Unclogging a Sink With a Disposal

November 11, 2022

How to Unclog a Kitchen Sink

Believe it or not, the kitchen sink is probably one of the most used areas in your home. When it isn’t working, it can be annoying at best and potentially cause damage to your kitchen at worst.

If you’re dealing with a clogged sink in your kitchen, chances are high that you might also be dealing with a garbage disposal, which can sometimes make the job of unclogging a bit more complicated. When your kitchen garbage disposal is clogged, there are a few ways to try fixing it before you call a plumber. 

But first, let’s start with the basics. When it comes to unclogging your kitchen sink, preventing clogs from happening at all is always ideal. If you do have a malfunctioning or clogged disposal, though, you can try fixing it in phases. 

Kitchen Sink Disposal and Clog Prevention

It might go without saying that you shouldn’t try to flush food scraps down a kitchen sink that doesn’t have a garbage disposal, but don’t assume people won’t try! In case you don’t know whether your kitchen sink has a disposal, you can easily check by seeing if the device is connected to the drain under your sink. If you’re dealing with a regular kitchen drain, it often helps to put a metal or mesh food catcher over it so food scraps don’t get caught in the pipes.

When it comes to kitchen sinks with disposals, you’ll have an easier time dealing with food scraps, but you’ll also have more to consider if there’s a clog. To prevent clogged disposals, avoid putting the following foods down your drain, as they can be thick and/or sticky.

  • Banana peels
  • Coffee grounds
  • Eggshells
  • Potato skins
  • Onion skins
  • Hard foods
  • Dry expandable foods
  • Greasy foods

When you’re grinding food scraps in the disposal, run the faucet on cold so there’s a steady flow of water to help carry the ground-up food through your kitchen’s drainage system.

Cleaning Your Disposal

It’s a good practice to clean your garbage disposal once per week to avoid clogs and stay hygienic. It’s always best not to use chemicals to do this, as this can cause damage to the disposal unit’s metal or plastic parts. To clean your kitchen garbage disposal, do the following:

  1. Pour 1 cup baking soda / 1 cup vinegar down the drain. Let the mixture sit in the disposal for an hour before flushing it with boiling-hot water.
  2. Grind up a lemon peel. This helps get rid of any unpleasant odors.
  3. Grind up some ice cubes. Contrary to popular belief, grinding up ice cubes won’t sharpen your disposal blades—but they can help remove any excess food from them. If you want to make this method even more effective, freeze cubes out of lemon juice or vinegar.

Pro tip: You might be wondering about grease or oil and whether hot water is a good way to thin it out and make sure it doesn’t cause clogs. But think again! Hot water is your disposal’s archnemesis when it comes to grease or oil buildup. It can lead to clogs further down your pipes once the grease or oil cools down, so do your best to avoid putting anything oily or greasy down your kitchen sink at all.

How to Unclog a Sink With a Garbage Disposal

If you’re wondering how to unclog a kitchen sink with a disposal, there are definitely steps you can take before you need to work with tools to repair or inspect the disposal mechanism. R.S. Andrews recommends taking the following steps for unclogging a disposal:

  1. Unplug the disposal and turn off the power. Never, ever inspect your sink or attempt to do maintenance without making sure your disposal’s power is actually off. While it could cause severe injury if your hand is near (or in) a running sink disposal, it can also damage both your tools or your disposal if the machine turns on while something is stuck down the drain opening.
  2. Look inside the drain with a flashlight. Once the power is off, use a flashlight to look down the drain and see what might be causing the clog.
  3. Use tongs or pliers to remove the clog. To avoid using your hand to reach into the disposal (which, as mentioned, is a safety hazard), you can use kitchen tongs or needle nose pliers to feel around and remove whatever is causing the clog. With any luck, you’ll quickly be able to get water flowing again.
  4. Restore power. Make sure to turn the disposal’s power on only after your hands or tools are removed from the disposal area.
  5. Try the disposal again while running cold water. If it works and the water drains, you’re in the clear!

How to Unclog a Kitchen Sink That Has Standing Water

If you have standing water in your sink—meaning a clog that is causing water to rise in the sink—you may have to try a different approach. If your disposal doesn’t clear out the clog, you likely won’t be able to access the drain without getting wet once you turn the power off. This is where Home Depot’s recommendation to use a bathroom plunger can come in handy! 

  1. Unplug the disposal and turn off the power. Again, you absolutely don’t want your disposal to turn on during any type of maintenance.
  2. Use a flat bathroom plunger on the drain. A flat cup plunger will create a better seal with a flat sink surface than the flange plungers typically used on toilets. This will help create suction when you try to dislodge the clog. Make sure to submerge the head of the plunger while placing the cup over the drain opening.
  3. Gently move the plunger up and down. Similar to how you would with a toilet, move the plunger up and down in roughly one-inch motions.
  4. Try using Drano Max Gel Clog Remover (or equivalent). This solution is thick enough to penetrate standing water and safe to use with garbage disposals (meaning it shouldn’t damage any metal or plastic parts). Before using it, double check that the chemicals won’t damage any part of your sink, and read the directions carefully.
  5. Look in the drain / use tongs or pliers. Once the standing water is clear, repeat the steps from the previous section to remove any extra items clogging the drain.
  6. Restore power, and run the disposal with cold water. Once your hands or tools are removed from the disposal area, run the disposal using cold water.

If you’re unable to unclog your kitchen sink and drain the standing water, move on to the next methods of unclogging. 

How to Unclog a Kitchen Sink Garbage Disposal by Fixing the Blades

Garbage disposal clogs can sometimes originate in the blades used to grind up food scraps. While the blades aren’t necessarily sharp, they are motorized and typically made of metal. You can often fix any blade issues with a hex wrench or even a wooden utensil handle.

  1. Unplug the disposal, and turn off the power. This should always be your first step before attempting to fix a clogged kitchen sink disposal.
  2. Locate the reset button, and press it. Under your sink, check on the actual disposal unit for a “Reset” button. It’s often red and placed prominently on the base of the unit. Press the button.
  3. Test the disposal. Restore power, and test the disposal. If it’s working, great! If not, turn off power once again and proceed to Step 4.
  4. Locate the flywheel turning wrench hole. This is located on the bottom of the garbage disposal unit under your sink.
  5. Turn the blades with a properly fitting hex wrench. Your disposal may have come with a hex wrench, or you can use any size that fits. Turning it both clockwise and counterclockwise will rotate the blades of the disposal in both directions. Once the blades move freely, the clog is likely dislodged.
  6. Remove the clog pieces from the drain. Using pliers or tongs, reach into the drain and pull out the loosened items that caused the clog.
  7. Restore power and test. Plug the disposal back in, and turn it on while running cold water. 

How to Unclog a Double Kitchen Sink

If you’re wondering how to unclog a double kitchen sink, it can be a bit more time consuming, because there are two drains. Often, one drain has a disposal unit, and the other doesn’t, so you’ll have to follow the approaches listed above when trying to fix a clogged disposal.

If the second drain doesn’t have a disposal, you can try the baking soda and vinegar method: 

  1. Pour 1 cup baking soda down the drain. 
  2. Pour 1 cup vinegar down the drain.
  3. Let the solution sit for 1 hour.
  4. Flush with boiling-hot water.

Pro tip: If you have a dishwasher, don’t run it when your drain is clogged unless you’re certain its piping isn’t connected to your sink. Often, a sink clog can cause water backup in your dishwasher, which could accidentally cause a flood in your kitchen when you open it.

When to Call a Plumber—Or Continue DIYing

If the clog is caught in the drain trap (the curved portion of the piping under your sink, which is also called P-trap, S-trap, or U-pipe), you may need to remove the pipe to pull or flush it out. To do this, you’ll need a plumber’s wrench, bucket, and gloves. If you’re not yet convinced to call a plumber, here’s how to unclog a kitchen drain, according to Alpharetta Water Damage Restoration:

  1. Set your bucket under the drain trap. This will catch any water that drains once you remove the pipe. 
  2. With your wrench, loosen the drain trap’s fasteners. These are located at either end of the drain trap. Unscrew them to detach this portion of the piping.
  3. Inspect the trap, and remove clogs. Make sure anything blocking the pipe is thoroughly cleaned out.
  4. Attach the drain trap back onto the pipe. Once it’s attached, test the drain by running water through it. Keep your bucket placed under the drain trap in case there are any unwanted leaks.

If your drain still isn’t fixed after following the above steps, the clog might be deeper in your pipes. To fix this, you can use a drain snake (also known as an auger) to reach deeper into the pipes and break up whatever is causing the clog.

  1. Detach the drain trap. (See the steps above for how to achieve this!)
  2. Feed the snake’s wire or grooved rod into the pipe. This should be the pipe that’s leading into the wall. Slowly feed more wire into the pipe until you reach the obstruction.
  3. Rotate the snake against the clog. Using your hand or a drill, rotate the snake wire. This will usually allow whatever is causing the clog to attach to the end of the wire.
  4. Extract the clog. Carefully recoil the wire by turning the snake handle in a clockwise motion. This will pull it out of the pipe along with the clog.  
  5. Reassemble the drain. Put the drain back together, and flush it with hot water for 30 seconds to 1 minute.

Pro tip: When using the drain snake, use protective glasses, gloves, and a mask. This can prevent any harmful materials, including bacteria, from splashing into your eyes, nose, or mouth.

If you’re needing to know how to unclog a kitchen sink or a kitchen sink’s garbage disposal, the above methods should give you a great start. As always, if you’re nervous to DIY, hiring help can bring peace of mind. Your clogged disposal or sink will be ready to use again in no time!

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