How to Unclog a Garbage Disposal DIY

Installing a new garbage disposal

Most of the time, you may not give much thought to your kitchen garbage disposal. However, that situation can change in a hurry when something goes wrong. Without a doubt, clogs are the number one issue for disposal owners. You might not view a clog as an emergency in many circumstances. But if you rely on your garbage disposal daily or on special occasions, you’ll need to find a quick solution. Here are the steps you can take to get that clog cleared in no time.

What Causes Garbage Disposal Clogs?

Before we dive into clog removal methods, it might help to know why disposals develop clogs in the first place. Your garbage disposal gets rid of food waste by shredding it into pieces small enough for your sewer drain. It performs this job inside a component called a grinding chamber. With an assist from flowing water, whirling blades inside this chamber chop your food waste up. Next, two other parts — the impeller arm and the plate — push the food/water mixture into the drain line. Some disposals allow you to feed food into the grinding chamber bit by bit. However, others require you to load them up before you can turn them on.

Clogs occur when something interferes with the smooth passage of food through the disposal. A range of foods and food debris can trigger this problem. Common culprits include:

  • Grease
  • Fish or chicken bones
  • Artichokes
  • Cornsilk
  • Corncobs
  • Fruit pits
  • Potatoes
  • Rice

Even if you avoid these items, you can develop a clog if you pass food into the unit too rapidly. Another common source of clogging is inadequate use of water, which can leave food stuck in the drain line. Many people also experience problems when they drop a non-food item down their disposal. Likely items include jewelry, utensils, bottle tops, and sponges.

Do-It-Yourself Repair for a Clogging Emergency

For the safety’s sake, any attempt to unclog your garbage disposal must start with turning off the electrical power. The switch for the unit is probably nearby, mounted on a wall or under a cabinet. Once you turn the power off, you might want to tape down the switch as an added precaution. If you can’t find the local source of electricity, disable the unit at your household breaker box. Even with the power cut off, never stick your hand down into the grinding chamber.

Begin probing the cause of the clog with a flashlight. In some cases, you may find an obvious issue like a large object. If so, remove that object with a pair of pliers. You can also use pliers to dislodge smaller items trapped inside the grinding chamber.

If you think you’ve removed the source of the issue, you’ll still need to wait about 15 or 20 minutes. This pause allows the disposal to cool down. Next, reset the overload protector button (located on the unit’s underside) and try to run it as usual. Hopefully, you won’t experience any further problems.

What to Do If the DIY Repair Doesn’t Work

Not every clog can be cleared by following the standard do-it-yourself (DIY) emergency procedure. When faced with stubborn clogging, you have two choices. If you still want to solve the issue on your own, shut the power down as before. Next, get a broom handle or a long wooden spoon or dowel. Insert this piece of wood into the grinding chamber and place it against the blades at the bottom. Then, rock the blades forward and backward. If all goes well, this action will clear out the clogging material. Follow the same cooldown and reset instructions as before.

Your other alternative for stubborn disposal clogs is to call a trusted plumbing professional in your area. Experienced plumbers have worked on an untold number of garbage disposal during their careers. This depth of knowledge leaves them well-situated to diagnose any issue. It also leaves them well-suited to devise a quick, effective and safe clog remedy. Unless you feel confident attempting advanced DIY techniques, you’ll probably be better off bringing in the pros. Nothing beats having a seasoned technician working hard on your behalf.

Need top-notch help after trying to clear a garbage disposal clog on your own? The local professionals at Orange Coast Plumbing are standing by to give you a hand. And once we complete our work, we can provide you with advice on how to avoid future problems. That way, you won’t have to worry about facing another clog emergency at precisely the wrong time.



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