How to Unclog a Garbage Disposal

Four Methods:Determining the Source of the ClogUnclogging With Pliers and PlungerCleaning the P-TrapMaintaining Your Garbage Disposal

Garbage disposals can clog easily with food products, especially if you're not running enough water to flush the drain. While in many cases you can easily fix clogs yourself, make sure to refer to your owner's manual before attempting to remove components or clogs. If your disposal is clogged, you can remove clogs by pulling out larger materials, plunging, and even removing your trap and cleaning manually.

Method 1
Determining the Source of the Clog

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    Turn off your disposal. Before doing anything to your sink and disposal make sure that you turn off the disposal to prevent any accidents and injury.
    • You don’t have to cut the power to your disposal just yet as you’re only checking to see if there is material clogging the drain.
    • Don’t stick anything into the drain until you do go to your fuse box and cut the power, however.
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    Determine what's causing the clog.Use a flashlight to look down the drain. Depending on what kind of blockage you see, you will be able to determine what tools you will need to remove the clog.
    • If you believe your disposal is clogged by something other than food, do not run water and try to unclog it using the same methods you would with food. If it is a valuable object, such as a ring, you may want to call a plumber immediately to improve the chances it can be removed safely.
    • If the clog has developed over time, it is most likely because there is too much food debris sticking to your pipes. The water hasn't been able to flush it down into your disposer. You may have to plunge the sink.
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    Manually turn your blades to try breaking up clogged materials. In some cases, you may find that your disposer is clogged under your sink. You will need to manually run it to remove the clog.
    • Manually turning the blades on your disposer will help you identify where the clog is.
    • This method can also help you break up some debris. Manually turning the blades lets the blades move slower and not get stuck as easily.
    • This method involves using an Allen wrench to manually turn the blades. You can usually find the manual operator at the bottom of the disposer.
    • Insert your Allen wrench and turn the blades manually. This method allows you to slowly break down materials.
    • Refer to your manual if you are manually turning the blades for proper instruction.
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    Do not pour chemicals down a garbage disposal. Unclogging a kitchen sink is different than unclogging garbage disposals. The chemicals used to unclog a drain can eat away at the plastic parts of your disposal. [1]
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    Shut off the electricity to the garbage disposal completely. If you have determined that you need to manually remove debris from the disposal, shut off the switch. Then, cut the power for the disposal with the breaker box, in case the switch is faulty.
    • You can also go under your sink and unplug the actual disposal unit. This will also ensure that nothing accidentally turns on.
    • If your disposer is also connected to a dishwasher, use a clamp to tighten and pinch the flexible part of the drain line. This ensures that no dirty water flows back into the dishwasher cabinet.

Method 2
Unclogging With Pliers and Plunger

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    Grab a pair of pliers or long-handled tongs. Stick the end though the disposal, around the blades.
    • If you see a buildup of food that you can reach with tongs or pliers you should remove the loose materials fist. Removing any loose food will allow you to see better and clear out space. These types of food may be peels from fruits like bananas, fatty strips of meat, or vegetables.
    • Never place your hands inside a garbage disposal. The blades are sharp, and can easily cut you without the motor running.
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    Pull out any loose objects with the pliers or tongs. Once you remove any larger debris, you can then inspect the drain again and get ready to plunge. [2]
    • If you see anything that is not food in your disposal be extremely careful when trying to pull it out. Never use your hands. You may find it best to call a plumber.
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    Use a plunger to lift out other debris that is causing a clog. Once you’ve removed loose material, you can try running your disposal again to see if it’s unclogged. If the disposal is still clogged, you can use a plunger to pull up stuck material.
    • If you test the disposal again and hear a low humming sound, that means the blades are unable to turn. When testing, always keep water running so as to lubricate the blades and help break down any grime that may be sticking.
    • With everything properly turned off again, fill the sink with a few inches of water. You will need a bit of water so the plunger sticks to your sink. Place the plunger over your sink hole and start plunging.
    • The plunger will hopefully create enough suction to lift any stubborn debris or materials out of the disposal.
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    Remove any material from the sink. Continue plunging until you feel that nothing else is coming up, then scoop out the material you pulled up.
    • If the water in your sink drains after plunging, you will have a clear pipe and disposal.
    • Wait 15 minutes before running the disposal again. If you’ve been running the motor a lot while trying to unclog your drain and disposal, waiting will allow the motor to cool. And overheated motor won’t properly deal with any blockage and could permanently damage your disposer.
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    Turn on the power to the garbage disposal. Run some water through the drain and then run the disposal to see if it works again.
    • Make sure to unclamp the drain line after plunging and before testing.
    • If your disposal is working again you’re all set.

Method 3
Cleaning the P-Trap

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    Disassemble the P-trap. Your garbage disposal unit will be attached to a pipe called a P- or S-trap. These are the pipes that look like a “P” or “S” behind your disposal unit, which connects to the trap arm on the back wall of your cabinet. [3]
    • Oftentimes, when removing debris and plunging doesn’t do the trick, it’s because there is a lot of sludge buildup from coffee grounds and grease in the trap. This buildup prevents new material from properly breaking up and draining.
    • To get your disposal to work properly again you’ll have to remove and clean this pipe.
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    Place a bucket and towels under the pipe before removing it. Also, sponge up any water in your sink to avoid the water dripping out of the open pipe.
    • Before you go ahead and remove the P-trap you’re going to want to prep the area so that you create as little a mess as possible. If there are grounds and other waste clogging your trap, a bucket and towels will minimize any mess.
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    Loosen the slip nut on the trap arm assembly and the continuous waste tee. Your trap will be connected by nuts to two pipes which you will have to unscrew. Once you have loosened the nuts, you can wiggle the trap free from the pipes. [4]
    • The trap arm is the small pipe extending from the back of your cabinet and looks like a faucet.
    • The waste tee is the pipe above the trap. It looks like a large golf tee and connects the trap to the disposal.
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    Remove the trap and clean. When you remove the trap, you will most likely find it full of grime and other materials such as ground coffee.
    • Some traps have a clean-out plug in the base that allows you to clean without removing the trap. If your's doesn't, you'll have to remove it. Keep your bucket under the trap so that any debris that falls out goes into the bucket.
    • You may have to pull out a lot of debris by hand before you can rinse the trap with warm water. You can also use a coat hanger to remove debris.
    • When rinsing your trap, keep the bucket under the trap, especially if you rinse it in the sink. If you are rinsing your trap in your sink you want to prevent the material from going back down. As well as any water pouring through your open pipe.
    • Once the trap is cleaned out, reattach the trap carefully. Make sure not to over tighten and crack any of the components.
    • If your trap is clean, but you still have draining problems, you may have to snake your drain.

Method 4
Maintaining Your Garbage Disposal

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    Avoid inserting large or rigid items into the disposal. Never insert bones, metals, or plastics.
    • Your disposal and the blades aren’t meant to break down hard, solid objects. Your disposal is only built to break down food to prevent clogs.
    • Inserting anything that’s solid or too large can prevent the disposal from properly working.
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    Flush the disposal with cold water for at least 30 seconds after it has finished grinding any food. This is in addition to running the water while it is grinding.
    • Running the water for half a minute after your disposal grinds up food will ensure that the blades stay lubricated. Water also ensures that you don’t get any food sticking to your pipes or blades.
    • The running water will help flush down any materials that are sticking to anything.
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    Use lemons to clean the disposal once or twice a month. Depending on how often you use the disposal, cleaning it naturally will help remove buildup and combat smells.
    • Cut the lemon in half. Place it in the garbage disposal. Let it run for 2 minutes. The lemon's acidic juices will clean away odors and small clogs.
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    Use Vinegar and baking soda to break down grime. You can also use vinegar and baking soda to create a fizzy solution that will help dissolve any grime. [5]
    • Pour hot water down your drain, then add about half a cup of baking soda. Let sit for a few minutes. Then rinse with vinegar and hot water. Let the solution soak for a few minutes before rinsing.


  • Only put disposal safe material down your sink. Your garbage disposal is only built to break down softer organic materials.
  • When using your disposal only put a small amount of material down at a time. You can prevent clogs by not overstuffing the disposal.
  • Use lemons or baking soda and vinegar once or twice a month to ensure a clean pipe and disposal.


  • If you have tried the methods above and still have a problem, or feel that you are unequipped to unclog yourself, call a professional. It's better to spend a bit of money to get it fixed properly than a lot of money repairing major damages.
  • Always make sure your disposal is off and unplugged before sticking any objects down when trying to unclog.
  • The blades are sharp and can harm you easily. Never stick your hand in the disposal.

Things You'll Need

  • Flashlight
  • Tongs/pliers
  • Hex or Allen wrench
  • Plunger
  • Water
  • Lemon
  • Baking soda and Vinegar
  • Bucket

Article Info

Categories: Drains Maintenance | Plumbing Drains Waste and Vents