Informational Guide

4 Ways to Safely Unclog a Garbage Disposal

How to clear food waste in a safe manor and remove unwanted scraps safely.

by Holly Curell

As soon as you get a garbage disposal, it quickly becomes one of the most essential features in your home. 

Unfortunately, if you're using your disposal a lot, it can become clogged relatively easily. This is not only inconvenient but can be dangerous. If waste is left in the disposal, then bacteria can build up in your drain. This will not only make the garbage disposal smell terrible but can also make your kitchen very unhygienic.

To solve the issue, you'll need to unclog your home garbage disposal as quickly as possible. Here's a guide on how to do it efficiently, but safely.

Plumbers and industry experts know that a clogged garbage disposal is a surprisingly common problem, and user error can be the cause:

“Many homeowners mistakenly use their garbage disposal as a replacement for their trash can. But your disposal isn’t invincible. If you’re sending the wrong items down the disposal, it’s eventually going to cause a clog in the drain lines.”

Quoted from:

Eggshells, fibrous foods, and bones can all play havoc with your garbage disposal because it's not able to grind them up effectively. These should all be thrown out in the trash to prevent them from clogging up the disposal unit. All non-food items should be thrown out separately and should not go down the disposal.

How to Prevent Clogging

In order to prevent clogging, you should avoid putting the foods mentioned above anywhere near garbage disposals.

You should also look to feed your food in gradually, a small piece at a time so that the disposal has time to deal with them. Always use cold running water at the same time as it helps the waste to move through the mechanism.

Best Batch Feed Garbage Disposal

To try and solve the clogging issue, manufacturers have developed an anti-jam feature. This rotates the disposal in the opposite direction when it blocks, loosening any clogged material and passing it through the system. This is generally only included in the higher-end models like the InSinkerator garbage disposal range.

Always remember that cleaning and maintaining your garbage disposal is the best way to prevent clogging. You can find the full guide to cleaning your disposal here.

Things You’ll Need

If you have a clogged garbage disposal, you have two options; call a plumber, or do it yourself. If you're generally ok with DIY, then it's not too difficult to solve the blockage, but you will need to have the right tools.

You’ll likely only need a wrench and a pair of pliers. These are used to loosen the garbage disposal so you can remove it for cleaning. Some of the larger manufacturers have specially designed wrenches for use on their garbage disposals, so it's worth checking to see if you need a specialist product.

Make sure you don't undo any nuts or bolts on the inside of the garbage disposal, or you may have difficulty putting it back together. It's also worthwhile having a good torch or lighting handy, so you have ample visibility underneath your sink.

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Safety Guidelines Before Fixing a Clogged Disposal

Every plumber knows at least a few horror stories where people have injured themselves cleaning a garbage disposal. But are garbage disposals as dangerous as they seem? The answer is no, not really. Just like any other piece of homeware, disposals are as safe as long as the user is responsible and takes precautions.

When clearing out a clogged disposal, you should make sure that everything is turned off. Check under the sink but also turn off the fuse. Test the device before to make sure it isn't turned on before going anywhere near it.

Always wear safety gloves when handling the disposal unit. This will not only help protect you from the blades, but it will also keep your hands from any bacteria residing in even the best garbage disposal. When you've finished cleaning the product, you should make sure you wash your hands thoroughly with plenty of soup to avoid the risk of germs spreading.

There are a lot of do’s and don’ts when it comes to garbage disposal cleaning. When safety is on the line, it's worth listening to the experts.

4 Methods of Unclogging a Garbage Disposal

Using Baking Soda

Baking soda is one of the most effective ways to clean your garbage disposal and has been described by plumbers as "the most effective weapon you have" in cleaning. You should first pour boiling water through the system, and then add half a cup of baking powder. A few minutes later pour in a mix of 1 cup vinegar and 1 cup hot water. Cover the drain for 10 minutes and then rinse clean with warm water afterward.

The reaction of the chemicals helps remove any blockages, with the acidic vinegar being used to help dissolve waste and remove bacteria. If you have a large blockage, you should consider upping the quantities of both the baking soda and vinegar.

Using a Plunger

Using a plunger is the old reliable method of getting rid of blockages. This works by creating a vacuum seal over the garbage disposal which draws any blockages out. First, you should clamp the nozzle over the plastic fitting where the disposal meets the drain.

This will stop it coming out while you are plunging. Place the plunger over the sink drain and press down. Fill the sink with 3-4 inches of water and then vigorously plunge the drain to remove any blockage. When you remove the plunger, the water will flow through, hopefully clearing any leftover debris.

Removing the Garbage Disposal (And Cleaning)

Ideally, you should be cleaning your garbage disposal regularly, but if it's clogged or jammed with something like glass, you should consider removing the device and cleaning it thoroughly. Before disconnecting the disposal run some ice through the system with a cup full of salt before running the device for 30 seconds. This will help clean the blades and potentially remove any blockages there and then.

Fully turn off your device before removing it. You should switch it off under the sink, but also switch the fuse so it definitely won't come on while you're handling it. Once you've removed the device, you should first look to remove any physical waste that you can see. Then, using an old toothbrush with some dish soap, you should scrub the disposal clean. Specialist cleaning products and bleach will also work well.

Calling a Plumber

If you aren't confident with DIY, or you've tried all of the above, then it's probably time to call a professional. The hourly cost of a plumber will be between $20-$40, but it may cost more if you need replacement parts. If you aren't feeling confident, then this option could save you a lot of time and stress.

When To Call a Plumber

Best 3/4 HP Garbage Disposal

The age-old question with DIY is when you need a professional, and for garbage disposals, the question often arises- when should I call a plumber?

Every garbage disposal is different and some are more complicated than others. If you have a high-end model, you may decide it's worth paying a little extra to make sure it's done right. 

For us, it's all about safety. If you don't feel confident and you don't do a lot of DIY, then you should definitely consider getting plumbing services arranged. 

Some units are hardwired into your house, and you will need to switch it off at the fuse box. For some people this type of thing is easy, but for others, it's not - don't risk an injury over a few dollars.

An excellent way to judge how complicated the issue may be is to look at the manufacturer's guide and see if there are instructions. If it's a common problem, you should be able to use the manual to do it. If it's not mentioned in there, then you should probably look to get an expert in.


A garbage disposal can be a blessing or a curse. If you take good care of it, use it well and don't overload it, then it will make life a lot easier. If you don't, then it could become a big task to keep it running.

You're likely to experience a clogged garbage disposal at some point, but the solutions in this article should help get you running again in no time. If you run into trouble don't panic, just find a local plumber who should be able to solve the problem with no hassle.

If you're shopping for a completely new garbage disposal, check out our guide to the best under sink garbage disposals available today. 

Holly Curell is the editor extraordinaire for Plumbing Lab. Having grown up in Michigan, Holly has spent time living in New York, Virginia, & currently North Carolina, where she lives with her husband & family. Holly loves DIY & has years of experience with at-home plumbing problems that arise from having 3 kids & living in colder climates. When she's not writing about her plumbing knowledge, Holly enjoys reading, hiking & relaxing with family.