How To Unclog a Garbage Disposal With Standing Water

How To Unclog a Garbage Disposal With Standing Water

Ian Mutuli
Updated on

Garbage disposal is a lifesaver when you dispose of leftover foods from many plates. The device grinds food particles into smaller pieces that pass through the drainage system. However, some food particles might clog the garbage disposal, in which case nothing drains, including the water you use from the sink. Here is how to unclog a garbage disposal with standing water.

When your garbage disposal unit is clogged, you can unclog it using two methods. First, you can try a sink plunger to remove stuck food particles. If the sink plunger does not work, you can use a wrench or broom handle to spin the rotor so the particles can flow through the sink drain.

How Do You Get a Clogged Garbage Disposal?

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A garbage disposal unit is fixed underneath a single bowl or double kitchen sink. The electrically powered device grinds food waste into tiny particles that are small enough to go through the plumbing system. Contrary to popular opinion, the garbage disposal unit does use blades to slice food waste. Rather, it uses impellers mounted on a spinning plate or rotor.

In application, these impeller blades use centrifugal force to push down the food waste into a stationary grind ring. In the grind ring, the food waste is ground into tiny particles no larger than 2mm. These food particles are then washed off through a small gap between the spinning plate and the canister. The process needs lots of flowing water to drain the particles down the pipe traps.

While this device makes cleaning easier, especially after preparing a large meal, it is also easy to clog. As mentioned, there is a small gap beneath the spinning plate where the ground food drops to be washed down the garbage disposal drain. This gap can get clogged by different food particles like sticky pasta, egg shells, and even coffee grounds.

When the gap is full, the result is clogged garbage disposal with standing water. So, while the garbage disposal may run and grind particles, you will notice the mixture does not flow down the drain pipes. When this happens, it is imperative to unclog the unit before the clog damages the rotor. Here are three methods you can use.

1. Unclog a Garbage Disposal with Standing Water using a Sink Plunger

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One of the easiest ways to unclog a kitchen sink drain is by using a sink plunger. This method is ideal when ground food particles clog the disposal since the plunger exerts more water pressure to push the waste down. To use a sink plunger, follow these simple steps;

Step 1: Position the plunger above the kitchen sink drain.

Step 2: Push the sink plunger up and down without lifting it off the surface to create a suction seal that will unclog the garbage disposal. Repeat the up and down movement up to eight times to create a tight seal.

Step 3: Once you have a tight seal, lift the plunger off the surface to release the pressure. If this method works, you will notice the standing water draining. If it does not work, repeat the process once or twice.

Step 4: After dislodging the stuck food particles, it will be best to run hot water into the drainage for several minutes. Doing so will push the remaining debris down the drain. You can also drop a drain cleaner into the drainage to eliminate unwanted smells and keep the sink hygienic.

If this unclogging method does not work, you will still have standing water in the sink, indicating you need to dislodge the clog physically. Here is how a wrench can help you unclog garbage disposals.

2. Unclog a Garbage Disposal Using a Wrench

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This method includes rotating the spinning plate to unclog the drain, which you can do with a wrench. Sometimes, you can also use a pair of pliers or a wooden broom handle. While it may be tempting, avoid inserting your hand into the garbage disposal, even when you can clearly remove the clog by hand. Doing so can leave you with severe hand injuries if the rotor starts spinning.

Before getting a tool for this process, determine the type of garbage disposal you have. For this, look at the brand. For example, you can use a hex wrench if you have an Insinkerator garbage disposal. Alternatively, you can use a regular wrench or a wooden stick if you have a regular garbage disposal. Let's explore the two methods below:

a) How to unclog your Insinkerator garbage disposal using a hex wrench

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Insinkerator is an American company that manufactures some of the best food garbage disposals. Their devices come in a unique design that features a slot underneath the canister where you can insert a 1/4-inch hex wrench to rotate the clogged rotor.

When stuck food particles clog your garbage disposal, it may not spin because a manufacturing design trips the internal breaker to prevent damage. As a result, this unclogging process may need a strong arm to rotate the rotor manually.

Step 1: Insert your hex wrench into the slot underneath the garbage disposal canister.

Step 2: When the wrench is lodged, hold it tightly and rotate the rotor back and forth. Doing this can help drop the food debris stuck inside, making it easier to drain. However, understand that if the internal breaker is tripped, it will need some strength to rotate the rotor.

Step 3: Once you manage to rotate the rotor, you may have successfully unclogged the garbage disposal. To confirm, locate a red reset button on the canister and press it to get the rotor going again. If the rotor rotates, turn on the water to drain all the food particles down the drain pipe.

Like with the sink plunger method above, once the standing water drains, you can insert a drain cleaner or add a natural baking soda solution to clean the drainage and eliminate odors.

b) How to unclog regular garbage disposals

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You will unclog your regular garbage disposals the same way as an Insinkerator model. However, since these might not come with a hex wrench slot, you will need to use a regular wrench, a pair of pliers, or manually rotate the rotor using a wooden stick. Here is how to use a regular wrench to unclog the device:

Step 1: If you have somewhere to grip the rotor on your garbage disposal model, insert the regular wrench.

Step 2: Rotate the rotor back and forth to unclog the food waste. Then, look for the reset button at the bottom or side of the garbage disposal canister, and press it to reset the rotor's rotation. Next, start the water, then turn the device on to flush down the debris.

Step 3: When the standing water drains, add your favorite drain cleaner to clean the garbage disposal and plumbing pipes.

If you cannot use a wrench on your garbage disposal unit, you can also unclog the drain from the sink mouth. To do so:

Step 1: Find a wooden rod to use. Then, remove the splash guard from the mouth of the garbage disposal.

Step 2: Look carefully inside the unit, and choose an impeller to lodge your rod on.

Step 3: Once you have hooked your rod, manually spin the rotor until the rotor moves more freely. Then, restore the rotation cycle by pressing the reset button and turning the water on before starting the disposal unit.

3. Unclog the Sink Drain

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What if you are still left with standing water after unclogging the disposal unit? In this case, you may need to open and unclog the sink drain pipes manually. Note, if you have a double kitchen sink, you will only need to unclog the side with the disposal unit.

The first point to look at is the P-trap. The curved pipe prevents the ground food particles from coming up to the sink after you clean. Here are the steps to follow to unclog it:

Step 1: Use slip lock pliers to remove the nuts on both ends of the P-trap, being careful not to spill the waste on your kitchen floor.

Step 2: If you find the waste, drain it into a bucket, rinse the pipe and re-install it. Ensure to separate the waste, throw the solid particles in the trash can, and flush the water in the toilet.

However, if you don't find the clog in the P-trap, the next place to look at is the horizontal waste arm. To remove the waste in this area, you will need to use a sink auger which you can buy or rent. Alternatively, you can get a plumber to unclog the waste if you cannot find an affordable auger.

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How to Prevent Future Garbage Disposal Clogs

Most garbage disposal clogs are caused by a lack of regular maintenance, especially when you grind foods like pasta egg shells, potato peels, banana peels, and more. In addition, using little water when grinding these taste products will easily clog the drains.

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To prevent the clog from forming, it is best to clean the drains at least once a month. For this, use ice and kosher salt. The ice will harden any grease in the piping, while the kosher salt will help drain the clog inside the pipes.

Step 1: Remove the splash guard and fill the garbage disposal unit with ice.

Step 2: Pour half a cup of kosher salt over the ice, and leave the mixture to sit for at least 10 minutes.

Step 3: Turn on cold water to drain the mixture down the pipes.

Ian Mutuli

About the author

Ian Mutuli

Founder and Managing Editor of Archute. He is also a graduate architect from The University of Nairobi, Kenya.