How to Unclog a Garbage Disposal: A Comprehensive Guide

Garbage disposals are an essential component in modern kitchens, providing a convenient way to dispose of food waste. However, they can become clogged, leading to unpleasant odors and inefficient operation. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore effective methods to unclog your garbage disposal and ensure it runs smoothly.

Understanding Your Garbage Disposal

Before diving into the unclogging process, it’s important to understand how your garbage disposal works. The garbage disposal unit is typically installed under your kitchen sink and connected to the drain. It grinds food waste into small particles that can easily pass through the plumbing system.

Common Causes of Garbage Disposal Clogs

Identifying the root cause of a clog can help prevent future occurrences. The most common causes of garbage disposal clogs include:

  • Food Waste Buildup: Over time, food particles can accumulate and obstruct the disposal.
  • Grease and Oil: These substances can solidify in the disposal, creating blockages.
  • Foreign Objects: Items like utensils, bones, or large food scraps can jam the disposal.
  • Fibrous Foods: Celery, potato peels, and other fibrous foods can wrap around the disposal blades, causing clogs.

Essential Tools and Materials

Before starting the unclogging process, gather the following tools and materials:

  • Plunger: A sink plunger can help dislodge minor clogs.
  • Hex Key (Allen Wrench): Many disposals come with a manual crank at the bottom.
  • Tongs or Pliers: Useful for removing foreign objects.
  • Baking Soda and Vinegar: Natural cleaning agents that can help dissolve clogs.
  • Flashlight: To see inside the disposal.
  • Rubber Gloves: To protect your hands.

Step-by-Step Guide to Unclogging Your Garbage Disposal

Turn Off the Power

Safety first. Ensure the garbage disposal is turned off before attempting any repairs. Unplug the unit or switch off the circuit breaker.

Inspect the Disposal

Using a flashlight, look inside the disposal to identify any visible obstructions. If you see any foreign objects, use tongs or pliers to carefully remove them.

Use a Plunger

If the clog is not visible, try using a sink plunger. Fill the sink with a few inches of water to create a seal around the plunger. Place the plunger over the drain and push and pull vigorously to dislodge the clog.

Manual Cranking with a Hex Key

If the plunger doesn’t work, locate the small hole at the bottom of the disposal unit. Insert the hex key (Allen wrench) into the hole and turn it back and forth to manually crank the disposal blades. This can help dislodge any blockages.

Apply Baking Soda and Vinegar

For stubborn clogs, a combination of baking soda and vinegar can be effective. Pour half a cup of baking soda into the disposal, followed by half a cup of vinegar. Allow the mixture to fizz and break down the clog for about 15 minutes. Then, flush the disposal with hot water.

Reset the Disposal

Most garbage disposals have a reset button located on the bottom of the unit. If the disposal has overheated or tripped, pressing this button can restore its function.

Test the Disposal

Once you have completed the above steps, turn the power back on and run the disposal with cold water to ensure the clog has been cleared. If the disposal is still not working properly, you may need to consult a professional plumber.

Preventing Future Clogs

Preventing clogs in your garbage disposal is crucial for maintaining its efficiency and longevity. Follow these tips to avoid future issues:

Be Mindful of What You Put In

Avoid disposing of fibrous foods, large bones, and non-food items in your garbage disposal. These can easily cause clogs and damage the unit.

Use Cold Water

Always run cold water while operating the disposal. Cold water helps solidify grease and oils, preventing them from coating the disposal blades and pipes.

Regular Cleaning

Clean your garbage disposal regularly to prevent buildup. Use a mixture of ice cubes and salt to clean the blades, or grind citrus peels to keep it smelling fresh.

Avoid Overloading

Feed food waste into the disposal gradually. Overloading the disposal can overwhelm the unit and lead to clogs.

When to Call a Professional

While many clogs can be resolved with the above methods, some situations require professional intervention. Consider calling a plumber if:

  • The clog persists despite your efforts.
  • You hear unusual noises or detect a foul odor.
  • The disposal leaks water or refuses to turn on.

FAQs about How to Unclog Garbage Disposal

What should I never put in a garbage disposal?

Avoid fibrous foods, grease, coffee grounds, and large bones. These items can cause clogs and damage the disposal.

How often should I clean my garbage disposal?

Clean it monthly using baking soda and vinegar or ice cubes to maintain its efficiency and prevent clogs.

Can I use chemical drain cleaners in my garbage disposal?

It’s best to avoid chemical cleaners as they can damage the disposal and pipes. Natural methods are safer and effective.

Why does my garbage disposal smell bad?

Foul odors typically result from trapped food particles. Cleaning with baking soda and vinegar can help eliminate these smells.

What if my garbage disposal makes a humming noise but doesn’t work?

This usually indicates a jammed disposal. Turning it manually with a hex key can often resolve the issue. If not, consult a professional.


Unclogging a garbage disposal can seem daunting, but with the right tools and techniques, it is manageable. By understanding the common causes of clogs and following our step-by-step guide, you can keep your disposal in optimal condition. Remember to practice regular maintenance and be mindful of what you dispose of to prevent future issues.