Manually run blades to remove the clogged material and this should be done when disposer is clogged under the sink. Manually when turned on, blades will move slowly and their chances of getting stuck get greatly reduced. It will help us to determine where the real clogging is. It may even result in breakage of some of the clogged material very slowly. If manual method is followed then shut off the switch and cut the power for disposal or can also opt to unplug disposal unit.

Unclog garbage disposer with pliers and plungers

A pair of pliers which can reach into the disposal can very well solve the whole problem. If any food debris or accumulated clogged material can be seen then try removing it with the help of pliers or tongs. This will help to clear out the space and increases further visibility. Never even try to put hand or fingers in garbage disposer as there is always a risk of injury being caused by sharp blades. Even the accumulated food debris or wastes should not be picked with fingers. Use tongs or pliers to do the same. Once loose debris is removed, try running garbage disposal. It may run smoothly. If it does not then that means there is more accumulated wastes in it. One here needs to make use of plungers to get rid of stuck wastes. When garbage disposer is made to run and it produces a low humming sound then it means that its blades are unable to move and this is because of accumulated wastes which are preventing them from turning. Keep water flowing as water will not only lubricate blades but will also break down accumulated wastes facilitating their easy removal. See that power is cut off and fill the sink with water level that reaches a few inches. Properly place plunger over the hole of the sink and initiate plunging. Suction will get created. It will lift the accumulated debris from the garbage disposal. Water that was filled in the sink should drain down the hole naturally. This is an indication of clear pipe line which is free of clogging. Plunging should be continued until wastes do not come up. All the scooped wastes should be pulled up and removed. Allow some more water to run down the drain. Allow motor to cool down for some time and then run it. If it runs efficiently then it means that garbage disposal is free of clogs.

Cleaning the P or S-trap

P or S-shaped plumbing fitting is situated right after the discharge pipe. These pipes look like P or S in shape and connect to the trap arm on back wall of the cabinet. Even after plunging, if problem does not get solved and garbage disposal isn't working then the problem lies in P or S-trap pipe. Place a bucket and towels below drain trap. Get rid of excess water in the sink with the help of towel or sponge. There are slip-nut fittings on the drain trap. Disconnect these fittings using pliers to remove the trap. Once the pipes are removed, some water will get spilled and thus bucket and towel come in handy to avoid mess. Clogging usually takes place in sharp bend of the trap. With the help of a small scrub brush, get rid of clogs or wastes that are causing obstruction in the trap fittings. If trap fitting is clear then do check drain arm. It connects wall to the branch drain pipe. Also check the vertical drain pipe which is located inside the wall. Clear all these pipes and fittings from obstruction then reassemble all the fittings. Run water through the sink to get rid of loose debris.

Proper maintenance of garbage disposer

Maintenance is more like adopting preventive measures that will make sure that no clog formation takes place and this in turn will ensure that garbage disposer works at its best. First rule is to never dispose large or rigid wastes into the disposer like bones, plastic spoons etc. Disposer is only designed to break down food particles and not for hard, rigid and large wastes. Natural method of cleaning is the most efficient method and thus make use of lemon to do the same. Depending upon how frequently garbage disposal is used, clean it once or twice a month. Cut lemon into two pieces and place it in garbage disposal. Let it run for 2-3 minutes. This will naturally clear all the clogged material and also removes odors caused because of wastes. Lemon's acidic juices will do the whole magic. Make sure to run water in sufficient amount. Just letting water to run when food grinds is not merely sufficient. Even after the whole thing is finished, water should be allowed to run for 30 seconds to 1 minute. This will keep blades well lubricated and prevents formation of any clogs as loose debris easily get flushed out. It will ensure that food does not clog or stick on blades or pipes.


Garbage disposer is an electrical machine which helps in the grinding of food wastes. It gets clogged if care is not taken and some rigid and large wastes are dumped in it. Every time instead of calling for help, adopting simple methods like making use of plungers, pliers or removing the accumulated wastes from P or S-shaped traps can easily solve the whole problem. Also, it is necessary to run water every now and then to make sure that clogging does not take place. Unobstructed flow will ensure that garbage disposer works at its efficient level. More care is given on its maintenance, more efficiently it works as well as chances of getting clogged decreases greatly.

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Author: Reena Upadhya07 Oct 2017 Member Level: Diamond   Points : 2

One can also create a frizzy solution by making use of vinegar and baking soda. This will dissolve all the grime. First spill some hot water into the drain. Then sprinkle half a cup of baking soda in it. After a few minutes, rinse it with vinegar and some more hot water. This measure adopted regularly will also help in the maintenance of garbage disposal over a long period of time.

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