How to Unclog a Garbage Disposal

Posted by Emily Miller on January 14, 2014


You come home after a long day at work, grab the mail, take off your coat - but before you can utter the words "Home, sweet home," you catch a whiff of something not-so-fresh in the kitchen.

You don't have any leftovers festering in the fridge. You took out the trash. So what could it be?

Washing Plates As Part Of The House Work.
Image src: Stuart Miles

That offensive odor could be coming from your garbage disposal.

The garbage disposal is a modern convenience many of us use every day. But it's also one of the most abused amenities in any kitchen, as we cram all sorts of things down the drain that should be going in the trash can instead.

Following are some tips about how to respect the limits of your garbage disposal to keep it working well.

Clogs in the making

If you've been peeling your carrots and potatoes over the sink so you can send scrapings down the garbage disposal, you may be on the verge of a backed-up sink. A garbage disposal can't effectively slice through fibrous or stringy veggies, and if you put too much of those down the drain, they can accumulate in your pipes over time, eventually becoming a clog of epic proportions.

When you suspect a sour smell is being caused by old onion skins or other tough plant matter, put a cup of vinegar, followed by a cup of baking soda, down the drain. The substances combine to dislodge debris stuck to pipe walls. You may be able to wash the offending material down the drain, or you may need to plunge the drain to get the larger chunks out. Either way, once it's clear, turn on the garbage disposal and pour some hot water and lemon juice down the drain to remove any lingering odors.

Stubborn stoppages

Sometimes, you have to work a little harder at removing blockages. When you put cooking grease and coffee grounds into a garbage disposal, for example, those substances continue past the disposal virtually untouched and can form a nasty clog that requires the use of pipe tools to clear.

Just past the garbage disposal is the sink's P-trap (a curved pipe) and stub out (the pipe that enters the wall). You may need to place a bucket under these pipes and disassemble them to run a snake or auger into the stub out. If you feel resistance against the snake, that's good - it means you've hit the clog! You may need to feed the snake far into the pipe before you reach the clog. Once you've found it and broken it up with the snake, reattach the pipes and keep the bucket under the sink when you turn on the water - if you haven't tightened the fittings well, the bucket will catch water leaking from the pipes.

Use as instructed

Other items that you should put in the trash instead of the garbage disposal include:

  • Pasta and rice (because they absorb water and expand)
  • Egg shells (because the membrane/lining of the egg can cling to garbage disposal blades)
  • Fruit seeds or pits (because they're tough and can damage blades)
  • Bones (way worse than seeds or pits, obviously)

Unless you want to spend time digging debris out of your drain pipes, follow this rule: When in doubt, throw it out!

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