How To Unclog a Garbage Disposal: 4 Different Ways

    Kitchen sink with a man holding a pipe wrench

    Many homeowners simply call a plumber when their garbage disposal clogs or becomes jammed. But you might be suprised to know that it's really not that difficult to fix yourself . . . even if you don't consider yourself to be a DYI'er.

    This article will show you 4 different ways to unclog your garbage disposal, and the best part is, you likely already have every thing you need! If after trying these 4 methods and your disposal is still clogged, it's probably time to call a plumber.  

    How to Unclog a Garbage Disposal

    Regardless of how careful you are, clogs happen with garbage disposals. At the end of this article, we'll give you 5 tips to help prevent a clog, but first, let's take a look at the most common reasons clogs happen in the first place.

    • Foreign Object - When a foreign object, such as a fork, falls into your garbage disposal it often makes a horrible racket. Some items like a wash cloth or a sponge may get tangled in the components, but they make very little noise. Foreign objects can cause both jams and clogs.
    • Rapid Feeding - Garbage disposals need time to grind food waste. When food is fed into the grind chamber too fast, the disposal can become overwhelmed and do a poor job of grinding. A clog can develop in either the disposal or the plumbing. 
    • Failure to Flush - Just because your food waste has been ground doesn't mean that its flushed thru your drainpipes. Once the disposal is finished grinding, keep the cold water running and the unit ON for at least a minute.
    • NEVER put your hand inside the grinding chamber. Even if the disposal is unplugged, you should not put your hand inside.
    • ALWAYS shut off the electrical power before working on your garbage disposal. Unplug the disposal from the wall, or if it's hardwired, switch the breaker to the OFF position before starting. 
    Hand holding kitchen tongs

    Method 1: Visual Check & Tongs

    Frequently, the clog/jam is caused by a foreign object falling inside. Continuous feed garbage disposals are notorious for this problem.

    • With the help of a flashlight, look inside the garbage disposal. 
    • If you see an item lodged within the unit, you've found the source of your jam.
    • Using a pair of tongs or pliers, carefully reach into the garbage disposal and dislodge and remove the item.
    • Once you've removed the object, plug the disposal back into the wall or flip the breaker ON.
    • Check the reset button on the bottom of the disposal to make sure that it isn't tripped.
    • Turn the disposal ON. (If the motor overheated, it may be necessary to wait a few minutes to allow it to cool).
    • If the disposal works properly and water drains thru, you've solved your problem.
    Jar of Vinegar and Baking Soda

    Method 2: Vinegar & Baking Soda

    Since we've ruled out the possibilty of a foreign object, the next thing to check is if the problem is from a food clog. When food isn't ground down properly, it can be swept thru the disposal and form a clog in your drainpipe.

    This method involves making a homemade drain cleaner. It's important to remember, that you should NEVER use conventional drain cleaners in your garbage disposal, as they can cause damage to the unit.

    • Pour 1/4-cup of baking soda into the garbage disposal.
    • Add 1/2-cup vinegar (preferably white) into the disposal.
    • Be prepared, this mixture will fizz!
    • After about 10 minutes, turn the electrical breaker back ON.
    • Turn ON the hot water and allow it to run in the disposal for 2 to 3 minutes.
    • Check the reset button and turn ON the disposal.
    • If the garbage disposal works properly, you've solved the problem.
    • If the garbage disposal still isn't working, you can repeat this step a few more times, or move on the to the next method. 
    Using a plunger on a kitchen sink to dislodge a clog

    Method 3: Use a Plunger

    If the above 2 methods didn't solve your problem, the next thing you can try is to dislodge the clog by using a plunger. Sometimes you can get enough force to loosen the clog.

    • If you have a dishwasher, locate the drain pipe that connects the dishwasher to the garbage disposal.
    • To prevent the dishwasher drain hose from falling off, place a clamp on the hose that's attached to the disposal nozzle.
    • Completely cover the drain with the plunger.
    • Turn the faucet ON until the plunger is about 1/2-inch deep in water.
    • Plunge the drain for about 20-30 seconds.
    • Lift the plunger and check if the water drains.
    • If the water drains, flip the breaker back ON and turn ON your disposal.
    • If the water does not drain, repeat this step a few more times.
    Using the hex tool to unclog a garbage disposal

    Method 4: Use an Allen Wrench

    Most garbage disposals come with a long Allen wrench tool that's specifically designed to work with the garbage disposal. However, if yours did not, or you are unable to locate yours, any Allen wrench should work. 

    You should never unscrew or loosen the nuts and bolts that are within the chamber. These are used to hold the disposal together, and if you remove them, you will most likely need to call a plumber.

    • Insert a 1/4-inch Allen wrench (or the specially designed tool) into the hex socket at the bottom of the garbage disposal.
    • Turn the Allen wrench to the left and right until the unit is no longer jammed.
    • Check the reset button and turn the disposal ON. 
    • If your garbage disposal is still clogged, you'll need to call a plumber

    Some garbage disposals don't have a hex socket on the bottom. If yours does not, you can accomplish the same thing by working from the top. Follow these steps:

    • With the electrical power still OFF, insert a wooden spoon or a broom handle into the sink drain. Never insert your hand!
    • Press the wooden spoon against one of the impellers. These are the blunt objects attached to the base which hurl the food to the grind ring where it's pulverized.
    • Move the wooden spoon back and forth until the object is dislodged and you can spin the impeller around.
    • Check the reset button and turn ON the power. 
    Repairman under a sink working on a garbage disposal

    How To Prevent a Garbage Disposal Clog

    Let's face it, if you own a garbage disposal it's going to clog at some point. But there are a few preventative things that you can do to help reduce the possiblity of a clog. 

    •  Watch What You Put Down - Items such as potato peels, large bones, oil, grease, metal, plastic, paper or glass can all cause your disposal to clog. Read our article How To Keep Your Garbage Disposal Healthy for more information.
    • Chop Waste into Bite Sized Pieces - This one may seem odd, but your garbage disposal isn't designed to handle large pieces of food waste. Cut up your waste into smaller pieces before you put it into the disposal. You may be able to "get away" with not doing this for awhile, but eventually, it'll catch up with you and your disposal will clog.
    • Use Cold Water - When you're running your garbage disposal, always use cold water. The cold water hardens the food waste, making it easier to both grind and flush down the pipes. Hot water can cause the waste to build-up inside the disposal.
    • Frequently Run the Garbage Disposal - Your disposal should be run regularly whether you have something to grind or not. Allowing a disposal to sit unused can cause rust and/or corrosion. The unit may even freeze. Periodically turn on the cold water and run the garbage disposal for 20 to 30 seconds.
    • Keep Your Disposal Running - Don't turn off your garbage disposal the minute it's done grinding. Keep the water flowing and allow the disposal to run for at least an additional minute. This will ensures that all the ground food waste has been flushed thru the disposal and pipes, and helps prevent any future clogs. You can take advantage of this extra time by adding a small amount of dish soap to the cold water every so often. It'll help clean the unit and reduce odors.