Any household or commercial kitchen space is not complete without a fully functional garbage disposal installed within the kitchen sink. This useful tool is designed to efficiently dispose of soft degradable food items, making kitchen clean-ups easier than ever. With the help of a garbage disposal, food items like coffee grounds, fruits, and vegetable scraps are quickly ground up, liquified, and then disposed of.
Unfortunately, just as problems can occur with any kitchen appliance, the same goes for a garbage disposal. Food items not intended for the disposal - like peach pits or banana peels - can still make their way down the kitchen sink, requiring you to unclog the garbage disposal. Some of us have even had to deal with a broken glass or dish in the sink.
It's a no-brainer that broken glass is not meant for the garbage disposal unit; as soon as pieces of that shattered wine glass make their way down the sink drain, they must be removed. Glass removal from the garbage disposal is not just for your safety, but it also ensures that this powerful appliance will run smoothly for as long as possible.
So, what actually happens when broken glass makes its way into the garbage disposal unit? Shouldn’t a powerful disposal be able to grind it up just like it did for last night’s dinner scraps? In an ideal world, yes, the disposal would be powerful enough to transform glass shards into tiny specks of dust. But we need to remember that no kitchen appliance lasts forever, and all kitchen appliances certainly have their limits.
With even the most powerful garbage disposals, the limit is met with solid food items like chicken bones and eggshells, fibrous foods like celery and banana peels, and foreign objects like broken glass. There are a few problems that can occur when broken glass enters your garbage disposal. First of all, the shards of glass can dull the blades significantly if you run the disposal with the glass still inside.
Second, glass in the disposal can easily cause jamming. SFGate says that “when your disposal jams, you may hear it hum when you turn it on, but the grinder won’t turn, and can't shred and drain away food waste.” To prevent humming and jamming and to promote longevity of life for your disposal, follow this guide on how to safely remove broken glass from a garbage disposal.
Things You’ll Need to Do the Job
How to Remove a Glass from a Garbage Disposal
As you prepare to remove those pesky glass shards that have made their way into your garbage disposal, the first priority is always safety. Following this step-by-step guide will allow you to effectively - and safely - remove the glass from a garbage disposal.
Step 1: Cut the Power to the Garbage Disposal
Before you start any task involving your home garbage disposal, it is important to make sure it is 100% turned off and unplugged. Safety is key, and trying to fix your disposal while it is still connected to power can end very badly. Failure to cut the power could end with a trip to the hospital or, in severe cases, a lost finger or two.
Ensuring that your work environment is safe is always of the utmost importance, and the first step to safety is to shut off the disposal unit power at the source - the main breaker. Some people feel that it is enough to unplug the disposal unit, but it is a much better idea to cut the power entirely at the breaker.
Step 2: Put on Safety Goggles and Work Gloves
The importance of safety has already been established, but Step 2 is also focused on safely removing the glass shards. Always wear safety goggles when performing glass extraction from a garbage disposal. You may need to take your disposal apart to remove the glass that is jamming the inner mechanisms of the unit. While doing this, the ultimate goal is for those pieces to become dislodged.
However, sometimes the dislodging is more forceful than we expect. Glass can end up in a place that wasn’t planned, such as the eye. Wearing safety glasses will prevent this from happening and protect your eyes from anything that may cause harm. Wearing protective gloves is another safety measure that many people don’t understand the importance of until an unfortunate glass-related incident occurs.
Step 3: Take Out Any Pieces You Can See First
Before you start taking the entire garbage disposal unit apart, do your best to extract the large pieces of glass that you can easily access. You have two options for completing this task, either a pair of needle-nose pliers or tweezers. Needle-nose pliers will be more effective, but if you don't have these lying around the house, you can certainly give tweezers a try.
Getting rid of the bulk of the glass first with pliers or tweezers is helpful when it comes to removing the smaller pieces. Once you have removed all large pieces of glass you can see and reach (a flashlight might be useful for this step), dispose of this glass. We'll go over the proper glass disposal procedures later).
Just remember to never use your hands, even though it may be tempting when the glass looks to be within easy reach. It doesn't matter that the power is cut; it is still never a good idea to stick your hand down a kitchen sink containing a garbage disposal.
Step 4: Manually Turn the Disposal to Dislodge More Glass
Everything up until now has been completed above the kitchen sink, but now it is time to take a look below.
You’ll need to remove anything below the sink that might get in the way of accessing your garbage disposal, like dishwashing detergent and kitchen cleaning supplies.
Next, using an Allen-key wrench (also known as a hex-key wrench), insert the Allen into the port that is found on the bottom side of the disposal unit.
With the Allen, start manually turning. Turn the Allen key to the left until you feel resistance, and then rotate it to the right until you feel resistance once again.
This motion manually turns the unit's blades, which helps to dislodge the remaining glass shards that are causing the problem. Depending on your specific garbage disposal model, yours might not have an Allen port. "If your garbage disposal doesn’t have a port for the Allen key,” says SFGate, “you can insert a broom handle into the disposer opening and gently try to turn it back and forth.”
Step 5: Use a Wet-Dry Vacuum
Now that the majority of glass has been dislodged from the unit (hopefully), it is time to use a wet-dry vacuum cleaner to clear out the remaining glass from the sink space. The top-rated wet-dry vacuums are equipped with intense suction power, allowing them to suck shards of glass out from the disposal effectively. Alternate between this step and the previous one to ensure that all remaining glass finds its way out of your disposal.
By alternating between manually turning the blades and using the vacuum, you should have no problem getting every last shard of glass out of the unit. If the glass remains, you'll hear a grinding sound as you manually turn the disposal blades with your wrench. Once you hear no more sound, the unit is likely free and clear of glass.
Step 6: Reset the Garbage Disposal
When a garbage disposal experiences problems like jamming, noise, clogging or overheating, it is designed to reset itself. Most models have a red reset button located on the bottom of the unit. You should be able to see it as you manually turn the blades from below the sink, but if not, you can use a mirror to find it. Depending on how the unit was installed, it can be tricky to find.
Once you've located it, firmly push the button. The button should remain pressed in, but if it pops out of place, this could mean that a problem still persists. You can try manually spinning the blades once again, followed by a flow of cold water into the disposal. Still not working? If Steps 1-6 have not completed the task of removing glass from your disposal unit, refer to the additional steps below.
Step 7: Remove the Garbage Disposal
Even if you’ve followed the previous steps to a T, there may still be tiny bits of glass in the disposal in extreme cases. In this scenario, you will need to remove the garbage disposal from its place on the underside of the sink and give it a thorough cleaning. You’ll need to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for removal.
Once you've taken the unit apart and cleaned it, you'll have a better idea of the damage caused by the glass. You might consider replacing it altogether with a new model, like one of the powerful Waste King garbage disposals.
Step 8: Reinstall the Garbage Disposal Unit
If you were required to remove your disposal, the next step is to reinstall it. Garbage disposal installation can be done as a DIY project, but if you feel more comfortable with a professional call your local plumbing service. The basic procedure for installation is generally the same from disposal to disposal. Even so, be sure to read the model’s manufacturer's installation instructions carefully.
Other Considerations When Removing Glass
Disposing of Whole Glass
A lot of people don't understand that there is the right way to dispose of glass - and the wrong way. You need to keep in mind that disposing of glass, no matter if whole or broken, can pose a risk for anyone handling it. In general, whole pieces of glass can be recycled.
The Environmental Protection Agency says that you’ll need to “check with your local program first when recycling (whole) glass. Most curbside community recycling programs accept different glass colors and types mixed together.”
Disposing of Broken Glass
Handling broken glass is much more hazardous than dealing with whole glass pieces. Broken glass shards contain sharp edges that could end up putting someone in the hospital, in need of a few stitches or worse. Unlike whole pieces, the broken glass should not be recycled since it can cause harm to the government workers in charge of handling it.
Broken light bulbs, shattered wine glasses, and the remnants of glass that made its way into your garbage disposal need to be disposed of properly. A company called PennWaste says that “broken glass should be placed INSIDE of a paper bag or cardboard box (a cereal box or snack bar box) prior to placing in your garbage bags. By doing this, there is less risk of the broken glass breaking through your plastic garbage bag and injuring our team members.”
Tips on Maintaining Garbage Disposals
Glass entering the garbage disposal isn't always preventable - things can happen, and dishes can break no matter how careful you are. There are, however, ways to prevent other common problems from happening to your disposal. Proper garbage disposal maintenance will increase the longevity of your unit and prevent common disposal-related problems.
Here are a few tips for maintaining the garbage disposal as best as possible:
You might be tempted to immediately call a plumber when glass makes its way into your garbage disposal. As it turns out, removing glass from a garbage disposal is not an immediate reason to call a professional.
As long as safety remains your first priority, and you do the task carefully, removing glass out of the disposal is easy. Simply have all of the correct tools on hand, remember to turn off the power, and get started by following this guide. Before you know it, your garbage disposal will be working like new.
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.