A garbage disposal in the sink is a very handy thing to have in the kitchen, but if it clogs, it can be an expensive proposition to call a plumber to fix it. Before you pick up the phone, it’s worth trying to unclog it yourself, because it’s not necessarily that difficult if you arm yourself with knowledge and the proper tools.
How a Garbage Disposal Works
Before you start figuring out how to unclog a garbage disposal, it help to understand how one works. Actually, a garbage disposal is meant to prevent the drain from clogging because it grinds up the small pieces of food and debris that go down the drain. The disposal is installed under the sink before the drain pipe, that way it can chop up the junk into tiny pieces that will flow away with the water.
What Causes a Clog in the Garbage Disposal?
An accumulation of food debris is usually what causes a clog. It could also be that something fell into the disposal that shouldn’t be there, which can keep it from working. This could be anything from a piece of silverware, a bone or even a bottle cap. Despite being a heavy-duty appliance, the garbage disposal can’t handle everything you might consider putting down into it.
What Shouldn’t I Put Down the Garbage Disposal?
The best way to avoid having to figure out how to unclog a garbage disposal is to mind what types of things go into it. Some food items can cause a lot of problems in a disposal and even if you’re careful, clogs can happen. Usually, the bits you scrape off the dinner plates are the problem: It’s larger amounts of produce that are tough or stringy or larger volumes of any food product. In fact, if you have more than just a bit of something to dispose of, it’s best to throw it in the trash and not try to jam it down the disposal.
Not pushing waste too quickly into the disposal while it’s running will help keep things moving as will running enough water down the drain while using the disposal.
In general, these are the things you want to avoid putting down the disposal: Celery, onion skins, potato peelings, and banana peels. It’s also a good idea not to pour cooking oils and fats down the drain, including butter and bacon grease, because these can solidify in the disposal and pipes and cause a clog. Some starchy foods can wreak similar havoc on the disposal, including rice, pasta and vegetables that are high in starch. Last but not least, don’t put coffee grounds down the disposal either, because they can build up and turn into a thick muck that will create a clog.
On the other hand, one thing that’s always a good idea to put down into the disposal is a slice or two of citrus peel. These will help keep it from smelling badly.
Gather Up Your Tools and Equipment
Before you get started, gather up everything you might need to unclog a garbage disposal. You might not need absolutely everything on the list, but it’s much better to have it all handy rather than having to stop the job in the middle to go search for a tool that you might need. Here are some of the basics you’ll probably need:
How to Unclog a Garbage Disposal
- Safety First – The garbage disposal is an electrical appliance so for safety’s sake, make sure that you turn off the breaker that provides electricity to the disposal. This is something that you want to do any time you’re thinking about sticking your hand in the disposal to dislodge something that fell in, like a spoon. You never know if when you pull out the spoon, the grinding mechanism might turn with your hand still inside.
- Take a Good Look Inside – After cutting the power supply, use the flashlight to look inside the drain at the disposal. Is there something blocking the disposal mechanism? If so, pull it out with tongs or pliers. Then, flip the breaker back on, push the reset button if necessary, and turn on the disposal. If it works – hurray! You now know how to unclog a garbage disposal.
- The Plunger Option – If the garbage disposal clog wasn’t due to an object stuck in the disposal, it could be a build-up of food debris and it’s time to try another method. Once again, turn off the breaker before proceeding. Next, grab the plunger and place it over the drain so that it covers the opening completely. If there isn’t any water in the sink, add some to cover the edges of the plunger and then start plunging. If the water drains when you lift up the plunger, you may have cleared the clog. Flip the breaker and try out the disposal. If it works, you’re all set
- Try a Chemical-Free Cocktail – While there are chemical products available that you can use, it’s not necessary because vinegar and baking soda may do the trick without any harsh or hazardous substances. In fact, chemical drain cleaners can damage any rubber or plastic parts in your garbage disposal. Once again, flip the breaker to shut off the power to the clogged disposal. Dump about one-quarter cup of baking soda into the disposal and then pour one-half cup of vinegar in. This combo will fizz and foam up inside the disposal and probably up and out of the drain somewhat. After five to 10 minutes, turn the breaker on and try out the disposal while running a stream of hot water. Don’t forget that you might need to hit the reset button too.
- Call in the Pros – Sometimes, despite your best efforts, the clog may be too stubborn or substantial for DIY efforts to remedy. And, sometimes the blockage may be further down the pipe and require expert tools and know-how to solve. In these cases, you’ll have to call a plumber.
Knowing how to unclog a garbage disposal is a handy skill that can save you a lot of money over the years. Sure, there might be times that you’ll need a professional, but even if you can solve the problem yourself every now and then, it’s a big bonus for the household budget!