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How to Unclog a Garbage Disposal

How Do Garbage Disposals Work?

Garbage disposals help minimize drain clogs by breaking up foods that are disposed of down the drain. A garbage disposal is attached to the underside of a kitchen sink drain and contains an electric motor and blades that break down food.

The blades chop up food scraps into small pieces before they reach the drain pipe where the particles are flushed down with water from the tap.

It’s important to use your garbage disposal as directed by the manufacturer and to run water down the kitchen drain while using it.

For more information on how your specific disposal works, consult the owner’s manual.

How Do Garbage Disposals Get Clogged?

Food particle buildup causes most garbage disposal clogs. Clogs can also occur when something that shouldn’t go down the garbage disposal does.

Keep reading to find out the general guidelines on removing clogs, and also about what should and shouldn’t go down your garbage disposal.

What Can You Put Down a Garbage Disposal?

You can avoid a garbage disposal clog by knowing what can and cannot go down a garbage disposal. Typically, garbage disposals can handle food scraps, like pieces of fruit, cooked meat and vegetables scraps.

However, there are certain biodegradable items that shouldn’t be put down a garbage disposal. These include fibrous scraps like celery, onion skin and cornhusks. While these are all organic matter, pieces can get tangled in the blades.

You should also avoid putting oils and fats like bacon grease, butter and cooking oils down the drain as they can coagulate and cause blockages that lead to clogging. The same goes for putting pasta, rice and some starchy vegetables down the garbage disposal. These foods can expand when wet and create a paste that causes garbage disposal clogs.

Keep items like banana peels and hard items like fruit pits or bones out of your garbage disposal. And, always avoid putting nonfood items like paper scraps or cigarettes in the garbage disposal.

Coffee grounds can also cause trouble in a garbage disposal. Putting coffee grounds down your disposal might seem like a good way to make your kitchen smell good. However, grounds will quickly build up at the bottom of your drain and create a thick sludge that can lead to clogging.

If you’d like to deodorize, it’s best to put small pieces of citrus peel down your garbage disposal. There are also products designed to deodorize drains, like Liquid-Plumr® Disposal & Drain Cleaner. Just drop one quick-dissolving pack into your disposal for a clear drain and fresh citrus scent.

How Do You Unclog a Garbage Disposal?

So, how do you fix a clogged garbage disposal? If your kitchen sink isn’t draining and seems jammed, you can plunge it using a kitchen plunger to dislodge the debris that’s clogging your drain. (Note: A kitchen plunger is different than a toilet plunger.)

To plunge the drain, tighten a clamp over the rubber part of the drain line to your dishwasher, which can be found under your sink. Place the plunger over the clogged sink drain and fill it with water (approx. 3–4 inches). Hold a wet rag over the adjacent drain and plunge vigorously for several minutes.

Fight especially persistent or tough clogs head-on with Liquid-Plumr® Clog Destroyer Plus+ Pipeguard™. The powerful formula cuts through standing water to unclog your garbage disposal, clear your drain walls, and deodorize your drain.

Also, when you’re working to unclog your garbage disposal, never put your hand down your kitchen sink drain in an effort to reach the clog or something else that may be stuck. If something like a piece of silverware falls in by accident, turn the disposal off and use tongs to retrieve the item.

If you have an urgent plumbing problem, or a garbage disposal issue you can’t unclog, you may need to call a professional plumber.

For more information on how to get rid of drain clogs, check out our article How to Unclog a Sink.

Can You Put Drain Cleaner in a Garbage Disposal?

You can use drain cleaner in a garbage disposal. Liquid-Plumr® Disposal & Drain Cleaner and Kitchen Clog Destroyer Gel with Lemon Scent both clean and deodorize. Liquid-Plumr® Clog Destroyer Plus+ Pipeguard™ can help tackle your toughest kitchen clogs and clean your disposal.

To deep clean your disposal, use Liquid-Plumr® Disposal & Drain Cleaner. Drop one quick-dissolving pack into your disposal to clear the drain and leave a fresh citrus scent. You could also use Kitchen Clog Destroyer Gel with Lemon Scent.

For more information, check out this article on cleaning your garbage disposal.

How Can You Prevent Clogs in a Garbage Disposal?

To keep your garbage disposal clean, make sure you are using it as directed by the manufacturer. Also, always run water while you’re putting food down the disposal. And, know what should and shouldn’t go down your garbage disposal.

To prevent clogs, you can use Liquid-Plumr® Clog Destroyer Plus+ Pipeguard™, Liquid-Plumr® Disposal & Drain Cleaner or Kitchen Clog Destroyer Gel with Lemon Scent periodically to help keep your garbage disposal running smoothly.

How do I empty my garbage disposal?

With proper care and maintenance, you won’t have to empty your garbage disposal. It’s meant to empty automatically. But, all disposals are different, so refer to the manufacturer’s instructions for garbage disposal maintenance.

How do I know when to replace my garbage disposal?

If you are using and maintaining your garbage disposal properly and it still clogs often, or takes a long time to grind up food, is leaking or making unusually loud noises, you may want to talk with a plumbing professional. These signs may indicate it’s time to replace your garbage disposal.

Will my garbage disposal affect my septic tank?

If you use your garbage disposal as directed by the manufacturer and avoid putting in items you shouldn’t, then your garbage disposal should not negatively affect your septic tank. Proper maintenance of your garbage disposal and your septic tank will help keep everything running smoothly.

Check out our article All About Septic Tank Cleaning.

Unclog a Garbage Disposal: Do’s and Don’ts

  • DO run water while you’re running the garbage disposal.
  • DO make sure to put only small food items into the dishwasher to avoid buildup and clogging.
  • DO maintain your drains with Liquid-Plumr® products.
  • DO follow manufacturer’s instructions found in the owner’s manual.
  • DON’T put fibrous or starchy foods, grease or oil, coffee grounds, pits or nonfood items down your garbage disposal.
  • DON’T put your hand down your kitchen sink or into the garbage disposal in an effort to pull something out of the garbage disposal.

For more information on how you can use Liquid-Plumr® products, visit our FAQs page.

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