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How to Unclog a Garbage Disposal

A garbage disposal is a convenient and necessary tool for most households, but it can be a frustrating appliance to own when it isn’t working correctly. A clogged garbage disposal is one of the more common household issues that homeowners face, but it isn’t always a difficult problem to solve. Douglas Cooling & Heating teaches you how to unclog a garbage disposal and shares when your garbage disposal unit should be replaced so you don’t experience continued performance problems.

Before You Start

Whenever you experience a clogged garbage disposal, it’s best to tend to the problem as soon as possible. Ignoring this issue not only takes your appliance out of service, but the clog can start producing foul odors which are quite unpleasant. Garbage disposals that continue to be used even though it is clogged, can cause worse damage that may result in a replacement. 

Before we get into how to unclog a garbage disposal, it’s important that we give you a safety warning. Because the garbage disposal blades are extremely sharp, you should never insert your hand down into the garbage disposal unit. Before using any sort of tool to reach down into the garbage disposal, you should always disconnect the power to avoid accidents and damage to the unit.

There are some tools you may need to use when performing the steps for how to unclog a garbage disposal. Gather the following items before you start addressing the clog:

  • Tongs
  • Pliers
  • Sink plunger
  • Allen wrench
  • Bucket
  • White vinegar
  • Baking soda
  • Flashlight

Steps for Unclogging a Garbage Disposal

If you suspect something is trapped down inside your garbage disposal unit, follow these steps to restore your unit to working order:

Step 1: Cut power to the garbage disposal by unplugging it from the outlet and flipping the circuit breaker that powers that outlet.

Step 2: If the clog has caused water to back up in your sink, use a sink plunger to drain it. If you have a double sink, be sure to cover the sink drain opposite the garbage disposal before plunging. Cover the proper drain opening with the plunger and push it up and down vigorously to push water through the drain. If the plunger is unhelpful in removing the standing water from your sink, you’ll need to use the bucket and scoop it out.

Step 3: Use the flashlight to look down into your garbage disposal and see if you can visualize the material clogging the appliance. 

Step 4: If you see the item that has jammed the blades, motor, or flywheel, use your tongs or pliers to reach down into the canister and grab it. Food waste may be wrapped around the blades causing the clog. Use a tool to loosen and remove the food particles that are preventing the blades from spinning. Run hot water into the garbage disposal drain to see if this helps dissolve some of the food particles. 

Step 5: If you aren’t able to remove the clogging material through the drain, you need to manually turn the garbage disposal parts to dislodge the matter. A garbage disposal can also act clogged if its blades or motor have seized, which a manual turn will also help correct. Use the hex wrench that came with your appliance or a 1/4-inch Allen wrench and insert it into the hole at the bottom center of the unit. Fully turn the tool both right and left to try and loosen the parts or dislodge the clog – do a full counterclockwise turn, then a full clockwise turn. Once the blades have loosened, remove the wrench.

Step 6: Reconnect the plug to the outlet and switch the breaker back on. 

Step 7: Turn on the cold water tap, then flip the switch to activate your garbage disposal.

Step 8: Allow both the water and your garbage disposal to operate for about a minute while you observe drainage. As long as your sink drains properly, your garbage disposal should be unclogged and you can turn off the unit then the water supply.

If you find yourself constantly working through the steps to unclog a garbage disposal, it may be time to replace your appliance. Frequent clogs are a sign the garbage disposal is wearing out. If you don’t experience frequent clogs or other system problems, garbage disposals can typically last up to 12 years. 

Items to Avoid Putting Down The Garbage Disposal

Make sure you’re only putting food waste down the garbage disposal and nothing else. Too much food can cause your unit to overheat and struggle. Avoid putting the following items in garbage disposals to help avoid clogs from developing:

  • Coffee grounds
  • Banana peels
  • Potato peels
  • Citrus peels
  • Grease
  • Eggshells
  • Hard foods

Garbage Disposal Help in Birmingham

If you’ve tried the steps for how to unclog your garbage disposal but still aren’t having any luck, it’s time to seek professional help. Call Douglas Cooling & Heating to schedule a drain cleaning service for your garbage disposal in Birmingham, AL.

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