Indiana Homeowners: Here's How to Unclog Your Garbage Disposal

Many Indianapolis area households use a garbage disposal unit to get rid of food waste via the kitchen sink. If you don’t use your garbage disposal properly, you can end up with a clog in the disposal unit or drain pipeline. A clogged garbage disposal may be the result of poor maintenance, failing to turn on and run water or use enough water when using the disposal, putting too much debris down the unit, or if you insert items into the disposal that belong in the garbage, such as coffee grounds, banana peels, potato peels, bones, and other inappropriate kitchen waste.

When garbage disposals experience clogging, you may be able to fix the garbage disposal and unclog it yourself. It’s important you know how to unclog a garbage disposal the right way because dangerous accidents can happen if you do not cut power to the disposal motor and put your hand down the drain opening. Williams Comfort Air shares tips for safe and correct methods to dislodge clogs from disposals and get your sink draining again. If you are unable to unclog a garbage disposal or do not have the tools to do so, call us for plumbing repair service to have one of our licensed Indiana plumbers complete the task.

Why Do Garbage Disposals Clog?

Your garbage disposal may clog and fail to eliminate food waste down the kitchen sink drain for various reasons. Plastic parts and other components may be damaged or broken which prevents the disposal from running, the disposal’s blades may be jammed, or there could be clogs down in the drain pipe.

The clog may exist within the disposal unit or down in the pipes that connect the appliance to the home’s main drain line. Your garbage disposal will tell you it is clogged by giving off clear signs. You’ll notice that water drains slowly or nothing is draining and there is standing water in the sink. You may also experience foul odors coming from the drain if the garbage disposal is clogged.

Most often, clogging is the result of improper garbage disposal unit usage, such as:

  • Not enough water to flush through the unit when disposing of waste.
  • Putting foreign items down the drain, such as silverware, plastic parts, and other materials.
  • Overloading the disposal by attempting to dispose of too much waste at one time.
  • Using the garbage disposal to clear away items that garbage disposals are not meant for, including coffee grounds, vegetable peels, potato skins, pasta, rice, meat bones, banana peels, fats, oil, grease, and other matter.

Tips to Unclog a Garbage Disposal

When a clogged garbage disposal takes your kitchen sink out of service, don’t let the clog sit for too long, as odors will certainly begin to develop due to materials stuck in the disposal or dirty standing water. These tips explain how you can unclog a garbage disposal yourself, and do so safely.

Before you attempt the steps for how to unclog a garbage disposal, gather the tools you will need for the job:

  • Sink Plunger
  • Allen Wrench (if One Came With the Unit)
  • Pliers or Tongs
  • Flashlight
  • Bucket
  • Baking Soda
  • White Vinegar
  • Measuring Cup

Next, these steps for how to unclog a garbage disposal will help you dislodge clogs from the unit.

  1. Turn off power to the garbage disposal at the wall switch and breaker, and unplug the unit as well.
  2. Place the plunger over the drain opening and plunge the drain to clear standing water from the sink. If you do not have a plunger handy, use a cup as a scoop and empty water into a bucket.
  3. Once water has been completely cleared, use your flashlight to look down the drain opening and into the garbage disposal cannister.
  4. Look to see if there is an item or material jamming the flywheel, motor, or impeller blades.

    • If you do not see any debris clogging the garbage disposal, the unit may have tripped, which stops garbage disposals from running. Open the cabinet and look at the garbage disposal to find the reset button – it is usually located on the bottom or rear side of the unit. Press the reset button and give the disposal around 15 minutes to cool off in case of overheating.

    • If you find an item stuck in the unit, use pliers or tongs to reach down into the disposal cannister, free the item, and remove it – never put your hand down the drain and into the garbage disposal!

    • If you are unable to dislodge the clogged blades, a manual turn of the blades may free a seized disposal motor. Open the cabinet to access the garbage disposal and find the hole centered at the bottom of the disposal unit. Insert the Allen wrench that came with the disposal into the hole (if there wasn’t one included when you purchased your garbage disposal, try a standard ¼-inch Allen wrench). Crank it in both directions to unclog the parts – turn it completely in the counterclockwise direction, then move it clockwise. Once the impeller is free and able to move without a blockage, remove the tools.
  5. Plug the disposal back into the power outlet and switch power back on at the breaker.
  6. Turn on the cold water tap and run water as you turn on the garbage disposal at the wall switch.
  7. Run water and the garbage disposal while observing drainage. If the drain clears completely and no standing water backs up into the sink, your garbage disposal is now free of clogs. Turn off the unit and then shut off water.

If you are unable to move water when you plunge the drain, dislodge an item jamming the disposal, or relieve seized components, it’s time to call your plumber. The garbage disposal may have damaged parts or there could be clogs deeper in your drain pipes that are preventing the unit from moving waste through. Do not use the garbage disposal again until you have a professional out to fix it.

Maintenance for Garbage Disposals

Homeowners often create clogs within garbage disposals or their drain through poor maintenance and inappropriate use. Avoid drain clogs and help your disposal unit run properly when you follow these best practices.

  1. Run the garbage disposal using cold water every few days. Even if you don’t have waste to dispose of, allow the unit to run with water regularly to prevent rusting.
  2. Only use cold water while the garbage disposal runs. Using hot water causes any fats, oils, or grease that have fallen into the unit to melt and liquify. As waste is flushed out of the disposal and into drain piping, these materials solidify as they cool and can create clogs. Only use hot water when cleaning the unit, never when there are materials being disposed of.
  3. Keep problematic food and scraps known to cause clogs out of the garbage disposal and dispose of this material in the garbage can instead. Food items that belong in the garbage include fats, oils, grease, coffee grounds, peels from bananas, potato skins, fibrous vegetables, eggshells, pasta, rice, bones, seafood shells, chicken skin, fruit pits, and nuts.
  4. Grind food waste in small batches to avoid overloading your garbage disposal. Filling the disposal completely can jam up the blades and cause clogs.
  5. Use enough water when running the garbage disposal. Allow water to run as the unit grinds up waste and let water continue to flush through the unit for about 30 seconds once grinding is complete.
  6. Clean your disposal about every two weeks. Fill the disposal cannister with ice cubes and add a cup of rock salt into the drain, then allow the garbage disposal to run with cold water for about one minute – this step helps scrape away any material stuck along the insides of the unit. Turn off the unit and add one cup baking soda and one cup vinegar to the garbage disposal to disinfect and eliminate odors. Cover the drain and allow the mixture to foam for several minutes, then rinse the unit with water on hot. Never use commercial drain cleaners to unclog a garbage disposal. These cleaners can cause damage to your plumbing. Disconnect power at the breaker and use a sponge or brush and dish soap (not dishwasher detergent), vinegar, or baking soda to clean the flaps that cover the drain.
  7. To rid your garbage disposal of unwanted odors, periodically add small amounts of citrus peels to the unit and run cool water while the garbage disposal grinds them. The citrus oil lingers and helps the disposal smell fresh – this method works best when the unit is clean.

Garbage Disposal Repair in Indianapolis

If you are unable to unclog a garbage disposer unit at home, call the licensed Indiana plumbers of Williams Comfort Air. We are able to eliminate tough plumbing clogs to clear your drains, repair damaged garbage disposals, and replace garbage disposal units as needed.

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